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…


Redundancies and Pastures New

The last 8 months has been a really tough time for all of us that work at UKOLN. In October last year a decision was made by Jisc, our main funders, to cease the core funding for 3 key services from July 31st 2013: UKOLN, CETIS and OSSWatch. Although UKOLN receives other funding – the DCC funding being the other main pot of money – this naturally has had serious consequences. Yesterday the majority of UKOLN staff members were issued with redundancy notices.

I am solely funded by the DCC so my position was questionable. The DCC have now had confirmed funding, all be it reduced, and the majority of my DCC colleagues will continue to have jobs. The plan is for UKOLN to carry on at a fraction of its previous size (it peaked at around 31 staff but now there will just be 4). Obviously this still leaves a lot of people in a very difficult situation. I don’t want to get political about all of this, I’ll leave that to my colleague Brian Kelly (see his post My Redundancy Letter Arrived Today), but this is a very sad situation. Over the years UKOLN has achieved so much in the area of digital libraries, metadata, preservation, information policy and more. Right now my thoughts are with everyone getting made redundant. I really hope they find work places that allow them to use the fantastic skills that they have.

1107639981-1So what about me? Well, I’m lucky enough to have a light at the end of my tunnel. I have accepted a position of project co-ordinator with the Open Knowledge Foundation. I’ll be working on their LinkedUp project supporting the adoption of open data by educational organisations and institutions. I am going to be working part-time for the OKF from the start of May while I see out my commitments with UKOLN and the DCC, I will then be full-timeish from the start of August. This is a really exciting (and scary!) opportunity for me. I’ve been with UKOLN for 13 years and I have learnt so much from my colleagues and peers. Yet at times being part of UKOLN and the University of Bath has felt a little like having a safety net that maybe I no longer need. Time to spring free!

The OKF is an active global network that works as a virtual organisation. There is no ‘epicentre’ or head office (though its registered office is in Cambridge) and the team of employees are distributed throughout the world. I can already see that they have some great ways of working and I’m sure there will be lots of fodder for this blog!

To finish I want to reiterate what I said to my colleagues last week. The 13 years I’ve had at UKOLN constitute a significant chunk of my life. The interesting projects and flexible working haven’t been the only things that have kept me in post. I’ve always been treated with respect and have made some great friends, on the whole UKOLN has been a very happy place to work. I believe I’ve been incredibly lucky to have had this experience, I know a lot of people who would rather not have the job they have. So as Dr Seuss says:

Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.

Sitting Comfortably at your Computer Workstation?

I was pleased to find an email in my inbox from the University Safety & Health Adviser suggesting ways that we can make sure we are sitting comfortably at our desks. Health and Safety issues had come up at the recent home working talk I gave and I’d had to admit I wasn’t great in this area and that really we were meant to self-assess.

The University have released a poster showing us how to sit and have also passed on some useful links with further information.

  • The HSE ‘office safety’ page has free information on computer
    workstation information and other office health and safety issues. Visit

  • The HSE ‘Muscular Skeletal Disorders (MSD)’ has free information on MSD,
    including a section devoted to computer use. It also has some useful
    manual handling information – another aspect of MSD. Visit

  • The HSE ‘ergonomics’ page provides further insight into good workplace
    layout. Computer workstations are only addressed in passing as part of a
    larger issue. Visit

Maybe it’s time you checked whether you are sitting comfortably and correctly. Bad backs are no fun at all!

Adventures in Space, Place and Time

A few weeks back I attended a seminar on Researching online and mobile interaction & environments: Understanding space, place and time‘ at the University of Bristol. The seminar was facilitated by Professor Carey Jewitt, Dr Niall Winters, Berit Henriksen from the London Knowledge Lab. The seminar was organised by the National Centre for Research Methods (NCRM) – a network of research groups, each conducting research and training in social science research methods and is part of the MODE: Multimodal methodologies for digital environments series.

Although the day was geared towards researchers and more theoretical than I am used to there were some really interesting themes from the day that align nicely with the whole remote working/event amplification area. Here are my notes…

Space, Place and Time

Space – It is not just physical and fixed, it can be modified, is an abstraction, but there are physical aspects to it. Types of space include local, global, utobian, heterotopia, aural and visual. One idea is that space doesn’t exist until something happens in it.

Place – Space is made into place by a set of activities that happen in it. Places are processes: not fixed or frozen in time. There are lots of new practices relating to online interaction, for example: cocooning – individuals socializing less and retreating into their home, camping – finding a space to sit (e.g. in a library) and setting up your online workd, foot-printing – the route you take online. Some argue that in the technology world it is no longer possible to be ‘late’ because as soon as you start texting you can still participate. Specification of spaces have changed

– Time and space always shape each other and are constitutive of social interaction. Time takes many forms. For example – clock time – people made; natural divisions of time e.g. seasons, light and dark; lazarus time – use of previously dead time.

