Working in a super virtual organisation

Having talked the talk for many years I’m now really walking the walk! Last week I got to have three whole days with my virtual colleagues when the Open Knowledge Foundation Central team met up in Cambridge for a summit (or all-staff meeting). This was the first time I’d met most of my colleagues – Skype, Google hangouts and flash meetings aside. The beautiful Cambridge surroundings and fantastically sunny weather made for a great setting in which to get to know everyone. They’d come from far and wide (Brazil, USA and India being the most impressive commutes) and work on a variety of different projects. Most people working for, and with, the Open Knowledge Foundation are there because they believe in the empowering opportunities open data provides. Through ‘talking’ and ‘making’ the Open Knowledge Foundation is contributing to a truly global movement.

The OKF Okapi - Chuff

The OKF Okapi – Chuff

Effectively running a virtual organisation is a big ask and it is very much evolving practice. I’ve mentioned some of the tools the OKF uses and these are supported by various internal email lists and more recently Tender App, a customer service application. There are a fair number of online meetings, webinars and watercooler opportunities (in Grove) – including a daily stand up where people are encouraged to share what they’ve been up to, and any issues they’ve had. Staff are encouraged to email groups directly (rather than individuals) as this keeps activities rolling while people aren’t about. The OKF supports flexible working and with staff all over the world there are time zone issues too! So for example there is a Systems admin list, a leadership list and a payments list – for enquiries relating to pay, travel etc. The operations team act as general admin support, they seemed like a very accommodating bunch and do a great job of keeping many balls in the air.

OKFN Summit July 2013

OKFN Summit July 2013 by OKFN on Flickr

While the Open Knowledge Foundation central team spans most continents there are hubs in a couple of locations: Berlin, London and Cambridge. People from these hubs often meet up for coffee and to catch up. There is also OKF office space in Berlin and London. The Open Knowledge Foundation Network also supports local face-to-face meetups for those interested in open knowledge issues.

Punting with OKF colleagues

Punting with OKF colleagues

Unfortunately I couldn’t stay for the Saturday when ambassadors from the global Open Knowledge Foundation Network met up to share experiences. There are currently 32 ambassadors from all over the world, and the number is rising weekly. Hopefully I’ll get to meet a few at the Open Knowledge Conference this September in Geneva.

Sometimes all of this was a little overwhelming, though I’m sure it will become second nature soon.

I’ll end by introducing you to a great, simple to use tool available from the Open Knowledge Labs – AskNot. This is a big button tool that helps you scan the OKF website to find what it is you’re after. The tool can be customised and used by anyone. So much to see and do…