Co-researchers can play a key role in projects and are an integral part of the team at TNC. Co-researchers have taken active roles in areas such as project planning and development, administration, data collection, facilitation, and analysis. They each bring unique perspectives, skills, and lived experience that often makes the projects they are involved in more valid and impactful for the communities they intend to benefit.
I am a family co-researcher and team member on one of TNC’s current projects, Evaluating Youth and Family Engagement in the Youth Wellness Hubs Ontario Initiative. The team supporting this project are located all over Ontario and have been working remotely together for the past two years on the project. Recently we took part in a series of reflection sessions where the co-researcher team shared insights about their experiences and engagement throughout project. These sessions were fully developed and facilitated by myself and another co-researcher on the team. The sessions allowed for open sharing and reflection on what makes co-researcher teams successful and how to overcome barriers associated with remote teamwork and engagement.
Obviously, technology plays a key role in virtual engagement with a remote team of co-researchers. Programs such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Drive can support connectivity and collaboration. However, technology can only take you so far when it comes to engaging a team virtually. Are there also a set of intangible attributes and processes that lead to enhanced engagement and better team success when working through virtual means?
Our co-researcher team shared their reflections about key approaches needed to ensure remote teamwork and engagement are a success. Here’s what we learned:
Flexibility: Flexibility is key when working within a team of co-researchers, or within any team for that matter. Understanding that co-researchers may lead busy, sometimes complicated lives, is instrumental in how we organize our work, schedule meetings, and perform cohesively as a team. Co-researchers may be supporting project work on top of school, work, raising children, and other tasks that demand their time. Flexibility to meet them where they are at is important to ensure their participation and engagement. Here are a few ways to support flexibility within your team of co-researchers:
- Find times to meet virtually that work for everyone. This means being flexible with your time and possibly working outside regular daytime hours or on weekends. Use apps such as doodle.com to help organize and schedule your team meetings and if a member can’t attend the meeting, be sure to connect with them at a later date.
- Grant co-researchers the opportunity to self-identify areas in which they would like to take on a more active role or allow them to opt-out of certain tasks. Be flexible with what is expected of them while allowing for structured learning and growth opportunities.
- Flexibility with timelines is important when working within a team of co-researchers. Consider structuring extra time into your project at the very beginning or revise workplans to include time to support co-researchers as needed throughout the project.
Connection- During the co-researcher reflection sessions it was noted that a sense of connection was important for team members when it came to engagement. Co-researchers not only wanted to feel more connected to the work itself, but also build more connections socially with the other co-researchers. Some ways to support a deeper connection with a team of co-researchers include:
- Check-in regularly with the team and individually with each co-researcher.
- Build a safe and comfortable atmosphere by structuring time for relationship building at the beginning of the project.
- Allow for open sharing and life updates at the beginning of each meeting to build stronger relationships and gain a deeper understanding of co-researcher life circumstances.
- Find ways for co-researchers to connect socially outside of the project, if so desired. There are many free social messaging apps online that can support this.
Sharing: To work collaboratively and effectively within a team of co-researchers, a large amount of sharing and transparency is needed. Co-researchers need to be aware of the happenings within the project at every step so that their work can be done with full knowledge and clarity. It also helps if co-researchers understand how their work within the project directly impacts the larger picture. Here are some ways to support sharing throughout your project:
- Share regular updates about how the project is progressing and what areas each co-researcher is working on.
- Give clear, transparent expectations throughout the project. Make sure that co-researchers are aware of all the key players involved, the deliverables, and timelines.
- Share the impact of the co-researcher work. Make sure to showcase where co-researcher feedback, direction, and efforts have directly impacted or enhanced the project.
- Allow co-researchers to share their reflections on how the work is progressing or how they are feeling engaged throughout the project.
- Don’t forget that co-researchers bring many skills, perspectives, and knowledge that they can share! Find space for learning and sharing from co-researchers by having them facilitate meetings or develop trainings for the entire co-researcher team. We can gain a lot by sharing and learning from each other.
While technology can go a long way to supporting engagement when working virtually with teams of co-researchers, there is so much more to be gained by changing the way we connect and interact as a team online. The human and personal aspects of working as a team cannot be dismissed just because we are not in the same room or share the same office. We must remain flexible to learning and growth by sharing and building deeper connections as a team- virtual or not.