In early March, (or a million years ago in pandemic time), when COVID-19 really started impacting us all, it also triggered an outbreak of webinars, podcasts and blog posts to help organizations and teams collaborate remotely. SingularityU Canada’s partners at Causeit Inc. observed that the endless platform suggestions and ideas around remote work have created a whole new challenge to “flatten the IT curve.” Even when internal system challenges are solved, in order to have impactful strategy sessions and leadership events, it’s not enough to simply switch a physical room to a virtual room.

So what should organizations do with those critical live sessions that were planned for the next few months?

Here are several insights gleaned after spending the last few weeks with many different clients who were working with us on their upcoming leadership programs and live events: 

Timing – soon is better than maybe: The instinctive reaction is to postpone, “If we can’t do it the way we wanted, let’s just move it to later.” However, postponing and waiting for the next in-person opportunity to gather is risky. There is a lot of uncertainty as to when meeting in-person will actually be possible, and more importantly, the need to support teams and leaders is more urgent now than ever.

Bottom line: Keep the original timing of those upcoming meetings and events.

Duration – aim for short bursts of engagement: Delivering a full-day in-person session or a two-day conference on Zoom is not going to have the same impact as an in-person experience. When it comes to digital sessions, the most common mistake organizations often make is asking too much of participants’ time, to the point that they either do not show up for your program or even worse, show up but are not fully present.

Bottom line: Break that full-day event into a series of 60-90-minute sessions. 

A meeting taking place in Virtual Reality platform VirBELA

Format – redesign the experience: When attending virtual events, participants may be tempted to check emails and do other online activities, without fully engaging in the program. To make an impact, it is important to take the time to design a digital experience that enables you to connect with participants – and ideally for them to also connect with each other. At a minimum, the sessions should be interactive and include breakout rooms, polling, or even simply have an experienced facilitator to drive the conversation. To take it to the next level, you can build excitement by finding creative ways to differentiate the session from other conference calls. For example, mailing each participant a box with unexpected props they needed to bring to the session or sending UberEats meals to the next “lunch and learn.” Thoughtful design will signal to your participants that this session is different and they should pay attention.

Bottom line: A digital experience is not an in-person experience delivered digitally, it’s a completely different thing that requires a thoughtful design to do right. 

Cadence – interacting without interrupting: If you assume people won’t be able to spend a full day on their computer and avoid constantly being distracted with whatever urgent matter is one tab away, the next thing to consider is how to create unique learning touchpoints without compromising valuable work time. The right cadence should turn the (short-lived) inspiration your live event would have generated, to a continuous stream of insights and learnings that support your leaders in the flow of work.

“To make an impact, it is important to take the time to design a digital experience that enables you to connect with participants – and ideally for them to also connect with each other.”

Bottom line: Combine fairly frequent and brief live sessions with well-curated content that can be shared between sessions for participants to consume on their own time.

Digital experiences open up exciting new ways to connect people inside and outside of organizations, but let’s face it – we knew that for a while. The silver lining of this terrible crisis is that we are now forced to experiment with new ways to redesign how we get together, and it’s those who see the adversities of social distancing as opportunities that will come out of this even stronger.

If any of these suggestions resonated with you or, even more so, if you have a different perspective – let’s connect! At SingularityU Canada, we believe learning is a strategic advantage and are actively looking to compare notes and discuss different points of view. Please reach out to the SingularityU Canada team at info@sucanada.org, as your thought-partners in designing meaningful learning experiences, in-person or not!