Technology has completely changed the way that professionals get work done. The savvy pro bono program managers among us have been able to leverage technology to support our efforts to connect company talent with NGOs in distant and remote communities all over the world. The use of technology to provide virtual pro bono services is becoming more popular, enabling traditionally under-served organizations to gain access to much-needed capacity-building support.
While virtual technologies are becoming more pervasive as tools to facilitate pro bono, they can also present challenges with regard to efficiency and reliability. For example, conference calls connect us across locations, but they can also make it easier for us to otherwise become distracted during important meetings. And the internet has opened so many doors for us in most developed countries, but for our colleagues in much of the developing world, consistent internet access is not a given, effectively creating a wall between the tech-haves and the tech-have-nots.
If you’re thinking about integrating a virtual component into a pro bono program that you’re building or managing, you may want to provide some tips like the ones outlined below to your program participants to ensure they can make the most of what technology has to offer, while defending against its potential pitfalls.
Six virtual pro bono tips
- Set communication norms. Before you begin your project, establish the methods of communication that will work best for everyone. If internet connectivity is an issue in the NGO’s location, default to using phone as your primary mode of communicating.
- Optimize common hours across time zones. Make sure you spend some time determining which hours are best to have dedicated calls or meetings. Common work hours shift across time zones. You’ll want to know which hours work best well in advance of your project.
- Test technology in advance. Avoid wasting time troubleshooting technology issues during your scheduled work time. With your NGO, decide which programs you want to use to communicate and work together. Once you’ve decided, test them out. Make sure you have whatever downloads you need taken care of before the work session kicks off.
- Separate yourself from your normal work routine as much as possible. Reserve dedicated workspace in your office, ideally a small conference room. If you’re working with team members and they are in the same office, reserve a room together. Avoid working at your assigned desk or you’ll risk getting distracted by day-to-day work.
- Use videoconferencing (VC) technology to meet with your NGO client. Video meetings can help build rapport with your NGO client. The more comfortable the working relationship, the more information you will be able to glean to develop a worthwhile deliverable.
- Take advantage of the full spectrum of communication technology. When not meeting with your client, keep lines of communications open for quick questions through VC, chat, email, and/or phone. Think through which technology is best for which situation (i.e. use chat to stay connected during the project, but connect via phone or VC to make important decisions or to mark key milestones).