My first experience with an online office was back when I worked as a journalist for Politics Daily, a daily new magazine run by AOL. At the time, not having a bricks and mortar office was a fairly radical idea (Remember those days? Sigh.). But with a global team spread out across the US and Europe, our Editor-in-Chief decided that we could make it work as a virtual newsroom.
She was right. Every day, we logged on to our assorted shared spaces – which in those days consisted of email, twitter, and our content management system (CMS) platform. We talked about the news. We pitched stories. We shared jokes. Over time, we traded personal updates.
After two short years, AOL purchased The Huffington Post and that was the end of our lovely journalistic experiment. What I missed most when we closed that publication down – more than the fast pace of a newsroom or the thrill of the odd byline that went vital – was the camaraderie. During those two years, I formed some really close bonds with my fellow writers and editors. And while I knew we’d all stay in touch through Facebook and the odd work gig – and we have – I also knew it wouldn’t be quite the same.
I feel the same way now. Since mid-March, I’ve worked with a group of global volunteers whose job it has been to register Americans living overseas to vote. In previous years, Vote from Abroad conducted a fairly straightforward Get Out the Vote mission through registration tables at assorted conferences, town halls and universities scattered across the globe. But this year, amidst the backdrop of a global pandemic, getting out the vote was not so simple. The entire operation had to shift online.
Which meant that everything had to be created from scratch – the entire communications plan, as well as it’s implementation. I won’t even pretend to take credit for that. We had some absolutely fantastic volunteers who took the lead – some of whom even chose to work part-time in 2020 to free up time for the cause.
As with my stint at Politics Daily, over time, this “job” wove itself into my daily life. For the last several months, I’ve been dipping and out of our online platforms – Slack, Canva, and a gazillion different google docs and sites – several times a day. Every morning, I’ve sat down and manned the Twitter account, posting our content and fielding questions from voters abroad.
Every week, without fail, the global communications team has met up virtually on a Tuesday evening to hash out our strategy for the coming week/month. When we started, the whole thing was literally a work in progress. But over time, it took shape and by October, we’d tripled the amount of visits to our website over 2016.
Those meetings officially end this evening. And even if there is a prolonged recount and this whole thing drags on beyond election night, our work is basically done. Many of us will carry on and collaborate on other aspects of voting education and mobilization overseas. Lord knows there will always be more elections.
But the energy and purpose that fills an election – especially THIS election during THIS year – will end. And while I’ll certainly welcome the time that frees up in my calendar to devote to other things, I will also be sad. I’ll miss the jokes, I’ll miss the community, and I’ll miss the feel of working towards something larger than myself.
With the onset of the pandemic, there’s been a debate over whether or not virtual communities can be as powerful as real ones. I don’t know the answer to that. But I do know that this virtual community rocked.
So here’s to a job well done, guys. It’s been a great ride.