It can be challenging to ensure all group members are participating productively in a virtual environment, and yet it is one of the most important components of successful group work. Creating an environment where team members feel comfortable and empowered is key. Aside from making sure everyone is up to speed with the technology being used, having a clear sense of purpose and defined tasks, aids the success or the team. The following is a checklist designed to encourage engagement in a virtual workspace. Also see, building consensus, for tips on decision making in virtual groups.
Communicate often and early–make sure shared goals and objectives are understood.
Document management refers to the practice of strategically planning where and how the outputs from your group’s work will be stored. As information professionals, sometimes we can take for granted that someone at the table should have some expertise in this area.
The most important aspect of document management is consistency – both within your group and for LITA as a whole. This guide will help you decide where to store different types of documents and how to name them.
The benefits of having consistent document naming conventions include:
The ability to distinguish files from one another.
The facilitation of file browsing.
The facilitation of file retrieval for all – not just for the file’s creator.
Some best practices when naming documents include:
Keep file names short and relevant.
Avoid using spaces in filenames. Use camel case (i.e. capitalize the first letter of each new word) and underscores _ instead.
Avoid using symbols such as: !~@$%^&*()+=?><|*+,-#,/’”:;.
If using a date, use the format Year-Month-Day (four digit year, two digit month, two digit day): YYYY-MM-DD or YYYY-MM or YYYY-YYYY. This will maintain chronological order. For example:
Will list in chronological order
Will not list in chronological order
Include leading zeros for numbers 0-9. This will maintain numeric order in the file directory.
Order the elements in a file name according to the way they will be retrieved. If you are retrieving elements by date, then that element should appear first.
File names relating to recurring events (e.g. agenda, meeting minutes) should include the date and event. For example:
Agenda 5 January 2017.doc
Agenda 5 November 2016.doc
Minutes 5 January 2017.doc
Minutes 5 November 2016.doc
Avoid descriptive terms regarding format or version (e.g. draft, memo) at the start of file names.
Sometimes it can be unclear where we should keep the documents produced by our teams. Many teams use ad-hoc methods, like email chains, personal or institutional shared drives, or Dropbox to store their documents. This practice doesn’t allow for a sustainable and accountable transfer of information.
LITA provides a number of different places where you can and should store your different types of working documents. For your LITA team work, keep the following spaces in mind:
Building consensus in your team is the process through which your group comes to a decision on an issue. In virtual teams, there is an added dimension of difficulty when it comes to making decisions and building consensus. In virtual teams it is essential to deliberately make up for the lack of non-verbal cues in virtual meetings. Successful consensus building involves acknowledging that making decisions will be more difficult in a virtual setting, and taking measured steps in order to facilitate decision making. This guide will help you take steps to successfully build consensus among your virtual team.
Before a virtual meeting
Gather opinions before the meeting
In advance of your virtual meeting, be sure to gather opinions from team members on non-controversial topics. This way you can avoid spending a disproportionate amount of time during your meeting discussing things everyone agrees on.
Devote time to disagreement
Sometimes it can be easy to hastily make decisions in a meeting when the time allotted to discussing the issue does not suffice. When planning your agenda, be sure to outline how much time you plan to spend on a given issue or topic, and plan some extra time to hearing voices who may disagree.
Send an agenda at least one week in advance
Sending the agenda gives your team members a chance to collect their thoughts, or ask questions.
During a meeting
Beware of false consensus
In virtual meetings, the first or loudest voice tends to dominate. Without in-person cues, it can be difficult to include minority opinions. If your team comes to a decision quickly, beware of false consensus. The chair of the meeting should ask specifically and directly if there are any opposing or differing ideas, opinions, or viewpoints. Be welcoming in inviting disagreement to make sure the group has considered all perspective and doesn’t have blind spots. Check for agreement before proceeding.
Have a Pro-Con discussion
When discussing an issue for which you need to come to a decision, explicitly ask the groups for pros and cons, even if you think the pros and cons are obvious. Make note of these lists in the minutes. Objectively listing the pros and cons can help both sides of the argument understand each other more completely.
When your team comes to an agreement, the meeting chair should repeat clearly the decision that has been made. This ensures that everyone has the same understanding of the agreement that has been made.
Do a round-table to ask for individual opinions
A group member’s silence does not imply their consent with the issue at hand. When issues are being discussed, take a round-robin of the members of the group to make sure that all opinions are heard and no voices are lost.
Use a poll application to collect anonymous responses
If you are trying to come to a decision without forcing people to outwardly share their views, you can use an online polling tool during your meeting. Easypolls and Doodle both provide quick and easy voting mechanisms for anonymous, in-meeting polling. For longer surveys, the LITA Office can set up a SurveyMonkey poll for you.
After the meeting
Send the minutes within a day or two
Be sure to send out meeting minutes one or two days following your virtual meeting. When you send the minutes, ask for input or corrections right away, while the conversation is still fresh in your team members’ minds. Give members the opportunity to voice disagreement with the interpretation of the meeting by explicitly asking for corrections.
Implement the decision
Follow up with team members who were assigned action items related to the decision and see its implementation through.
22% of adults in the United States have some type of disability (Source). In addition to permanent disabilities, people may also have temporary disabilities (e.g., a broken arm that makes typing difficult) or situational impairments (e.g., speakers on the computer don’t work and so they can’t hear the sound from a video). In order to make your committee as inclusive as possible, it is vital that you consider accessibility.
