With the health crisis not ending any time soon, work from home setup continues for most of us. While we were awed by the possibilities we discovered doing decentralized work, we also missed doing several things face to face.
Online platforms have been great in getting employees together for important meetings, training, and workshops. People started to discover features of programs that had previously been overlooked or were only popular among companies that had remote work setups.
But throughout the trial and errors in navigating these different platforms, there is still a large room for improvement. Below are some issues that the new online workforce has encountered.
There is a need for a platform that could do idea clouds, chats, break out sessions, mood boards, and other activities we do during conferences and meetings. We need something that wouldn’t require participants to open different programs. It’s a hassle when conveners would ask participants to go to another platform in the middle of a discussion to view data or answer questions. The fact that not all people are digital natives or well-versed in navigating the online world should be considered.
Some conveners have taken the effort to brief participants of the different platforms that will be used in the meetings. This, in a way, prepares everyone ahead so that they could meaningfully contribute to the discussions instead of using up their time in learning how to navigate the platforms.
Although break out sessions could already be done in some platforms like Zoom, working on a document could get daunting. Users only see one screen being shared. But different kinds of work have different needs. A team working on digital marketing would want a platform where they would be able to simultaneously see different trend graphs. A group of advertising experts would want to look at different designs simultaneously without having to leave the discussion room.
The setup of breakout groups also does not allow for continuing communication among the group members once they return to plenary. Of course, they could set up a new meeting room, but it’s an added complication to the participants.
Creative ways to present inputs
Whole day workshops and conferences have become more difficult. It’s actually ironic since online conveners wouldn’t need to prepare the venue, food, accommodations, etc. One important reason is that the attention span of people, especially when online, is shorter.
It is understandable that those working from home would have other concerns. One might be looking after a child, cooking, doing laundry, etc. But barring all these external distractions, it is also difficult for people to keep looking at their screen, listening to someone talking, or looking at their slideshow presentations for an entire day. Together with the shift to the online platform, there should also be a change in the way seminars and workshops are done based on what we now have observed about online participation. This challenge might not be of a concern to program developers, but addressing the previous concerns could help.
Building on ideas across the globe
Online platforms should be seen as an opportunity to reach a greater number of people. On-site conferences are limited to those who could travel to the venue. Organizations have already tried organizing conferences that have activities day in and day out. However, participants are still limited to the time slots allotted for discussions. Some people might be interested in a topic that’s slotted at 2 am in their timezone. Unless they forego sleep to join the discussion at that time, they would only be able to see a recording of what transpired.
In face to face workshops, there is a method called ‘world café’ where people could build on ideas at different times. It would be very easy to set something like this up online to generate more ideas.
People go to conferences and workshops not only to learn about what’s being presented but also to network and discover new collaborations. It’s difficult with the current setup because participants don’t get to do side talks beyond the sessions. It’s possible to chat with another participant, but it could be awkward. Some conveners try to encourage networking by doing introductions, but it’s limited. Additionally, individual introductions take up time unlike in face-to-face conferences where people could do brief creative intros.
People are probably not giving up the idea that one day we will all be back to our pre-pandemic normal. While it would be great to have face-to-face meetings and gatherings again, the discoveries we had this year will also leave a mark on how we do things. Online gatherings cost less, for one. Should we be continuing our online activities even post-pandemic, online platforms have to be refined further.