2013, Pennsylvania, The US. Working virtually in front of a fireplace at a hotel lobby in Pennsylvania. Photo credit: Erika Pursiainen, UNICEF Innovation Unit, NYHQ
2013, Pennsylvania, The US. Working virtually in front of a fireplace at a hotel lobby in Pennsylvania. Photo credit: Erika Pursiainen, UNICEF Innovation Unit, NYHQ

My last blog post discussed simple tools our team uses in our everyday work at the UNICEF Innovation Unit in New York. This time my topic – virtual work – is especially current for our team. At the moment, we are having “virtual January” which means we can choose where we want to work, be it at home, at a library or on the other side of the country. Virtual work is a must to survive and keep up with the momentum in this ever-changing world, not only for us but also for all international teams.

Virtual work is a must for today’s organizations

Working with our country offices and helping them find new, innovative solutions to better the lives of children in their own countries requires effective virtual work. Virtual tools can be very effective in international work, but they must be learned and practiced. Even though virtual tools save resources in terms of time, travel, and money, and offer important real-time connections they are still often neglected by organizations that are not that agile and rely on the traditional ways of working (although one might say that virtual work is traditional work nowadays).

2013, New York, The US. Little guys were keeping an eye on the office while our team worked virtually in September. Photo credit: Zhiyao Ma, UNICEF Innovation Unit, NYHQ
2013, New York, The US. Little guys were keeping an eye on the office while our team worked virtually in September. Photo credit: Zhiyao Ma, UNICEF Innovation Unit, NYHQ

Choose the best virtual tools for your team

I don’t have an assigned PC at the office but I use my own laptop. In fact, most of us do, which is pretty convenient since some of us travel frequently and work virtually even if in the city. We are also quite diligent in using our mobile phones, especially when it comes to checking emails. For those of us who travel or are on the move a lot, it is important to have mobile work devices.

Because of the international nature of our work we use virtual tools a lot. We are constantly in contact with our country offices, other UNICEF staff, and partners in dozens of countries, so being able to go virtual is simply a must for us. We have used tools such as Google+, Google Hangout, Basecamp, Skype, text messages, phone calls, email, social media, and many more. Some of the tools have been better than others for our team, and not all are suitable for all situations. Thus, it is important to find those that are best for your own needs.

Global connections in real-time

In October I went to New York University (NYU) to check out the Design for UNICEF course being taught this semester by Chris (Fabian, Innovation Unit Co-Lead). During the class I witnessed Skype connecting people across three continents – North and South-America and Africa: us in New York, Chris in Santiago de Chile, and students of Art Center College of Design (Pasadena, the US) in Kampala, Uganda. During the call the students in the class used screen sharing, microphones and cameras to share their presentations with Chris and the students in Uganda. Right after class Chris (@unickf) tweeted about the call: “Is the future about connections among people? Yes. #design4unicef across 3 continents (nyc, Santiago, Kampala) pic.twitter.com/rpmwstepYv”. Indeed, and without virtual tools we wouldn’t have these real-time connections.

2013, New York, The US. Skype connected people across three continents during New York University's Design for UNICEF class. Photo credit: Erika Pursiainen, UNICEF Innovation Unit, NYHQ
2013, New York, The US. Skype connected people across three continents during New York University’s Design for UNICEF class. Photo credit: Erika Pursiainen, UNICEF Innovation Unit, NYHQ

Whether you are working in the office or virtually it is important and effective to visualize data, relationships and different systems. My next post will introduce the favorite visualization tools of our Design Lead and also, talk about prototyping as another way to visualize and test products, services and processes.

Erika Pursiainen
UNICEF Innovation Unit, NYHQ
epursiainen(at)unicef.org

This post has been prepared for the writer’s school blog http://sidlaurea.com/.

See also my other posts:

Behind the scenes – Tools in innovation designers’ sandbox Part 2/5

Behind the scenes – Tools in innovation designers’ sandbox Part 1/5

Innovation versus an intern’s comfort zone

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