Wednesday, October 10, 2007

TechnoGroup: How It Works Now

by Hannah

Long-distance relationships have their challenges. The key is to want to make it work. A lot.

The news that Lisa was moving to California was an abrupt "huh?" We ignored it best we could, crossed fingers that it wouldn't happen, convinced ourselves the day was far off in the future. Way off. Really, really, far out there.

At first, when the day finally did pass, it seemed like nothing happened. We communicate mostly by email, and there was Lisa, every day, chatting with us. Then came time, we agreed, for a meeting.

Lynne did a dry run of the videoconferencing camera and software at Amy's house, and we were good to go. The good news is that the first such meeting was about Lisa's work-in-progress. Because the writer being reviewed says nothing, we other three could go on about our business as usual, taking turns with comments. Amy sat in her usual spot at the head of the table; Lynne and I moved in from the sides to fit into the frame. Lisa "sat" opposite Amy as usual, although halfway down the table. When we were done with the critique, Lisa asked her questions, and we wrapped up, happy to have been all together, even if virtually.

The second meeting, we realized, would be more of a challenge in terms of Lisa's being able to participate in an active give-and-take. Videoconferencing can be a bit slow, a bit choppy, so leaping into a discussion from the Great Beyond would be difficult. The solution was a flag: a bright orange triangle on a black stick Lisa waved when she wanted a turn. Not as ideal as being face-to-face, but effective.

None of the four of us will ever win jobs in an IT department. What we have made happen is possible for anyone, and kudos to Lisa and Lynne for figuring out details. (What is the IP? Where's the sound? Now where's the video? Are we connected?) Also, we should note, our children take this completely for granted. Lisa's daughter said hi before we started the last time, and her son came in fresh from the last Red Sox game in Anaheim to tell us the good news "in person." Amy's kids say hello and good night to Lisa, peeking into the camera to wave as they do. In all the best ways, nothing has changed.

Two caveats: We wouldn't recommend having more than one person long-distance; it wouldn't work well at all with more than two locations. Nor can we yet recommend a good videoconferencing software, as we are not in love with the one we have (yet?) nor do we know how it stacks up against its competition. Still, for any of you others thinking about a possible long-distance writers relationship, if we can do it, you can, too. Trust us. If the relationship is worth it, if you're in it for the long haul, then that occasional visual connection and real-time interaction make distance fade away.


Lisa said...

The biggest problem you seem to have is with the audio. Since there are just two locations, it would help quite a bit to establish a normal phone call between the three of you in Massachusetts and Lisa and put the call on speaker phone for the duration of the session. This would allow her to communicate with the three of you in "real time".

Larramie said...

Lisa's speaker phone suggestion is mine as well. Keep it simple, though the video shots are priceless.

Shauna Roberts said...

Thanks so much for posting this. It will be a big help to my critique group as we prepare to have our first meeting with me participating via videoconferencing.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

I don't think we thought of doubling up, or switching over, more precisely, on the audio... which proves our techno-savvy, I suppose! Thank you! The video is worth every moment, as you note, but that should help significantly. Also, Shauna, good luck to you with the videoconferencing, as well. The flag seems a funny idea, but those simple things make a difference!