Further, when designing websites and documents, “accessible design is good design.” Features that improve accessibility generally make the site or document more usable for everyone, just as curb cuts on the sidewalk can help people with carts and strollers, and not just those in wheelchairs.
This guide will give some quick tips for making your documents, videos, and tools more accessible. However, note that following rules mindlessly is unlikely to lead to a truly accessible site. You need to continually keep in mind the experience of people with disabilities when creating documents or choosing tools. These disabilities may include vision issues, hearing issues, mobility and dexterity issues, and cognitive issues.
When someone on your committee has a hearing impairment, there are two options for group meetings. One is to use text chat only (in Zoom, Google Hangouts, or whichever tool you’re using). If this doesn’t work for the person or the group, LITA can hire a closed captionist for meetings held in Zoom. Contact us at email@example.com to set up closed captioning.
Creating Accessible Documents
There are five key tips to keep in mind when creating accessible documents, which include Microsoft Word documents, Google Docs, PDFs, and webpages:
Use Built-In Styles and Formatting
Headings, lists, and other formatting add structure to your pages. To ensure these elements are accessible, use the built-in formatting in Word or style codes in HTML. Do not make a “heading” by bolding and enlarging the font, and don’t skip heading levels (e.g., go directly from “Heading 1” or “<h1>” to “Heading 3” or “<h3>”). Make lists by typing in asterisks, and avoid using tables for layout rather than for tabular data.
Provide Alternative (ALT) Text
Alternative text provides a textual alternative to images and other non-text content on web pages. It is especially helpful for people who are blind and rely on a screen reader to have the content of the website read to them. You can add ALT text in HTML and most applications (including Word and PowerPoint)
The alternative text should provide an alternative for both the content and the function of the image on the page, which means that the same image may have different ALT text in different contexts (click here for examples of using different ALT text for the same image). If an illustration does not convey content (for example, a decorative element) or repeats information found in the text, use empty alt tags on HTML pages to tell the screen-reader to skip the illustration.
Ensure Hyperlinks Are Easy to Identify and Make Sense Out of Context
Identify links with color and additional formats like underlining to highlight them with low vision or color blindness.
Links and clickable “hot spots” need to be large enough for visitors with limited motor control to click. Ensure that all content can be accessed with the keyboard alone; do not use elements that only activate when a user hovers over items with a mouse.
Ensure links make sense out of context. Every link should make sense if the link text is read by itself. Screen reader users may choose to read only the links on a web page. Certain phrases like “click here” and “more” should be avoided.
Use Colors Carefully
Do not rely on color alone to convey meaning. The use of color can enhance comprehension, but do not use color alone to convey information. That information may not be available to a person who is colorblind and will be unavailable to screen reader users.
High contrast colors are easier for visitors to read. Avoid red and green because they present a challenge to many color blind users.
Ensure Content is Clearly Written and Formatted
Make sure content is structured, clearly written, and easy to read. When it comes to text presentation and formatting, use clear fonts, add blank lines between paragraphs, and use headings and lists appropriately. When it comes to writing style, organize your ideas logically, avoid double negatives, keep sentences simple, and avoid using jargon or acronyms without explanation.
Transcripts are text versions of an audio file. This allows anyone that cannot (or prefers not to) access content from a web audio or video to read a text transcript instead. Transcripts do not have to be verbatim accounts of the spoken word, and can contain additional descriptions, explanations, or comments that may be beneficial. For example, if the transcript is from a video, a transcript may also contain information about what is visible on the screen.
For most web video, both captions and a text transcript should be provided. For content that is audio only, a transcript is usually enough.
If the audio is associated with images or video, provide synchronized text captions.
When your audio is associated with any visuals, such as images, slides, or video, you should provide captions that are synchronized with the visual in addition to the text transcript. Again, these do not have to be verbatim accounts of the spoken word.
Aegisub – A free, open source tool for creating and modifying subtitles
When considering using tools for collaboration, project management, video conferencing, etc., consider accessibility. Do research to see both what the vendor claims about the accessibility of their tool as well as reviews from users with disabilities. Some vendors will provide online Voluntary Product Accessibility Templates (VPATs) to show their compliance with accessibility guidelines and/or may provide information about compliance with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG 2.0).
Collecting various information or feedback is something you may need to do from time to time. A survey is the quickest and most efficient way to do this. For simple surveys, you can use Google Forms in your group’s Google Drive folder. For more complex surveys, ALA has a SurveyMonkey account that LITA staff can use.
In order to have a survey distributed through SurveyMonkey:
For complex surveys, ask the Assessment and Research Committee to review your questions to make sure they are efficient, understandable, and will return the type of data you will need. They might make some suggestions that you should consider adopting. In some instances, such as demographics categories, ALA already has standard fields and labels that LITA should use.
Work with LITA staff to determine the length of time you want the survey to be open for responses.
LITA staff will work with the Communications and Marketing Committee to distribute to LITA-L, LITA Blog, social media, etc. based on preferences and/or after helping determine the best distribution paths.
After the survey closes, LITA staff will provide you with an analysis link so you can review the results.
Most survey tools (especially SurveyMonkey) provide analytics for the data collected. Charts, graphs, and reports make it easy to report findings and analyze results.
This toolkit is meant to help you participate in and run your virtual LITA committee or team. It has been developed by the 2017 ALA Emerging Leaders Team D and was last updated by LITA staff in November 2019.