By: Jennifer Simpson
For months now, we have been talking about Humanizing Virtual Events and how important it is, especially with teams at a distance, to be intentional about creating opportunities for human connection. We’ve had great fun making a bigger difference in virtual meetings, courses, and conferences by connecting people to one another and amplifying their impact. We don’t expect that the need for these forms of connection will go away any time soon as public health restrictions continue, and as the economics of working at a distance may make it a more attractive option for many companies, even after this crisis is over.
We’ve learned a whole new set of skills as a society in these last few months, and those will stay with us even when getting together in larger groups becomes possible again. As we’ve worked to make our online events more connected and “human,” we’ve also begun experimenting with how to do a wider range of hybrid events which creatively combine virtual and live elements.
Shortly before the world shut down, we moved to new offices designed carefully to make meetings magic. We set ourselves up to be flexible so that we could reconfigure the space for gatherings of many different shapes and sizes. That approach has served us well over the last few months as we’ve turned our large meeting room into a collection of “sound stages” for virtual meetings which allow facilitators to move easily between environments that are best suited for different purposes. We’ve hosted presenters in-person on our “TED-talk” stage, allowing them to “stand and deliver” to an audience they can see on a large screen in front of them, and we’ve had our own facilitators working from different rooms in a shared space, allowing them to host breakout discussions while coordinating more seamlessly with one another.
As the weather turns colder and makes outdoor gatherings more difficult, we’re starting to anticipate a variety of ways to safely convene small groups of people in-person across town and around the world and connect them to one another at a distance. We expect it will be some time before we have large global gatherings at pre-pandemic scale, but our hunger for connection won’t go away, and the truth that some things are better in context-rich face-to-face environments will also endure. For anyone who has ever “dialed-in” to a large meeting or event, we know that connecting people deeply and well at a distance doesn’t happen automatically.
So, how will we imagine new ways to do that well in this changed world? What creative solutions will we dream up to connect across time and space? How can we repurpose existing tools and environments to come together in new ways? How might hotels or airports re-purpose their infrastructure to enable groups to creatively “travel” to one another? How might you use existing office spaces differently or reallocate travel or expense budgets to support new ways of “being together?” Normally, we’d be getting ready to fly our team in from around the country for a staff retreat at this time of year. Since we can’t do that, we’ll be hosting our retreat virtually, and using some of the creative techniques we’ve developed over the last few months to connect more deeply ourselves and to dream big dreams about our own future. We’ve used some of the money we had budgeted for travel and entertainment to invest in staff development and give people an opportunity to have learning and professional development experiences they might not have been able to take advantage of under other circumstances.
What creative strategies are you exploring to adapt in these times? Are you ready for hybrid events? How else will you create connections and build relationships at a distance? We’d love to know!