10 Tips for Succeeding in Virtual Teams

March 27, 2014

Almost all of the online courses I teach involve group work of some kind. Some groups thrive in their virtual teams and others fail miserably. After observing what works and what does not, here are ten tips to those who are new to online collaborative projects:

  1. Give one another the benefit of the doubt.
  2. Be kind to each other. Point out one another’s strengths.
  3. Refrain from commenting on each other’s weaknesses.
  4. When in doubt, assume good intentions. Tone is very difficult to “hear” in online communications. If you find yourself miffed or offended, take a step back. Are you sure that you are not making an assumption about the other person’s intention? Then ask yourself, “Is this really the hill I want to die on?” Forgiveness is important in virtual teams.
  5. Focus on supporting each other through the process.  No one gets left behind and if there’s an assigned leader, that person doesn’t forge too far ahead. Instead, keep the group together and moving forward.It’s a journey and your job is to make it up the mountain together.
  6. Be flexible with one another. Scheduling can be especially challenging in an online context. Change up the meeting times to accommodate people from different time zones. Don’t expect the same person to always get up at 2:00 a.m. for a meeting.
  7. Ask what you can do to help or what others need most from you. Don’t assume that your virtual team mates know your strengths.
  8. Avoid writing frustrations down and sharing them. If you need to work out issues, find a way to talk about it (e.g. Skype or phone).
  9. Sometimes you are right and sometimes you are wrong. It’s not about being right or wrong. It’s about working together.
  10. Everyone is responsible for making back-ups of the work along the way. If one person’s system crashes, they get a virus or their laptop is stolen, the other members of the team all have copies of the back-ups. Using online storage such as Dropbox or Google drive is a great idea, but it’s not the only idea. Back everything up.

Working in virtual teams can be challenging, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do it. With a bit of patience, common sense and a good sense of humour, you’ll be surprised how much you can achieve in a virtual team.


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If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.

5 Lessons I’ve Learned as an Educational Consultant

March 24, 2014

I’ve spent the past 15 years or so doing contract and consulting work in the non-profit and educational sectors. Over the past year, I’ve answered questions for a few dozen people who are eager to learn more about what’s involved in this career. Here are some lessons I’ve learned that I’m happy to share:

Sarah Eaton, keynote, speaker, presenter, education, languages, literacy


Lesson #1: It’s not about you

When a potential project or job comes your way, the first thing you need to remember is that it is not about you. The organization contacting you needs to have work done. They have goals and needs that they need met. Even if they’re not too clear on what those needs are, don’t be fooled… They still need to have work done.

The precise moment you get bedazzled by the pay cheque is the precise moment you’ve ensured you’ll never be hired again. Keep your eye on the prize — and your prize is the client, not the paycheque.

Lesson #2: Never negotiate via e-mail

When you are trying to figure out the details of a contract, it is a bad sign if the other party wants to negotiate via e-mail. In my experience, it indicates either a lack of deep interest in engaging with you for a sincere negotiation, or an alarming naiveté about how  business is done.

If you can, figure out the details face-to-face. If that isn’t possible, pick up the phone or arrange for a Skype, web conference or video conference meeting. This gives you the chance to listen carefully, ask intelligent questions, understand the other party’s position and then figure out a solution that works for both of you.

More than once, I have walked away from a deal where the other party only wants to negotiate via e-mail. It throws up too many red flags before the work even gets under way.

A successful contract starts with listening, not demanding.

Lesson #3: Know your sector

It may seem obvious, but the education and non-profit sectors differ from the corporate and industrial sectors in many ways. Not only is the ultimate goal not profit, but very often the cultures and values are different, too. Non-profit and educational contexts are often messier and more nebulous. The work can be — and in fact, may need to be — more iterative and flexible. 

Some of my friends who do corporate consulting will slide their reading glasses down their middle-aged noses and advise, “The contract must include clear and precise deliverables.” That is true — to some extent.

In my experience, consulting in the educational and non-profit sectors means you need to be nimble and adaptable. Yes, every contract needs a “Schedule A” of deliverables, but that doesn’t mean you need to articulate those with militaristic precision. It depends on your sector, your client and your mutual understanding of the work.

Lesson #4:  Not every “opportunity” is an opportunity

It is naive to think that every prospective project is an “opportunity”. In my early years of consulting I would get phone calls, e-mails and LinkedIn messages from people I didn’t know offering me an “opportunity” of some kind or another. I quickly learned that this was a euphemism for “volunteering to promote their cause”. Whether that cause was a start-up project they wanted to get off the ground or some other endeavour, what it boiled down to was me working for free (or for the promise of money, but without an actual contract) to “help” them advance their work.

Besides, you want to be suspicious of any “opportunity” that sounds too good to be true or comes  as a “limited time offer”. Be even more suspicious when someone you have never met before insists on a phone call or Skype meeting to tell you all about said “opportunity”. More than likely, it’s a sales pitch… They want to sell you an opportunity to give away your time for free. 

The correct response to these offers is, “No thank you”. Every hour you spend working for free is volunteer time, plain and simple. Be choosey about how you spend your time. Volunteer only for causes that make your heart sing.

Lesson #5: Time is a limited resource

There’s a culture of giving in the social sectors that is embedded in the work we do. That’s a good thing. What’s not a good thing is when a working person’s commitment to volunteer activities interferes with their ability to earn a living, spend time with their loved ones or fulfill other responsibilities.

