Recently, a staff member who works out in a satellite office linked to campus dropped by without warning. She was on campus to attend a function on campus, and since she and I had spoken about software and grant writing, she wanted to swing by.
We were able to discuss her project work, tour some of the high-tech resources on campus, and make a thin promise to meet again to go over authoring tools and other software. The meeting only lasted about an hour. The staff member was able to meet with a few other staff members who could support her. We made the best use of time that we could on a surprise visit.
One benefit of our office for satellite staff was a resource to loan out to faculty, whether located locally or far away.
This resource includes a high-end video-editing laptop loaded with high-end video editing software (Sony Vegas) and a desktop capture presentation software (Camtasia) along with a range of other resources. Along with this came a camcorder (not total state-of-the-art but a generation prior, with the uses of DV tapes instead of a memory card). The faculty member could add a tripod, a direction mic, and other elements.
They could borrow this equipment for many months at a time, even up to a semester or two, depending on the project.
This got me to thinking about the limited services for those who work serious distances away from campus. I have had a handful of colleagues with whom I collaborate over great distances. One managed a server, and I had to work with him even though he worked some five hours of driving time away from campus. He and I met once when he made a point to visit, and we communicated via a few emails, but once I got access, that was the end of that interaction.
Another colleague, an administrator, drove to campus once a week from a branch campus. For our hiring committee, we did a lot of work by telephone and then also met face-to-face a fair amount of time.
I am not sure how much effort central campus makes to connect to those working at satellite offices or branch campuses. With electronic communications, employees can get into the “head space” of main campus and its culture, but that does not mean that they truly feel a part. There’s something to be said for regular interactions and collaborations. There are many resources available locally that one would not have far away. Those who are resourceful can build many local networks and do just fine. That said, they will need to have strength and resilience.
Strategically, they have to make sure that their direct connections are strong with their supervisors and counterparts in other offices, in order to make sure that their work is effective and well supported.
This is not even to mention those who work abroad—faculty, staff, and others. I can easily see how people can immerse into their environments and work and not worry about whose names are on the check. And maybe colleagues in a particular domain field are much more “collegial” than those outside a domain field.
With web conferencing tools and learning / course management systems and email and social networking sites, there are many ways to connect constructively (without wasting time just shooting the electronic breeze). Much collaboration can occur constructively across distances.
Still, as an instructional designer, I have always thought that we should be more willing to drive out to branch campuses (usually several times a year currently) and to even hit the satellite offices hours and hours out…if that can offer a deep collaborative benefit in terms of creating contents.