If you Google “distributed teams: ac.uk” and Ultralab is the top hit, the items below ‘Ultralab’ in the list are writing about ‘distance’ learning and distributed teams etc. but they don’t practice this themselves. Ultralab in its organisation is living out the practice it seeks to spread. It uses the practices that it espouses. So many distributed or e-learning departments seem to be working from a central location, Ultralab’s full time, permanent living out of distributed learning, distributed research and online community puts the team in a hugely advantageous position to empathise with, understand and develop delightful learning online. I am not setting out to criticise interpretations of distributed working practice, but I do feel like authentic practitioner voices are missing from the discussion. Here is how we operate:


COMMUNITY OF PRACTICE – The lasting and central feature of lab communications is a First Class community. Our community ‘intra’ hosts asynchronous communities organised around themes, projects and ideas. The community is open such that all staff have access to all spaces, which is important for trust and the open development of ideas and the maximisation of contributions. There are times when First Class just isn’t enough on its own though.

SKYPE – One-to-one informal, up to five-way group telephony for scheduled meetings.

SUB ETHA EDIT – When editing a document, shared synchronous editing can be undertaken, possibly supported by other media e.g. phone conference. Good for brainstorming collaboratively, developing proposals or research output.

BLOG – For my own thoughts blogs are used to share beyond the internal team but linked to the Ultralab website to encourage engagement.

PHONE CONFERENCES – When technical problems disallow internet audio the phone is a backstop.

ISIGHT/WEBCAM -Used for two-way dialogue with other users when the mood arises. Often this is not needed, but it is sometimes valuable – for example when I am absent from a face to face meeting I am able to have a visible presence – though perhaps supported by other approaches such as chat.

QUICKTIME VIDEO STREAM – To receive broadcasts of team meetings or one-off presentations at remote locations streams can be easily set up.

CHAT (usually iChat or FirstClass Chat) – When ‘it’s a quick one’ and when you just don’t want to talk, when you’re multitasking, when audio is just not possible, as a subtext yo other communications (for example for discussion of video broadcasts that are one way). It’s also useful for a social chat.

MOBILE PHONE TEXT – for quick questions or messages when on the move.

MOOD MESSAGES – With applications open on desktops, some offer the chance to broadcast mood messages – these are used to informally wish each other good morning, to comment on the weather, to share some humour, or even to link to audio software to say what background music colleagues are listening to. All informal but significant.

FACE-TO -FACE – A real minority sport! Many organisations seek remote activity to support face-to- face, for us though it is the other way around. We do see each other but rarely – perhaps just thrice annually.

EMAIL – Although the community is really important for the team, email is also important. I use it for a range of one-to-one or small group comms. The choice to use email may be based on urgency, my own preference, the need for transparency and the nature of the topic