Increasingly, our clients are asking us to help facilitate “virtual sessions” – for many reasons. The past 15+ years we have been designing and delivering a humungous number of events, workshops, projects and such, so we were up for a “nice challenge” when asked for the first time to “do it virtually”. Our ambition was to make them just as interactive, engaging and meaningful as physical gatherings. In this short story we thought to share some of our thought-processes.
A virtual event…what’s that?
We needed to define what a virtual event actually is and started off by stating “many people needing to get to a certain set of objectives in a limited amount of time connecting via a digital platform”. That was a nice start, but not defining enough, so we added “continuous learning”, “video-audio”, “visualisation of information” and “smooth user experience” to the mix. It got beefier! We poured in some “data security” added “fast adoption rate” and blended in “memorable experiential experience”.
Is tech the challenge?
At first, we dared not touch “technology agnostic”, as it was still a bit scary. All of us knew the webconference tools and setups – big screens, eye-monitoring cameras, multi-location digital whiteboards, webcast studios and such. Good, solid solutions, strong infrastructures, expensive as h*ll. Over time, our design principles on the tech platform started to orbit around ubiquitous, easy access, location-independent and fast adoption.
It’s all in the process!
As with all human connection processes, we knew thorough design and preparation to be key. Apart from setting clear objectives, scope, non-negotiables, key questions to answer, inputs, outputs, we designed synchronous and asynchronous work for various teams, formats and tools for capturing designs and insights and engagement up front. Things we needed to eliminate were the risk of minds wandering, the urge to quickly check e-mail, hearing only the strongest voices, attendants with “wrong” expectations… we needed to design a compelling, engaging experience, incorporating iterative and parallel work, think and do time, sharing and synthesising, and providing freedom for all within the set frame. This is what we knew how to do – in a different context, but still!
But there was one more thing…
We design collaboration based on four main pillars: content (check!), process (check!), people (check!) and environment (half check…). We needed to provide guidelines on the “environment” individuals were working in - from tech (specs on devices and WIFI infrastructure, …) via space (background noise, food and beverage, breaks, …) to behavioural “contracts” (listening vs speaking, where and when to find instructions and assignments, when to use the virtual whiteboard, time contracts, …). We sort of forgot that the first time around – and paid the price for it!
Coping with the challenges will lead to benefits
If you are able to handle the challenges, benefits await: low cost (when you’re not tempted to invest in big screens and fixed installations), requires no travel (don’t forget to put on some clothes), highly time efficient, aimed at tangible outcomes, optimising scarce resources and time, immediate capture of designs, decisions, and actions. It will not replace actual human-to-human connection, though, there is at this stage no proper alternative for intuitive capturing of micro expressions, body language, small gestures and light touches of appreciation. To name just a few.
Professor Calvo has done extensive research on what he calls Positive Computing. In his book he stresses the importance of looking at behavioural aspects when designing human-computer interactions. From the design onwards, he claims, one should focus on competence, autonomy, meaning, positive emotions, engagement and relatedness. A feast of recognition, as these are some of the most important aspects we use to create our physical workshops, events and conferences.
Let us know what you think!
We are really interested in your experiences, the good, the bad and the ugly. Post them, mail them.