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This article first appeared on The Grove's website News section: Adapting to Virtual Work – 7 Takeaways from The Grove’s Experience.
In the past decade, the rapid evolution of technological advances has made it much easier for people to work, meet and team virtually. Some organizations have jumped right into the virtual space and revolutionized the way they work, while others are struggling to create virtual-work processes for a mix of co-located and remote staff. As global teaming becomes more essential and workers of all ages—especially millennials—increasingly make employment choices based on flexible workplaces, the need to adapt is no longer a choice for many organizations. As The Grove has embraced working virtually not only with our clients but also as an organization—some staff members frequently work remotely—we’ve developed our own approaches to virtual collaboration. The following is a sampling of adjustments we’ve made and lessons we have learned.
Facilitation know-how is even more important in virtual meetings. If you are not getting people engaged in lively discussions that meet your desired outcomes, then your meetings will not be effective, no matter how adept you are with technology. Virtual meetings require extra care by framing discussions and connecting people to allow for collaboration to flow. Creating human connections breaks down the distance and cultural barriers that can make working in a virtual environment especially difficult. To facilitate virtual meetings, we continue to adhere to The Grove’s Facilitation Model™ and teach our Facilitating Virtual Collaboration Workshop with a focus on people processes at the core.
With graphic recording and graphic facilitation on large paper displays central to The Grove’s business, you may assume that we run all virtual meetings with hand-written digital graphic recording on screen. This is not the case. Digital graphic recording is just one technique we use to make a virtual meeting a more visual, engaging and aligning experience. A spectrum of choices exist (for people with varying skill levels) that can transform a web conference into a visual working session—from ubiquitous, everyday applications, such as a shared slide, to more advanced options, such as an online collaborative space. What remains the same is creating the best collaborative experience to achieve the meeting outcomes.
For virtual meetings, we not only have to design an agenda, but also a technology flow for meetings. We test the applications, the “screens” we will use to facilitate the agenda, and most importantly, we plan for technology breakdowns with a plan B and C. Although we have decades of experience as facilitators in face-to-face settings in which we can improvise based on the evolving needs of the meeting, we have also learned how to pivot in virtual meetings when things go awry. This requires flexibility in using different technologies to accomplish the same meeting goals.
As an organization that loves to work on large paper with pens and stickies, transforming The Grove’s weekly face-to-face meetings to virtual gatherings was not easy. As more of our staff began working remotely, though, we were forced to change. We ultimately transitioned to a web conference aided by multiple online applications that we review and work on simultaneously. This meeting has become critical because we need the structured time to communicate as a team and reconnect on a personal level. More people can join now—those working from home or on the road—and it is much easier for staff members to get updated on projects on their own time if they are unable to make a meeting. Changing this weekly meeting catalyzed the way we work together virtually. Once we transformed this meeting, most of our other meetings followed with web conferencing now being second nature to us.
“Why should we learn this new technology? Our current way is fine.” We have had to challenge this attitude and as a result, gained better practices and new capabilities by being open to technology change. We have also learned, as the world is working more visually, applications that allow for creative group work are greatly improving. Application updates have been pleasantly surprising, as of late.
In recent years, we have been able to collaborate with our network in exciting ways through virtual technology—to run client projects, teach workshops, create a global community of practitioners (The GLEN) and help our partners spread our practices far and wide. And we have been able to do this with a fraction of plane travel. Hooray!
Our entire organization still does get together in the same room. These gatherings are reserved for key meetings, such as strategy discussions. Face-to-face, visual meetings, such as those we run for our clients, are still irreplaceable for the quality of group interaction and the decision-making setting that they provide. Because it is not as frequent as it used to be, we treat the time together in the same room as precious.
We have come to see the value in working both ways—virtually and face-to-face. As you have read, some of our new practices still adhere to our tried-and-true beliefs, and some have been altered by and for the virtual workspace. As technology continues to evolve, we look forward to learning and sharing more collaborative practices.