Neighbourhood Ventures is currently an entirely volunteer-run organisation with a Management Committee, a membership which elects that committee and holds it to account, and some members who volunteer their time in putting the work into practice including myself.
A typical volunteer with Neighbourhood Ventures works at least part time and thus does not have a great deal of capacity to give to the organisation if they are also to balance this with home or family life. Consequently the frequency of how often volunteers contact one another is not very often.
We also have no premises of our own and use a member’s home address as a point of contact for mail. The committee meetings in the same member’s house and whilst there is an induction process for new volunteers it can feel a little disjoined because of the nature of the organisation.
To summarise, it would be fair to describe Neighbourhood Ventures as a loose network of individuals that come together when needed to carry out agreed work and with a small committee of members at the helm, steering our direction. Whilst the organisation does have a constitution and a number of formal policies, for instance on Health and Safety, Equality and Diversity, Involving Volunteers and Safeguarding, it lacks the systems and capacity that would be found in a larger organisation such as Bradford College.
Communication between members is usually done by email, partly because different individuals have different working patterns that can sometimes make telephone calls or face-to-face meetings difficult. In turn, most of our contact with other stakeholders tends to be via email, for instance booking venues for taught sessions or workshops, applying for funding or sending reports to existing funders, sending out promotional e-flyers to advertise the next sessions and acknowledging bookings for learners and sending out further details of the venue and when they need to arrive by.
Overall, therefore, we are very much a “virtual” organisation as a loose network. This structure appears to work in so far as it has allowed us to deliver the programme with relative success to date. What it is lacking in, however, is any form of sense of team spirit or belonging. It would be possible to make use of technology to increase collaboration, for instance using Skype for video meetings or Facebook Groups for collaborating on projects, but whilst this might help to some degree it does not quite substitute the social aspect of working with other people. For instance, nearly always I am the only member of Neighbourhood Ventures to attend a taught session in my role is volunteer tutor and this can at times feel lonely.
Looking at the development of the organisation, just as I argued in an earlier post that nothing can quite replace face-to-face community work with residents in encouraging them to become active, similarly there needs to be more opportunities to bring people involved wiht Neighbourhood Ventures face-to-face on a regular basis. Sasso (2008) argues that face-to-face meetings for “virtual teams” can stregnthen the ties between team members as it can allow amongst other things physical communication, for instance by hugging one another and provides a “real world” experience.
And again, just as Taylor (1988) argued that human psychology influences what geographical scale we can relate to, there similarly appears to be a need for us to have regular face-to-face contact to feel that we are truly a part of a team. Keltner (2009) assert that face-to-face meeting and even physical contact are essential to effective human communication, bonding and mental health. Establishing physical contact, for instance through shaking hands, invokes feelings of reward and compassion with humans than are essential to engendering a sense of shared belonging amongst a group. There is thus a realm of communication through being tactile and studying the body language of others which is missed by digital technology and exposes its limits as a means of bringing people together.
I have been a remote worker in previous job roles, essentially left to be self-managing in planning and implementing my work, often based from home or otherwise regularly travelling for meeting other stakeholders. The only opportunity to get together with colleagues would be through periodic team meetings and even if these were not so productive in terms of business matters their value was most certainly in keeping a collegiate sense of team alive. It is very difficult to sustain that without regular face-to-face contact and as such this needs to be an area thoroughly explored and resolved by Neighbourhood Ventures to as the organisation develops.