These concepts are relevant when talking about online and mobile interaction because the classic notions of time, space and place need to be adapted for the online and mobile world. One example of this is this advert on Oxford Street which is shown only to women.

I think this ties in nicely with Brian Kelly’s discussions around Escaping the Constraints of Space and Time with regard to amplified events.

Spaceflows and Multimodality

There was also some discussion around the idea of spaceflows: what mediums are information and identity flowing through, and what is transmitted, text, video, image? One could argue that Twitter is a communter technology, users often use it on the move, while Flickr is a tourist technology because it involves standing still and documenting.

Another concepts introduced during the day was that of multimodality, where users are provided with multiple modes of interfacing with a system.

The course was really interesting and made me realise that not only is technology changing at a rapid pace but are so many other concepts we take for granted, like space, place, time and use. This often leaves us confused about how we are supposed to act in new situations. One example from the day that sums this up beautifully is the Museum of Unintended Use. No one quite knows where the technology ride will take us…

My Remote Worker Experience

I’ve just had a guest blog post published on Doug Campbell’s Remote Worker Daily blog. Doug wrote a post for me entitled Staying Connected in a Big Remote Worker World a few weeks back and I agreed to return the favour (aren’t we remote workers nice helping each other out on our blogs!). The post is just a ramble about my remote worker experience but I’ve added in some pictures of my ‘new’ desk space and the view from my window.

Anywhere Working Week

This week is ‘Anywhere Working Week‘.

It’s a flexible working initiative led by a consortium of partners, including Microsoft, Nokia, Regus, TFL, Nuffield Health and supported by DfT, TUC, Mumsnet and WWF. The idea is that you work anywhere (home, local coffee shop, remote worker hub) and in doing so save time and money. The week is being wel;l supported and one company involved in the initiative is actually opening up their office for a day and have invited me to work there – they have desk space, free WiFi and coffee and pastries on demand! Obviously as I live in the South West and their office is in London it’s not ideal for me, but I appreciate the gesture! ;-)

If you work somewhere different you can track the impact this has on your time and money, as well as the effect you have on the environment using their Anywhere Working Savings Calculator.

The Anywhere Working is full of useful resources including case studies and tips and tricks to help you work better. They also have daily news and have a Facebook site and Twitter account.

One last thing…for those who’d like to get their hands on the ‘Ultimate Anywhere Working Kit’ (which includes an ASUS Zenbook, Nokia Lumia 800, Arc Touch Mouse and Vodafone’s latest 3G Mobile Broadband dongle) Anywhere Working are running a competition. To enter you simply write a blog post titled ‘My Anywhere Working Tips’ and send them the link. I might just have a go!

A Brief Introduction to 4G Mobile Broadband

It feels like I’ve only just got my head round 3G (3rd generation mobile telecommunications) when suddenly 4G is here.

I haven’t a clue what it is, luckily Ruben Corbo has written a really useful guest blog post for us explaining the ins and outs.

Ruben is a technical writer for the web site Broadband Expert where you can find internet service providers in your area and compare prices on the best mobile broadband deals.


Lately, a lot of mobile phone companies have been advertising a new 4g network. Few people seem to understand, though, what this technology is, and why it is such an asset for mobile phone usage. Technology is developing at rapid speeds these days, so to stay on the cutting edge, it’s important to know what the benefits of 4g are, and how they can work for both business and individual consumers.

Photo Courtesy of Flickr Users: imagineWiMax and LGEPR

In a nutshell, 4g mobile broadband will enable mobile phones to act as efficiently and effectively as laptop computers, while remaining wireless. This will allow mobile phone users to access the full internet as they would on a computer without any decrease in speed or dropping any data. The 4g network will be the fastest mobile broadband network to date.

The technology behind the 4g network has not been defined, although experts say it will either be WiMax or LTE. Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile have either done trials using LTE, or are anticipating trials in the next year. Sprint, is already unveiling the new 4g network in major cities such as Atlanta, New York and Boston. Basically, the difference in these networks has to do with how data is transferred. WiMax users a broadband network over a wireless connection. LTE, on the other hand, transfers data using IP connections. Basically, it will create an IP address for every mobile device. The big advantage to this kind of network is that it can work with preexisting architectures such as 3g whereas WiMax will force a restructuring of mobile communication networks.

Photo courtesy of Flickr Users: osde8info and The Consumerist

No matter the type of technology used, the advantage to the mobile user will be the same. Data transfer to and from the internet will become almost limitless. Users will be able to do the same things on their mobile devices that they can do on their computers at home including updating blogs and uploading videos. The current technology makes these kinds of tasks cumbersome or even expensive since it can use so much of the users data transfer minutes. With the 4g technology, users will most likely see many new broadband deals that will mean lower prices and more utility.

