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The lasting effects of digital collaboration 

The lasting effects of digital collaboration

We have all felt the pains of remote working in one way or another. It can feel like we are missing out on quality engagement when we transition away from face-to-face. 

But do in-person experiences always produce the best outcomes?  

Being forced to adapt to digital ways of working hasn’t been easy, but it has opened our eyes to the unique value of well-executed digital engagement done well. Our experience delivering Airlabs has shown us that digital engagement has the power to transform individual outlooks and organisations as a whole – for the better. 


The Challenge 

In the first few weeks of the rapid escalation of the COVID-19, a leading innovation organisation was confronted with the challenge of urgently converting a major upcoming workshop to a digital format in order to align with the new social distancing regulations being rolled out by the NZ Government. 

There was a lot riding on this workshop. It was set to be the kick-off of a transformation process that would revolutionise how the organisation engaged with and supported their customers.

The workshop had to proceed – postponing it until the lockdown was simply not an option. So, the question emerged: how to quickly yet thoughtfully adapt the workshop to create an engaging and productive digital experience, at a time when the world had only just started to adapt to Zoom calls? 

Converting from physical to digital is never a straightforward translation, and so the client knew they had a challenge ahead of them. Time was tight and schedules were even tighter, with staff now involved in the urgent broader COVID-19 response effort.   


The Response 

ThinkPlace was brought in to support the transition to a digital experience. With our existing skills in designing and facilitating workshops as well as digital tools, and our intensive period of upskilling and testing to establish new digital ways of working, we were perfectly positioned to help. We understood that this workshop was an important opportunity not only to kick off the client’s transformation process, but also to showcase new methods of working that would be vital within the client’s organisation as the lockdown continued.  

So we set about developing an Airlab experience that would deliver and champion accessible digital collaboration for our client’s entire organisation. 

To approach the task, we first homed in on understanding of exactly what the participants needed for an optimal experience, and what we needed from them. It’s easy to get lost in the development of a digital experience, to forget the why and the who that drives the engagement. With chaotic times and the restricted schedules of the participants, we knew that now more than ever it was vitally important to be efficient and effective in meeting our participants’ needs. 

We developed our digital tools to specifically target the needs we identified without any extra fluff. As a result, our workshop design was centred around addressing the concerns and challenges of participants, and strategically supporting them to have the easiest transition to the digital medium as possible. It was made accessible and engaging for participants of all technological skill levels. 

Prior to the Airlab, select individuals from the client team were upskilled and briefed on the digital tools, so that they were equipped to act as guides throughout the sessions. These individuals were given additional responsibilities in the breakout sessions to capture outputs and keep participants on track. Upskilling these individuals meant that the technological skill base was diversified across the team – if a participant was struggling, they would have someone within reach to help.   

At the outset of the workshop, we established clearly defined channels for the various types of support participants might need to access during the workshop: content and process (both facilitated by the client), and technology support (facilitated by ThinkPlace). Participants knew where they needed to go to resolve any particular issue, meaning that these wouldn’t interrupt the flow of content discussion and creation for the rest of the workshop. 

Participants were onboarded to the digital tools progressively over the course of the sessions. They were given the opportunity to become familiar with tools before we progressed to the next stage. We worked to create a safe space for questions and requests to slow things down.  

This approach paid off. With over 20 participants, 2 sessions over 2 days, breakout groups, collaborative whiteboard software, and heaps of design methodologies and processes, the Airlab experience was expansive and ambitious. But by focusing on our participants needs and on maximising accessibility, it was one that was engaging and productive for all. 


The Impact 

When your typical remote working experience consists of constant and prolonged Zoom calls, participating in a thoughtfully designed digital engagement is a refreshing experience. 

Given the amount and complexity of the content covered in two 1.5 hour sessions, participants were generally surprised and delighted at how effective this way of working was. We fostered inclusivity with the approach and tools and so everyone was able to keep up and have a voice and contribute. Introverts found it especially empowering. 

The project wasn’t without its challenges and setbacks, but a critical measure of success had been achieved: our participants were now fans of virtual collaboration! 

And this was just the beginning. Our clients now had the digital tools, templates, skills and confidence they needed to push forward with an all-digital sprint process that kept the project momentum going in a time of extreme flux. The structure established in the workshop enabled more flexibility in the spring process, with individual and group activities allowing for times when people could work at their own pace and schedule. 

The use of digital tools and techniques as a way to facilitate breakthrough conversations and generate action is here to stay. For us and for our clients that have seen the benefit, there is no reason to have just one way or the other. We can now have the best of both worlds and use different methods according to when and how we need them. 

With the restrictions largely lifted in New Zealand, ThinkPlace has been leveraging digital collaboration in the physical workshop space, to create shared understanding and collective outputs in an engaging, real-time way. We continue to be excited by how the considered use of technology will amplify our ability to create a better future for New Zealanders.

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