Ushahidi's Virtual Team

Erik Hersman
Mar 30, 2010

I was struck with how different Ushahidi is while reading a New York Times article on Inc Magazine, where they chose to work remotely for a full month. There are other virtual organizations, so we're not unique in this, but it is something that we're very familiar with after operating like this for 2 years. Erik working in a cyber cafe in Monrovia Liberia Ushahidi is completely virtual. No one has an office, we all work from wherever our computer and internet connection take us. It took 17 months before the four founders were even in the same room together, and there has never been a time where the core team has all been in one place. We tend to challenge a lot of assumptions in whatever we do, so maybe being virtual fits us and enables us to do things that wouldn't be possible if we did have a centralized office. It works very well for independent, self-organized people who are driven to get a lot of stuff done on their own. This distributed office also allows us to be "on" 24/7 if needed, such as with the Haiti deployment in January.

How do we communicate?

Skype - easily the most important tool in any international organization's digital communications toolbox. We can ping each other at any time, and we also hold weekly sessions for the whole team to do updates.

Email - not sexy, but still a core piece of any organizations communications.

Team Page - An unexpected, yet maybe one of the most valuable tools we've uncovered is the P2 theme for Wordpress. We have it locked so only core team members can access it, and it's used as a message board throughout the day for you to post ideas, updates, links, questions, etc in a more static way. Comments are nested, and a are a big part of the interaction.

We also use a number of other tools in a smattering of ways, though none would be considered as important as the first three. We use tools like a shared Google Calendar, Basecamp and Highrise.

Of course, this provides some challenges too. Having face-to-face interaction allows you to overcome some communications difficulties that Skype and email just won't let you do. Time zones are an issue, with people from Chicago to Nairobi (8 hour difference) we do have scheduling issues that people have to make sacrifices for. You also have to be someone who can manage your own time and balance your home/work life in a way that allows you to get stuff done.