Imagine trying to get feedback on a document. You attach the file to an email, send it to your team and they review the file. Some emailed you directly with input; others replied-all. Now, you have the not-so-efficient task of consolidating everyone’s feedback back into one document.
Working collaboratively with your colleagues can be extremely challenging if your non-profit organization isn’t equipped with the right tools. Luckily, there are tools you can use to help organize your documents and make team collaboration a success instead of a stressor! I spoke with Norman Valdez, Digital Media and Communications Manager at the Canadian Education and Research Institute for Counselling (CERIC), about his experience with Huddle (a cloud-based file collaboration system) - everything from market research, to implementation, to staff adoption. I summarized his response in this post so other nonprofits can benefit from his experience and advice.
A bit about CERIC
CERIC is a charitable organization that advances education and research in career counselling and career development. They support the creation of career counselling-related research and professional development by funding project partnerships and strategic programs, such as Cannexus, ContactPoint/OrientAction and The Canadian Journal of Career Development.
What system did you use before Huddle?
Four years ago, we migrated from a regular server to Sharepoint. When we started using Sharepoint, we realized the cost of maintaining the server was too high, it was too basic in its functionality to meet our needs, had constant issues with backups, and consultants were too costly. That’s when we decided to explore other options.
What are the characteristics of Huddle that made it the choice for you as opposed to other systems?
We have very specific requirements that needed to be met, which guided our decision-making process:
#1 - Intellectual property ownership
The ownership of the materials within the system you are using changes depending on the privacy agreement of that system. When we were evaluating the different systems and their agreements, it wasn’t very clear who the owners were except in the case of Huddle. Huddle’s agreement very clearly explained that the content was owned by the clients (us) and not by them.
The system we considered that came in second place was Google Drive. However, at that time, Google’s privacy agreement indicated that they would own the content, have control, and access to it, which disqualified them as an option.
#2 - Government access to documents
Server and data storage locations were another area of concern for us, as each country has different privacy laws and jurisdiction. We wanted a system that wasn’t located in the US, to prevent our data and information being affected by the US Patriot Act. Huddle’s servers are based in the UK, which has no equivalent to the Patriot Act, and therefore seemed like the better choice.
#3 - Task management system integrated into main interface
We needed a well-rounded system that could help us manage tasks across different departments/functional areas, in addition to organizing our files. We knew of other systems, such as SmartSheet, that are good for task management, but lacks the ability to organize and sync files, and other team-oriented features (e.g., chat, real-time collaboration).
Instead of using multiple tools and integrating them together, Huddle offers what we need - task management, files, discussions, calendar - all under one system.
How did you set it up and train staff? What did the transition look like?
CERIC has a team of 12 staff members and 1 or 2 interns on an ongoing basis. Deploying Huddle was relatively easy, but configuring it to meet our needs required a lot of support. When you first install Huddle desktop apps on your computer, you start with the basic functionality and need to install additional plugins for more advanced functionalities, such as integration with Microsoft Office. I spent a lot of time configuring each Huddle desktop installation to make sure everyone is setup with the same features and functionalities.
The transition from Sharepoint to Huddle was time-consuming, and to be honest, most of my colleagues were reluctant to move to a new system. Even if I demonstrated that their work will be 10x easier and better on Huddle, they would rather use the old system than learn a new way. Staff were comfortable with the inefficiencies of our old server, let alone Sharepoint, so the thought of moving to yet another system was met with resistance.
Fortunately, Huddle’s interface was and still is extremely user-friendly. With the help of one of the interns, who happened to be a Masters in archiving studies, we spent one month training all staff, and within four months, everyone was comfortable using the new system.
What were the greatest challenges or surprises during implementation?
Although we tried to recreate the same file structure we had in SharePoint, it wasn’t entirely possible to transfer the files and folders as is into Huddle. Because of this, our greatest challenge was teaching people the new file hierarchy, such as where to find documents, adopting and using new naming conventions, and understanding the new file structure that had to emerge with the transition. We needed to monitor how people were adjusting to the new file structure, and had at least one person take the lead to perform “quality control”.
What have been the biggest benefits of using Huddle?
Having one system to manage our tasks and documents together is probably Huddle’s greatest benefit. Everything can be saved, found and shared in one place. As mentioned earlier, having the task management component embedded into the interface is extremely useful, as we are now able to see the status of a project as well as know which tasks are assigned to our team. Other collaboration features have been useful as well, such as “discussions” where people can give feedback on a particular topic, and our shared calendar which allows us to keep track of each others’ schedules.
Another benefit is the improved team collaboration. We no longer need to send emails with files attached in order to collaborate on a project. Files are now shared pages on Huddle that staff can access, provide feedback on and manage versioning, which has been especially useful for group edits. We can even manage permissions by locking files so only a few people can make changes, share the document, and send messages to the group. We can also create our own private workspace for files that we don’t need team collaboration. Huddle has severely cut down on the amount of emails that we sent back and forth.
Lastly, everything can be easily accessed through any computer or any laptop as it’s all online. Huddle also has a mobile app which allows us to access all files, comment, and use other functions on tablet or smartphone.
Are there any drawbacks or features you wish Huddle had to improve your experience?
The only drawback, as you can imagine, is that it’s dependent on an Internet connection. There is always the risk that you will be disconnected and then won’t be able to access anything. At the same time, in the 2 ½ years that we’ve been using the system, having a disruption in our Internet connection has only happened twice and lasted for about an hour. Even if the internet connection were to go down, we do rely on the fact that our data is backed up in the cloud across different web servers.
If you could give one piece of advice for other nonprofits in choosing their content/project management system what would it be?
It’s extremely important to understand your requirements. The system you choose needs to match the expectations of the organization and the organizational needs and culture. For example, if it’s important for your nonprofit to control who can access your files, then you need a system that has permission and accessibility controls (i.e., files are visible to everyone vs. visible only to staff). Find the system that will appropriately meet your requirements and then understand the limitations of that system. For example, Huddle met all of CERIC’s requirements, however because of the way Huddle is set up, we couldn’t re-create our old file structure. While this wasn’t a deal breaker, it prolonged the transition process and made staff training a little bit more difficult.
Another factor to consider is the cost of the system, and if it’s free, consider whether that system will continue to remain free. For example, DropBox was free until they recently changed their offerings, so now the free account is unlikely to be able to sustain the needs of a business. I recommend looking into systems that have nonprofit and/or charity discounts, such as Huddle (Huddle Foundation) and SalesForce (SalesForce Foundation). Some challenges with charity pricing and plans is that most programs aren’t open to nonprofits and there may be a limits on your account as opposed to a fully paid, enterprise plan.
I’d also recommend identifying a tech champion and if you can, have more than one. We were lucky to have three people who championed Huddle and supported staff through the transition. One of our champions became a prime example of how Huddle can be integrated into day-to-day tasks and thus, has been a steady source of support for our team.
My last recommendation is to create a transition and migration plan in order to future-proof your operations. Keep in mind that you may need to switch from your system in the future for a number of reasons (i.e., no longer meets your needs, system support is discontinued etc.), so you need to ensure that the migration out of the system is relatively simple. For example, Huddle allows us to package all the files for download, making transition easier and seamless for us if we ever need to transition out of this system.