Tech Tips for Hotlines II

by Kari Deming

Happy Winter, Everyone!  Last quarter, we discussed positively interfacing with clients via LucyPhone, telephone technology, and email.  As December wanes and the New Year approaches, we offer these simple tips to enhance interactions between program people – partners, staff and volunteers.  As I am quite enamored with all-things-Google, this segment includes only Google-based tools.

1.  Collective Calendaring

All litigation offices have calendaring or tickling systems to control their dockets, and some use an office-wide in/out calendar or white board to keep track of staff.  Most hotlines also tickle cases not completed during the initial call.  Our staffing, however, is often much more complicated than that of a traditional law office, including an ever-changing contingent of  full- and part-time lawyers, paralegals, advocates, volunteers, interns, externs, work study students, and more.  In such an environment, an online, unified, personnel-centered calendar is something close to a miracle.

In my program, we use Google Calendar to, among other things:

  • Reflect changes to the regular staffing schedule
  • Post trainings and list participants
  • Show out-of-office obligations
  • Publish deadlines

As an example, a quick glance at a recent CALL calendar day told us that:

  • Payroll was due (so hours had to be properly recorded in the CMS by 10 am)
  • Kanika was out and Shivangee was in
  • Rick was out and Deb was in
  • Brian would be participating in a task force call from 2-4 pm (and thus not be on the lines) and
  • I would be out of town, doing partner program site visits.

All personnel are expected to faithfully enter their schedule changes and events into the calendar and to review the team calendar daily.  Doing so makes us more responsible about finding replacements if we need to be out, shows  which supervisors are available for questions or emergency referrals,  helps us know where to land (we all have “regular” spaces, but we have more part-time players than work stations), etc.  It is not an overstatement to say we live and die by that calendar!

A good step-by-step guide to collective calendar set up is available here.

2.  Productive Chatting

While texting and social media are an ever-present potential distraction, online chatting can be a highly efficient method of communication.  At CALL, our attorneys and supervisors regularly use Google Chat to:

  • Ask and answer substantive questions (“What’s the SOL on a UCC auto transaction?”)
  • Exchange resource information (“Where on the wiki is the list of HARA agencies?”)
  • Clarify case note confusion  (“Les – what’s GPX?” – “Grandparenting Time” – “Got it!”)
  • Alert the group to potential technology glitches (Pika has gotten vvveeerrryyy slow…”)  and
  • Offer support (“Sounds like a tough call – deep breath!  🙂  ”).

3.  Productive Chatting + !

Google Hangouts are a bit like Google Chats + Google Voice, on steroids.  With Hangouts, you can:

  • Text and video chat with several people at once (with pictures and emoji, if you’d like)
  • Engage in free multi-party voice and video calls throughout the US and Canada (CERA does our weekly staff meeting via Hangout video call)
  • Stream live video (handy when staff is away but needs to be involved in a training or meeting)
  • Post video recordings (like those made during your live stream) to YouTube and other locations
  • Screen-share (great for remote workers, tech guidance, videoconferencing, etc.)

There are a number of tutorials out there, including Google’s own, but I found this one very easy to follow.  There’s also great stuff to glean here and here.

4.  Collaborative writing

Last but not least, consider using Google Drive (which recently ate Google Docs) to share and collectively edit documents “in the cloud.”  Virtually every new written piece that I produce (including this article!) starts as a Google Drive document (who needs Word?), presentation (so long, PowerPoint), spreadsheet (goodbye, Excel) or form.  Thanks to this tool, I don’t worry that I’m working on the wrong version of a document because it continuously saves and allows multiple users to draft and edit simultaneously.  Happily, it also keeps track of all changes made, and who they were made by, such that you can retrieve that bit of perfect writing that someone else didn’t like.  In addition, I can access and work on my Drive materials from anywhere – my office PC, my home iPad, my car Kindle, or even my phone.  No more slogging through a weekend snowstorm to grab the datastick containing my homework…

Even better, you can do — really — so very much more (and so much more than I’ve yet learned how to do).  For example, with Google Drive you can:

  • Sort and search for files by owner, sharer, stars, name, date, key words, etcetera
  • Preview and save attachments directly from inside your Gmails
  • Take advantage of built-in viewers to see a huge variety of file types (.JPEG, .PNG, .GIF, TIFF, .BMP, .MOV, .AVI, .TXT, .HTML, .C, .JS, .DOC, .DOCX, .XLS, .PPT, .PDF, LPAGES, .ZIP, and so on and so on).
  • Share video or documents that are too large to send as an attachment
  • Publish documents, presentations and spreadsheets to a separate webpage, not linked to the original, to allow sharing with anyone
  • Back up files from your hard drive

You can also install an ever-increasing number of apps and extensions to allow greater functionality.  For example, you can:

  • Send and receive free faxes via Hellofax
  • Edit photos via Pixlr or PicMonkey
  • Edit videos via WeVideo
  • Sign documents via Docusign
  • Super-protect your top secret data by creating an encrypted folder inside Drive, via BoxCryptor
  • Sync cloud-storage accounts via CloudHQ

PCWorld offers a nice review of some of the above apps here.

Finally, lifehacker.com offers the following:

  • Even if you already use Chrome, Google Search, Gmail, or Google Maps, there are probably a ton of useful features inside those tools that you may not know about. Google Tips is a new page from Google that’s packed with suggestions and how-to to help you make the most of those services.
  • Each of the sections is organized to offer suggestions for the apps you use on the go, at home, at the office, or just by product, so you can see all of the tips available for Chrome, for example, or for Gmail. Some of the ones I noticed were a how-to guide on how to customize Google News to see just the headlines you’re interested in, how to play YouTube like a jukebox, how to use Google Drive to keep your most important documents in your pocket, and so on.
  • You’ll have to sign in with your Google account to get to the page, but once you’re there you can flip through the tip cards and see full, step-by-step walkthroughs of each tip or guide.

Google Tips is available here.

Wishing you a New Year filled with peace, joy, patience and productivity!

“This is your life, and it’s ending one minute at the time.” – Fight Club

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