Key learnings from the corona crisis that will impact our future workshops

Being forced to work together digitally has given us some valuable learnings to take with us in the future 

April 22nd, 2020

In this crisis, we have been forced to work together digitally and replace all the work that we would normally have done in person with digital formats. Now, five weeks into the lockdown we want to share with you some of our experiences and lessons learned that we will take with us into our future workshops.

Many theories on creativity (e.g. later work by Teresa Amabile) show that boundaries and constraints can induce creativity and produce more usable outcomes. We can all agree that the situation we are all in is not ideal and something to desire. However, when faced with difficult circumstances, we can use it as an opportunity to be creative and disrupt old ways of doing things. We have been fortunate that many of our clients utilised the opportunity to explore new ways of working.

Like many others, we had to completely restructure and rethink workshops, meetings and entire projects to accommodate for the new setting. This has caused a lot of adjustments and creative thinking, but we have found that all in all, it has produced some good results and important learnings to take with us into the future. 

Our 7 Key Learnings

Reflecting on our experience of the last few weeks, we have gathered key learnings you can use in your next digital workshop:

1. Be very clear in what you ask for

A lot can be understood by reading someone’s body language. One example is whether or not a person has fully understood what is meant by a request. As many of us want to please others, we tend to say “yes” even if we are not fully onboard. When you meet digitally, it can be hard to decipher whether something is fully understood. That is why you need to be very clear in what you ask for and install other measures for acceptance than a simple “yes” (this could e.g. include asking people to rephrase what is being asked).

2. The quality of meetings can increase / Digital meetings provide an opportunity for quiet voices

The outcome of a discussion depends on the input by the people involved. When we are together in a room, this sometimes implies that the loudest voice has the biggest say and that some might not feel comfortable sharing input (e.g. for reasons of shyness or hierarchy). When working together digitally, you have the opportunity to let everybody speak by structuring rounds of input for each discussion points. This can produce a higher quality of discussion. 

3. Meeting output should be documented simultaneously

As with physical workshops, documentation of key decisions is critical. This often leaves you with a lot work after the meeting. Working together digitally opens up an array of tools that can help you design a process where you capture key decisions along the way. This results in enhanced efficiency, since no one needs to go home and document the results of the meeting - you have already captured the essence.

4. Recognition and disagreement must be verbalised

Some things are better said in person. Especially when we pass on recognition, express our gratitude or disagree with someone. We usually communicate these feelings through body language. When you work together digitally, you are forced to verbalise these feelings for the message to get across. At first, it can seem awkward and inappropriate, but it is a necessary condition to understand each other’s positions. It also means that conflicts can be harder to solve. 

5. Practicality still rules

Many of us are used to online meetings and work with digital tools on a daily basis. Thus, in theory transferring to work fully digitally should not be a problem. However, practical issues of having a stable internet connection at home, logging on, accessing the video, downloading new versions etc. is still a cause for disruption. In our experience, getting a digital meeting up and running takes 15 minutes. Along the way, there might be even more time needed to transfer to new tools, people dropping out etc. However functional many digital tools are, this is a challenge that you need to take into account. 

6. You need to allocate more time than you would normally do

Given the learnings mentioned, it is clear that the time needed for working together digitally must be extended. Online, everything simply takes longer. You must accept that you cannot speed things up, and you need to consider time to hear everyone’s opinion, repeat messages, and take more rounds of input than usual.

7. We still need physical workshops

For many years, we have supported our global clients in strengthening their front-end innovation efforts and achieving results faster. Based on our experience, we always insist on a series of executive workshops to support the process. Sometimes we have gotten pushback on this: "How come a digital process needs physical workshops to work? Do we really have to fly people in from Singapore or Sao Paulo?" The answers is often “yes- you have to” – the argument is that creative abrasion, healthy discussions and disagreements lead to better ideas and show strong convictions, which are critical if we want to follow through (Hirshberg -“The Creative Priority”). Our experience shows that these discussions don't often happen digitally and have to be actively encouraged. Moreover, it is harder to resolve conflicts that might result from the discussion. We thus still need physical workshops going forward. However, we also learned that with some extra effort we can partly replace physical workshops, at least for the moment. 

What we take with us

So, what will we bring with us, when the world is back to normal?  We have learned that we can have creative abrasion in virtual workshops! That we can activate the quiet ones and improve the quality of the workshop. Due to some of the downsides, as “difficult to handle conflicts” and the remaining technical practicalities, we will still prefer to meet in person. As a minimum, we will recommend meeting with core project teams at the very beginning of a project. Although digital meetings are comfortable, physical meetings are just more fun. We will thus continue to recommend meeting, whenever it makes sense. Now, we will be able to combine it with digital capturing of the input and output, simultaneously. We will also make sure to make structured rounds of input to activate the quiet ones differently. In the long run, we hope that this will help us increase the quality of our meetings, digital and physical and that it might also help us reduce our need for flying.

If you want to know more about our learnings and how to get started, Thilde is happy to talk to you.

Get in touch - thilde@nos.co