I remember in a previous job, I had to travel 2000kms on two flights to spend three nights in our Alberta head office to, in the end, act as a translator between a forester and a GIS resource. Although there was an ethnic difference, it was clear that the information gap was caused by the differences between those who could speak GIS and those who could not.

I was casued to remember this when developing Sparkgeo’s new GIS Services line. The real differentiator, in any technology service offering is not in the service itself (really, who can’t convert a shapefile?), but in how that service is delivered and understood.

Its not a technology gap, its a communication gap.

Since 2010, I have been operating as a remote GIS / geoweb contractor providing services to US companies who need to better leverage location from Northern British Columbia. I find myself using skype a great deal, confiming things by email and often being “conference called” into group meetings. None of these situations are “easy”, but when used appropriately the communication and collaboration tools available now are very effective for project management and delivery. However, its not just about the tools, there is a certain protocol to understand.

Here is a starter list of things to consider when running projects remotely:

1) Don’t bug the client, unless it really is important.

2) If you are using Instant Messaging (IM), wait for a response before writing out a whole bunch of text on to their screen.

3) Confirm all actions suggested on voice/ video calls, by email; document everything.

4) Be available for follow ups

5) Ask a lot of questions, try and ask the same question in different ways to confirm your understanding

6) Be personable (this may seem obvious, but you would be surprised)

7) Don’t assume a technical audience (and non-technical doesn’t mean stupid, it means they are good at something else)

8) Be empathic, ie try to consider the client’s situation

9) Provide plenty of short email status reports, especially if communication is hard to schedule

10) Don’t be afaid to ask someone to repeat something

There is nothing easy about being a remote resource, but there are enormous benefits. Being remote trains one to think in a more client focused manner. In fact, when it comes down to it, it is often easier to call up a GIS resource by Skype than it is to go and find them on your company campus.

Communication is absolutely key when it comes to GIS project management.

You must to be fluent in both GIS and human!

If you are interested in how Sparkgeo can provide a virtual GIS office for your organisation check out our GIS Services.

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