Mobile applications will also benefit from the 4g network. Many apps that are being created are too robust for the current 3g network. They are either slow to download and run, or are totally unusable. With 4g technology and its increased data transfer rates, these applications will be able to run to their full potential. Again, this benefit will most likely be passed on to the consumer as mobile communication companies offer better and better broadband deals consumers that will use these applications.

Companies such as Motorola and Apple are beginning to roll out devices that are capable of using the 4g network, with many communication companies anticipating using it by the end of 2011. These devices are hotly anticipated and there are many rumors as to the release date, cost and availability. One thing is certain, though, as technology moves forward and becomes bigger and faster, the consumer will find more and more broadband deals to entice them to use it for business as well as personal use.

Survey on use of Online Communication Tools

Do you ever work from home? Is your team distributed across geographical locations that prohibit you meeting face-to-face on a regular basis? If you answered Yes to any of these questions, can you please spare a few minutes of your time to help a Deborah Fern with her final assignment for the Postgraduate Certificate in Leadership Coaching from the University of Derby.

Her questionnaire looks at the use of online communication tools (MSN Messenger, Google Chat, Skype, web cams and even video conferencing) within business – in both the private and public sector. It also asks for feedback on what impact these tools have on your relationships with others. Is the development of rapport between you and your colleagues or clients affected when there is a layer of technology between you? Does it affect the way you work – especially when many of these tools display to your contacts when you are available online?

The questions are very pertinent to people who work from home. Hopefully Deborah will be able to share some of the results with us.

Measuring your Virtual Team Mood

So how are you feeling today? Is everything going OK or are you panicking or concerned with something you’re working on? How’s the rest of your team feeling? What about if you’re a distributed team, how can you make sure you feel the team vibe?

Philip Gordon is a final year Product Design student about to graduate from The University of Dundee. He has designed a new product called LightSync that helps you understand how your virtual team is feeling and allows a permanent connection between them. It considers the team mood rather an individual’s mood.

The YouTube video embedded below shows how it works.

To quote the site:

LightSync is a product that aims to forge a subtle permanent connection between distributed team members by using colour as an indicator of morale. Each member of a remote team has a LightSync device in their workplace and is periodically prompted to set the colour by rolling the device left or right, this colour is broadcasted to the other team members’ LightSync devices at the push of a button.

When working in a remote team regular communication is essential, but constant phone calls and emails are time consuming and can often be of little benefit. The ambiguous nature of LightSync gives a general connection to the team rather than an individual, this can improve team confidence when all is well or prompt further communication to quickly solve problems when problems arise.

LightSync is a project by designer maker Philip Gordon, each device is cast from polyurethane resin with a cast silicone rubber base and laser cut details, they’re powered by an Arduino Mini microcontroller using an accelerometer to control the output of a high power RGB LED, with a wireless connection provided by a cellular GSM/GPRS cellular module.

More information about the development of LightSync can be found on the designers website

It’s an interesting idea. I tend to work alone or with one other individual so gauging mood is easy but if I was in a more organised virtual team something like this might help. What do people think?

Big Blue Button

I quite like Elluminate. I’ve found it has all the elements I require for presenting or attending a webinar, and it’s reasonably easy to use.

However there is one negative. It is a commercial product. These days the academic sector has no issue dealing with commercial players but it does ease our conscience (and our finances!) a little if we can use an open source product, if there is one!

Enter stage BigBlueButton (all one word!). It’s primarily aimed at helping educational institutions to facilitate remote teaching and learning. BigBlueButton is an Elluminate clone but it comes out of an active open source project that focuses on usability, modularity, and clean design. The project code is currently hosted at Google Code with a GNU Lesser General Public License.

So how does BigBlueButton compare to Elluminate?

At first look it seems to have all the same features – you can see the participants attending, raise your hand, watch the presentation and see the presenter’s pointer. There is also public and private chat, and video facilities. And for the presenter there is a whiteboard, easy uploads and desk top sharing.

Screen sharing with BigBlueButton

There is a useful introductory video available as well as a video on presenting and one on how to use the whiteboard – all created in Camtasia. There is also a developer video which gives an overview of the architecture and the open source components.

If you want to have a go at BigBlueButton then you can join the demo meeting – they play some really nice music! You can access using headphones or by phone. If you’ve had a go before with Elluminate then it does seem very straight forward. Almost as simple as pressing a big blue button! Not having used it in earnest I’ve yet to find any problems but things are looking good for them as there are some very positive reviews around including one by Steve Boneham.

Video with BigBlueButton

More are listed on the BigBlueButton blog, a useful source of updates and information.

It’s definitely one to watch!!