For the Taronga Conservation Society, working remotely doesn’t just mean working from home. It could mean aestheticising a critically endangered Christmas Island flying fox on the beach or translocating quolls from Tasmania back to the mainland.
Research teams for the organisation provide diagnostic services for free ranging wildlife across state and commonwealth environment agencies. The rely on portable laboratories and vet clinics to carry out their work in remote locations such as Philip Island, Norflok Island, Christmas Island, Cocos Island, Kakadu and Uluru.
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However, communication technology to improve the way the teams work when they are scattered across the country has taken a while to catch up to the science.
“The science that we do is a very visual science, comparing veterinary pathology is incredibly visual,” says Dr Karrie Rose, Veterinary Pathology Registrar at Taronga Conservation Society Australia.
“I can describe something but I can’t engage you or get your input and wholehearted integration in what we are trying to achieve unless I can actually show you.”
It’s a problem they have being trying to solve since 2004. Rose’s team have collaborated in two virtual microscopy platform development grants that “that really never worked” because it couldn’t be access by a variety of government based stakeholders.
As a result, the team are now using BlueJeans video conferencing technology to conduct rounds between the diagnostic teams at Taronga and Taronga Western Plains Zoo, and for delivery of National Veterinary Pathology Rounds.
The video conferencing solution allows the researchers to share the feed from their microscope, pictured above, as well as connect with stakeholders in remote locations with low bandwidth.
For example the organisation recently identified an emerging infectious disease in water dragons in Brisbane.
“It’s the first time we’ve ever found this highly pathogenic fungus globally in a free ranging animal,” Rose said.
“This is a serious concern for our diversity of reptiles across Australia. So we have been able to use Blue Jeans to unite quite a large group of stakeholders.”
Taronga Zoo and Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo have also adopted the BlueJeans across its workforce of 500 full and part time staff, around 600 casuals and more than 600 volunteers.
The impetus to adopt the technology came from the zoo’s an annual survey which allows its staff and volunteers to have a say on their workplace. The results are used by senior management to develop action plans to make Taronga a better place to work.
“In 2017 key findings from the survey indicated improvement was required in the areas of communication, process, systems and resources and support for flexible working,” said Cassandra Long, IT Operations Manager at Taronga Conservation Society Australia.
According to the survey, only 39 per cent of staff agreed they had the rights tools to manage geographically dispersed teams.
As a result, Taronga implemented digital tools for communication in early 2018 including BlueJeans and Workplace by Facebook as a staff and volunteer engagement platform.
Long says in the first three months the solution has facilitated 35,000 minutes of meeting time across 447 meetings and 1,100 participants in 16 countries and 80 cities.
Anecdotally, Long says she has noticed a decline in calls to IT five minutes before a webinar is starting saying from users saying they don’t have permission to install the software required to join the meeting.
“We don’t get those calls anymore, we find our staff are the ones hosting the meetings because it is easier for everybody else to just click through,” she said.
The results of this year’s survey, conducted in June, measured an improvement with 54 per cent agreed or strongly agreeing they have the right tools to manage geographically dispersed teams.
“We expect this result will increase even more over the next six months as people become more familiar with the product,” Long said.