Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Working together across distances

The tool: Groove
Operating via a network, Groove Virtual Office software allows teams of people to work together as if they were in the same physical location, through their website.
What can you do with Groove?
You can share files, track data and processes and get work done together with people who are not in the same location.
What do you need?
Groove is available in different versions and different price categories. There’s a version that runs on low bandwidth and a full version, available at a higher price. You can ask for price information at the Groove website. A 60-day trial version is also available; after the trial period a number of features will no longer be operational, but the core - like the document sharing feature - will still function.

The next interview took place at August 18, 2006 with Anja Panjwani from ETC.


“We wanted to improve communication with partners in the South. We’ve always used e-mail and telephone and now and then received a report or update on how they were doing, although it sometimes took time before we heard anything. Especially when a project plan or the like was involved, when we’d only hear from them when they were finished. It meant we never really worked together on a project, because we couldn’t give our input until the final version was ready. So we started looking for a place to share documents. And discovered Groove.” How do you use the application? And what do you mainly use it for? “I haven’t checked out all the options yet, as we’ve only just got the full version. We worked with the trial version before, but the function we most use is the file sharing option. Before Groove we always had reports available on the website, but that can’t compare to what Groove offers. It gives us the option of sharing documents in progress, so we can work on them together. Groove now contains documents like knowledge profiles, project proposals, contracts etcetera. One of the big advantages of Groove is that all files are shared automatically, as they’re stored on your own hard drive. So you don’t have to be online to access them. For our people in the field, who will be travelling with laptops and won’t always have internet access nearby, it’s perfect. They will always have the updated information to hand. Added documents are also marked with an asterisk (*) so you can easily see how many updates and new documents there are. Uploading is simple, as Groove works from you own Windows Explorer. The options available in the standard (trial) edition include shared files, discussion, calendar, sketch, web links, shared pictures and notepad. This gives an impression of the way you can use the Virtual Office.”

Just like Microsoft Office

How did you get started? “One of my colleagues suggested Groove, so we decided to try it out and downloaded the trial version. I think it’s the best way to get to know a new application, because you can only find out if it meets your needs by experimenting with it. We’ve only used it with our partner in Tanzania. Our colleagues there have introduced them to Groove and shown them how to use it. At first it was all very new so we spent a lot of time trying out the different features. It’s a very easy programme to use because everything is much the same as Microsoft office.” Are there any rules about using Groove, or is there someone keeping an eye on the process? “Someone’s responsible for the projects in each country, and they will also monitor the process at Groove a little. Different users have different rights. You can be a manager, a participant or a guest. This way there is some kind of hierarchy in Groove. We are currently working on a guideline. For instance, one partner added a lot of pictures, which are too heavy to download at low bandwidth. We have to set up parameters for this, which is what we’re currently working on.”

Sharing and contact

Does Groove meet your needs? “I am very enthusiastic about it! We share files, keep it all organised and if I need one of the partners I can contact them using Groove. It constantly shows who is online and who is currently in the workspace. There’s also a chat function and a message function. The latter is very similar to e-mail, but I found that contacting the partner using Groove leads to a quicker response most of the time. They probably receive a great deal of e-mail and not many Groove messages, so they can deal with those with more quickly. We do still use Skype if we need to talk, instead of the chat function. The Groove chatroom is very open, so everybody in the workspace can see the conversation. Although it’s often used to say ‘let’s Skype’. We do use e-mail less, which is a plus for me. Before, documents were sent back and forth and that happens far less often now.” Has the relationship with your partner improved? “There’s far more discussion and cooperation, so I’d say our working relations have definitely improved.”


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