How are your meetings going?

There aren’t likely to be many of us still caught in the headlights of the radical, immediate and unforeseen change that every service, business and person in the UK had to make at the end of March. While it was not an easy road to travel (in the dark, with no map) … we survived.

Animate have been doing our best to remain productive and useful where we can be. One of the ways in which we have been doing this is by voluntarily offering to facilitate twice weekly Zoom calls for Third Sector Chief Officers through a collaboration with ACOSVO (Association of Chief Officers in Scottish Voluntary Organisations www.acosvo.org.uk).

It has been a privilege to be present to the immediate and emerging challenges (and successes!) we have heard about with over the last few weeks. There have been some recurring themes – concern about whether or not staff are being well supported, concern about whether or not work is being accomplished, concerns about furloughing, issues with boards, future-planning, funding, concern for the people who depend on services that are no longer open. Serious stuff.

We have heard participants – about 35 thus far – journey from ‘how do we do this ‘virtual’ thing?’ to feeling confident about the various platforms, and sharing tips with one another about how to manage and support staff remotely; while needing to completely alter their service delivery, interface with clients, and manage key stakeholder relationships.  Third sector leaders, like all others, have needed to ‘redesign the plane, while flying it.’

One of the core areas they have needed to rethink is how their teams engage with one another. We have heard about daily meetings, weekly meetings, 1:1’s, board meetings and scheduled ‘cups of tea’ together. We have also heard of on-line quizzes and other, more ‘social’ ways in which some teams have connected. We even heard of a conference with 80 delegates planning to attend, being successfully moved on-line in 48 hours! These stories have been a blend of trial, error and success.

Out of necessity colleagues are ‘meeting one another in their homes’, crossing boundaries that normally require explicit invitations. Suddenly pets, children, dodgy internet connections, lack of a free surface to work on, and all sorts of other features of our lives outside of work are needing to be shared with our colleagues. And that is just one facet of this new, and newly complex, work reality.

Inevitably, teams are needing to establish a new ‘dynamic’ for their shared work, which is being done in isolation. Mostly, this has been successful, although occasionally clunky. Some of the positive features we are hearing are:

  • It breaks ‘old habits’
  • Time is being used efficiently – and often, less time is being used than might be used for a similar purpose in the office
  • Team members are more ‘on tap’ for one another. We heard a specific mention made of the usefulness of the ‘chat’ function in Microsoft Teams for this informal contact
  • In this virtual environment, ‘the pressure is off’ in some ways – and on in others
  • Board members are more likely to attend meetings, as they are also working from home
  • It makes ‘agile’, or incremental, change easier
  • It is easier to keep everyone engaged using virtual platforms like Teams and Zoom – as it is not as easy ‘to hide’

Animate is curious to learn more, with our clients, about the advantages and limitations of integrating virtual platforms into our work. We can foresee that the cost savings that they make possible will be a significant incentive for organisations to continue to work virtually once we return to our workspaces. We are already in the brave new world of virtual working and there is much to learn about when it is the best choice, and when it might best be avoided.