Distance teamwork opportunities are practically unlimited. A project leader can create an EMS structure best suited to any particular objective. The creative use of EMS tools will support every scenario imaginable to engage a global team in a true cooperative working and learning experience. Team members can work individually or in assigned teams, and their input can be anonymous or tagged with either their individual names or a group designator.
There can be no complete substitute for a face to face meeting environment, however, if used correctly and creatively, there are many valuable and practical ways to supplement or extend the meeting experience. Remote use of EMS between periodic face-to-face meetings keeps projects alive and continuously progressing at a much faster pace. Project reporting assignments, for example, can be completed on-line, thus enabling leaders to review team members’ work and be better prepared for follow-up action.
What I hear from organizations that have been using “discussion” functions is that there are very limited benefits from threaded discussions because they are too “static” a form of discussion. You end up with a long chronological database of comments and ideas, etc. that become more and more difficult to relate to. Also, many Internet solutions, including HTML web pages, while supportive of a two-way communication style, do not adequately support the concept of team project oriented learning and work styles. Interactive dynamics are missing, and there is no suitable way to leverage off the group, to create added value by having project team members work and learn together.
There are really no products out there that have the “convergence” capabilities that you get with EMS. In a project management context this is critical. You need to be able to dynamically initiate some convergence and moderate and focus group discussions for maximal value. EMS tools provide for ‘drill-down’ decision making, as well as collecting, organizing and analyzing information.
The prospect of synchronous meetings using applications like NetMeeting and the tools that go with it is not realistic because too much discipline is required of project team members. A three-way conversation is difficult enough, even with the best conditions and ample bandwidth. While NetMeeting, the telephone and video conferencing enhance communication, EMS enhances and drives the process and the project itself.
The asynchronous ongoing meeting is the best way to structure a global team’s remote project meetings. However, without a structure that ‘also’ supports synchronous work, as experienced with EMS, many potential interactive benefits and opportunities are lost that are normally available in face to face communication.
EMS should be viewed as a “core tool” in distance team working processes, while HTML Web pages constitute the “support” environment where additional organization structure is provided, instructions given, and supporting documents are posted, etc. e-mail is needed as the equivalent of two-way private exchanges of information not addressed to the group. “Live” EMS sessions can be embedded in HTML Web pages where they can be accessed with a login and password if desired for both page and session access privileges.
The asynchronous (different time) ongoing meeting is the best way to structure distance learning education programs. However, without a structure that ‘also’ supports synchronous work, there are many potential interactive learning opportunities lost.