Evolution of the Effective Workforce: Mindful Iterations in Project Management and Virtual Team Communications

Concurrent Session 3
Streamed Session

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Brief Abstract

For over three decades now: email, telephones and spreadsheets have been the primary team communication and collaboration tools. We’ll iterate our way forward, exploring how today’s increasingly virtual workforce is using new tools like Slack, Teams, and Jira, that foster knowledge sharing, evidence-based decision making, personal connectivity and creativity.


Clark Shah-Nelson serves as Assistant Dean of Instructional Design and Technology for the University of Maryland School of Social Work and is a doctoral student in Evidence-Based Management/Business Administration. Clark is an eLearning instructional design development professional with 25 years experience in educational technology innovations: teaching, designing leading award-winning online and distance learning teams for learning management platform implementation, training, end user support, professional development and engagement. He has presented at numerous online learning and ed tech conferences, was co-founder of the Blend-Online Educause constituent group, co-founding master chef of the Online Learning Consortium (OLC) Technology Test Kitchen, and has recently volunteered as Conference Co-Chair for OLC Innovate and Engagement Co-Chair for OLC Accelerate Clark has authored chapters on synchronous tools for teaching and learning support and co-authored a chapter on professional development installations. As a consultant, Clark has worked on several international projects in the realm of blended and online learning.

Extended Abstract

A seismic shift is occurring in workplaces worldwide. To varying degrees, it is affecting all sectors: all kinds of businesses, non-profits, NGOs, and educational institutions. The shift is toward the use of new and improved tools and practices for communication and collaboration. These tools are ushering in a new paradigm, giving the workplace a facelift that enables virtual, geographically-distributed teams, and that fosters creativity, knowledge-sharing, and interpersonal communications.

In the early 1990’s, the previous shift began, in businesses and workplaces: more and more employees shifted from typewriters to computers and began using email as a primary means of communication. Reading and responding to emails became a primary daily activity in the work life of the majority of the workforce in education, among other sectors. File cabinets were eventually replaced by floppy disks, then hard drives and file servers. Collaboration would generally occur using file attachments to email, or in some cases, files shared on a server.

Fast forward thirty years: many workplaces or portions of them are still stuck in the email/telephone/spreadsheets paradigm, struggling to store, organize and share knowledge in a way that it can most easily be accessed, updated, and utilized for evidence-based decision making and practice. Decentralization has in many cases led to “one hand not knowing about the other” - disconnected teams with compartmentalized knowledge that isn’t fully utilized to the organization’s advantage. There are schools, departments, offices and teams who never interact with the majority of other teams in the same organization, neither physically nor virtually, but have a shared personal and collective stake in working toward the same mission.

Now, with the explosion of new websites and tools, web and cloud-based software and services have arisen and begun to slowly take over, filling in the transparency gap left by email and attachments with new and improved capabilities. Wikis and wiki-like knowledge storing tools like Atlassian Confluence, Google Drive/Docs, OneDrive, DropBox, and Google Sites all upped the collaborative knowledge-sharing ante. Social networking platforms, such as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn have shown how groups can share and learn from each other, communicate about personal interests beyond the work day and provide easy access to a supportive network of colleagues, no matter where they are. Videoconferencing apps like Hangouts, Zoom, Appear.In and Teams have made it so easy to chat with, call (video and/or audio), virtually drop-in on, share screens with, and generally collaborate with others. Indeed, the shift toward team communication platforms, social networking platforms, and collaborative software will surpass email usage for internal organizational communication over the next decade (Cardon & Marshall, 2015) (Anders, 2016).

So how do we progress mindfully into this new paradigm? What are some of the factors to be considered as teams evolve into new tools and practices? Alsharo, Gregg, and Ramirez (2017), found that “knowledge sharing positively influences trust and collaboration among virtual team members” (p. 479). But they also found that in some work cultures where there is a lack of trust, there can be “knowledge hoarding” rather than openness and sharing.  While these new technologies can introduce more customized, personalized workflows and forms of collaboration, there is also the potential for fragmentation of knowledge, which can impede innovation and productivity (Anders, 2016).  

In this session, we’ll explore some of the findings of the literature surrounding new tools for collaboration, communication, and knowledge sharing that will help all types of organizations iterate and evolve. We will witness how virtual teams can be fostered and thrive using collaborative tools such as Slack, Teams, Jira, and Appear.In, among others. We’ll follow the path of instructional design teams, online learning and professional development shops, and media development teams to use project management, instant messaging, cloud file storage, and other team communications platforms to enable efficient communication that also produces data for evidence-based decision-making. We’ll discuss tips and tricks to enable knowledge sharing, trust-building, and mindfulness, all of which can foster an environment that is conducive to innovation and team effectiveness.


Alsharo, M., Gregg, D., & Ramirez, R. (2017). Virtual team effectiveness: The role of knowledge sharing and trust. Information & Management, 54(4), 479–490. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.im.2016.10.005

Anders, A. (2016). Team communication platforms and emergent social collaboration practices. International Journal of Business Communication, 53(2), 224–261. https://doi.org/10.1177/2329488415627273

Cardon, P. W., & Marshall, B. (2015). The hype and reality of social media use for work collaboration and team communication. International Journal of Business Communication, 52, 273-293. https://doi.org/10.1177/2329488414525446