I know numerous freelancers and consultants who work themselves to the point of break downs, break ups, or just general exhaustion because their time is stretched too thin.

It is important to give back to society, but not at the expense of your own health or relationships.

I find the 80/20 rule helpful here. Decide how many hours you want to put into work in a week. For this example, “work” includes paid hours and volunteer time. Let’s say that’s 60 hours a week. Before you balk at that number, it’s not unusual for a freelancer, entrepreneur or contractor or even a salaried employee to put in that many hours or more per week working.

Let’s assume you are smart enough to take one day off per week to recharge your batteries and spend time with people you love. That leaves you 10 hours per day, six days a week, to dedicate to paid hours and volunteer work. If we use the 80/20 rule, you’ll spend 8 hours a day putting in paid hours and doing a maximum of 2 hours of volunteer service. Or put another way, you’ll have 48 hours a week available for billable hours and 12 hours a week for volunteer commitments. That’s more than enough for most mortals.

You need to set aside enough time for billable hours that you can meet your financial obligations and goals. Don’t be misled into thinking that volunteer work automatically leads to paid work because of “networking opportunities”. (There’s that word again — (or a variation of it…): “Opportunity”.)

If you’re volunteering with the ultimate hope of it leading to paid work, you’re doing it for the wrong reasons. The time we spend volunteering is time we give awayfreely and without expectation of anything in return. Besides, if you’re exhausting yourself doing unpaid volunteer work, you won’t have enough time or energy left over for billable hours. Your mortgage doesn’t care that you put in so many hours volunteering that you failed to pay attention to the need to do paid work, too.

It’s one thing to be independently wealthy enough to be a philanthropist. But even philanthropists believe in self care. Find a balance that keeps you energized, not exhausted.

Learning how to balance the demands of a career as a consultant, freelancer or contract professional is tough. Learning what works for you is half the battle. Learning to  stick with it — consistently and without apology — is the other half.


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If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.

Resources for learning and teaching Arabic

January 7, 2014

http://img.ehowcdn.com/article-new-thumbnail/ehow/images/a05/6m/ih/learn-arabic-writing-800x800.jpgThis semester I am involved in a Calgary Board of Education (CBE) pilot project to teach Arabic in a blended learning course at the high school level. I’ve been working with a fantastic team of educators comprised of an instructional designer, a curriculum development specialist and a native speaker of Arabic who will take on the challenge of helping the students learn. Here are some resources for others who are interested in teaching or learning Arabic online.

20 Free online resources for teaching and learning Arabic

Professional Resources for K-12 Arabic Educators (Harvard University) – http://cmes.hmdc.harvard.edu/files/NEAAT15Oct2011Materials.pdf

Arabic K-12 Teachers Network – http://www.arabick12.org/materials/websites/teacher_sites.html

American Association of Teachers of Arabic (Resources page) – http://aataweb.org/arabic_resources

Center for Open Educational Resources and Language Learning (Arabic) – http://www.coerll.utexas.edu/coerll/projects/arabic

Becker’s Arabic page – http://www.uni.edu/becker/arabic.html

National Middle East Language Resource Center – http://nmelrc.org/Arabic

E-Arabic Learning – http://www.dur.ac.uk/daniel.newman/elearn.html

Arabic Voices (Listening comprehension) – University of Texas at Austin – http://www.laits.utexas.edu/aswaat/index.php

Arabic Online – http://www.arabiconline.eu/resources/

University of London Language Centre – Arabic Resources – http://www.soas.ac.uk/languagecentre/teachers/resources/arabic/

UCLA Language Materials Project (Various entries for Arabic Resources) – http://www.lmp.ucla.edu/Default.aspx

National Capital Language Resource Center (Arabic) – http://www.nclrc.org/teaching_materials/materials_by_language/arabic.html

Comprehensive list of resources from Mohamed Esa, McDaniel College – http://www2.mcdaniel.edu/german/startalk-arabic/ArabicLanguageCultureResources..pdf

National Foreign Language Center – Online Reading Skills Lessons in Arabic – http://readarabic.nflc.org/?page=to_the_learner

Arabic Language Resource website – http://www.azifoon.com/arabic-learners/online.htm

Institute for Innovation in Second Language Education (IISLE) – Arabic resources – https://sites.google.com/a/share.epsb.ca/languages-epsb-ca/arabic/opportunities-for-parents

Language Acquisition Resource Center – Arabic – http://larc.sdsu.edu/arabic/

Teachers of Critical Languages (Arabic) – http://www.tclprogram.org/TCLP/lessonPlansBrowse.php?cat=233&programCat=1

Arabic Without Walls (UC Davis) – http://arabicwithoutwalls.ucdavis.edu/aww/

We Love Arabic (blog) – http://welovearabic.wordpress.com/

Bonus resources (books)

Ryding, K. C. (2013). Teaching and learning Arabic as a foreign language. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press. Find out more at: http://press.georgetown.edu/book/languages/teaching-and-learning-arabic-foreign-language

Wahba, K. M., Taha, Z. A., & England, L. (2006). Handbook for Arabic language teaching professionals in the 21st century. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.


If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Share or Tweet this: Resources for learning and teaching Arabic http://wp.me/pNAh3-1GL

If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.


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