Advice for working across distance

Middlebury is launching a strategic planning process this year, called Envisioning Middlebury. As part of this process, two committees of faculty, staff, and students from across Middlebury’s programs were formed to help shepherd the process and to be ambassadors to the community at large.

Last Wednesday, as part of a half-day strategy retreat with those committees, I was asked to give remarks and provide tips for working across distance. I am sharing my remarks here, along with a handout I created, as a resource for anyone at Middlebury who is working with people on other campuses. If you have tips or ideas to share, please consider sharing in the comments section below.

We privilege the voices in the room. It’s not always a malicious act, but we should be aware of the fact that we are likely to privilege who is in the room and their voices above those people who are not physically in the room.”

I wrote this a few weeks ago on my group’s blog, where we are writing a series of reflections on collaborating across distance. We all have seen the privileging of physically co-present voices in meetings where there are remote participants—the organic conversation “in the room” can limit the opportunities for remote participants to share their perspective, to have a voice. Fortunately, being aware of this–being mindful of the experiences of a virtual participant–can help.

As your committees meet in the coming months, you will be working across multiple geographies. You will almost always have a hybrid meeting. We encourage you to embrace that hybridity, as it is a characteristic of much of our work at Middlebury. When you embrace and explore hybridity, you explore questions at the very center of Middlebury’s DNA: What does it mean to work across many places? What role does place play in Middlebury’s identity? How might place, and presence in place, be reimagined?

I could stand up here and talk about this all day, but I won’t. I did create a handout of tips (see below) to help you to intentionally explore and improve how we work across distance. Doing trial runs of meetings to test out furniture and technology configurations, managing noise, using buddy systems, all can make a world of difference both for your remote participants and for the overall feeling of your committee work.

I want to add one final tip that isn’t on your sheet but that can help you to develop empathy as you work across distance. Take time to reach out to people who are not physically co-located with you. Yes, you will see them in your meetings, but reach out separately and share your story with them. Ask them to share their story. Ask each other how you can make these committee meetings more inclusive of everyone’s voices; ask what creative approaches might help with embracing hybridity.

If you want to keep exploring this topic, please consider joining a Community Initiated Conversation my group is co-hosting with the Digital Learning Commons in Monterey, Media Services, the Academic Cyberinfrastructure Technology Team, and the Office of Development to discuss collaborating across distance. We’re targeting November 11 and will have more information available soon. You can read my team’s blog posts at http://digitallearning.middcreate.net. And I’m always happy to consult with you as you explore ways to work collaboratively across distance. 

With intentionality and empathy, you can embrace the unique hybridity of this work. All the best to you!

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Amy Collier

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