Last month, I took on the role of Chief of Staff for the Rocky Mountain Region (RMR) of the Civil Air Patrol. It has been busy while I get my feet under me in this new role. One of the areas, I felt we could immediately improve was in the area of communications and document handling. With all organizational change, it will take time to make some of these changes. There are a number of people who have served in their roles for a long time and may be reluctant to adopt new methods. A couple of days ago, I sent a message to the entire staff recommending some methods for communication both internally and externally. Here are those methods and my justifications:
Email – This will often be the primary means of communication especially when a record of the conversation is important. Unfortunately, the problem with email is that it is restricted between parties and some essential members may be left out of the loop of important conversations due to oversight or political intent. In an effort to ensure all members are at least accessible, members were asked to ensure that their correct email address is recorded on the RMR Roster. This is important because there is not one central email domain for the staff; each member uses a personal email address or creates one specifically for their role. The roster is shared through Google Docs and requires permission to access it, so that we can control private information to a need to know basis.
Staff members are encouraged to contact their functional areas both above and below them. They should use at a minimum email to help address issues as well as pass on information.
Skype – Skype is a powerful tool for synchronous communications. With Skype, the unit and members can conduct conference calls for 24 people at no cost. With a paid subscription, the conference call can also include non-Skype users. I have been encouraging members to create a Skype account because of added functionality. Skype also has an instant messaging capability that can be used one-on-one or in groups. During recent search missions, we have used Skype, specifically the chat feature to support mission staff operations. By creating a call group, members of the group text input into a common area that can archived as historical transcripts.
We are also including the Skype account as part of our RMR roster. Skype can be accessed at http://beta.skype.com/en/ Note: Skype is free. You do not need to pay for the premium version.
Dropbox – Dropbox is a great tool for sharing large documents. It also helps with version control. Ideally, it is installed as a program on your computer, but it can also be accessed through the Web. With Dropbox, we are able to share documents across a team. Because the document is updated automatically, each member has access to the most current version. Presently, documents are typically shared through email, and it is difficult to maintain version control.
During a recent search mission that spanned two states, the mission staff was able to share Google Earth KMZ files rapidly between mission bases and staff members. This made it easy to keep everyone abreast of changes to the mission and search status.
Google Docs (AKA Google Drive) – Google Docs is a great tool for collaborating on documents as well as sharing final results on the Web. It also helps with version control. Google Docs is accessed through the Web, and you can control access to documents; this access can be from a public setting to only specific people. Google Drive is where you can access all the documents shared with you.
The most powerful aspect of this tool, in my opinion, is the collaboration feature. By using a Google document, a team can edit a document all at the same time. For example, instead of distributing a meeting agenda, the meeting agenda is created in Google Docs, and participants can add to it prior to the meeting and as the meeting is in progress. The agenda then easily moves from agenda status to minute status.
As with other tools preferred Google Docs accounts are added to the RMR roster. Google Docs can be accessed at https://drive.google.com/ Note: Google Docs is free.
Calendar – The calendar will note events and deadlines as we are aware of them. We are using a Google Calendar to record events. Not only is the calendar available to the public, but it can be embedded into our Web pages as needed. Also, individuals can subscribe to the calendar and can display this calendar along with their personal calendar. Staff members and the wing commanders are encouraged to submit events to be placed on the calendar. The calendar can be accessed at the following URL in the event you wish to subscribe to it. https://www.google.com/calendar/embed?src=3jk96su67rb51lidmlckj40o2c%40group.calendar.google.com&ctz=America/Los_Angeles
Operations Bulletin – The Ops Bulletin is designed to be a communication tool to help remind unit commanders of upcoming requirements or scheduled events. I will be asking staff members for input on the 20th of each month, with a deadline of the 25th of the month. The input can be upcoming events, tips for the specific functional area, alerts to reg changes, trends in CIs and Air Force Evals, etc. Here is an example of the recent Ops Bulletin, November 2012.
Facebook – Facebook is a tool to highlight the good things that are happening across the region. It also can be used to generate buzz about upcoming events, as well as post topical items for extra emphasis. Our Facebook fan page can be found at http://www.facebook.com/RMRCAP.
Ideally, I would like functional areas to be able to post appropriate content to this page; however, I realize that not everyone is comfortable with Facebook. If individuals are not comfortable posting to Facebook, they are encourages to submit input through Major Nash, the Director of Public Affairs or send it directly to me.
Website – The Website is primarily for static or infrequent updated information to be shared with the public. I am working to bring it up to date. Ideally, it will be a place where we can share beneficial tools, documents, checklists, etc for region wide use. Our current site can be found at http://rmrcap.org/
Within the first month of taking on this role, these are the methods of communication that we will be using as a start. I am interested to hear about other methods or strategies to run an organization dispersed over a large geographical area with varying degrees of technology and technology literacy.