We as individuals, and as a global community, have been permanently changed by the collective trauma caused by the events of the COVID-19 pandemic. We all look different exiting the experience than we did entering it.
As we face our next chapters of work and life, the desire to return to ‘normal’ is stronger than ever. But I want to challenge this idea of ‘getting back to normal.’ I would argue that ‘normal’ wasn’t better, it was simply familiar and comfortable.
At our company, we first transitioned into virtual delivery of all our learning services because we were forced to in order to keep everyone safe and connected. As the months passed, however, we found ourselves choosing to not only maintain virtual delivery but evolving our products and services to make it the best possible experience for attendees as possible.
We believe we deliver virtual experiences unlike any other, and we’ve learned a lot of lessons along the way. Here are five of the most important lessons we’ve learned throughout this experience.
Virtual makes in-person connections more powerful
Companies who have been doing virtual for a long time already know this to be true. When you function as a virtual company, it allows for in-person moments to become something beautiful and special. These periods of limited togetherness force you to make the most of your time and often the outcome is memorable experiences and connections for the people who have come together.
Virtual creates a level playing field for all employees
When you engage with people through a virtual interface, you are leveling the playing field for everyone. And we’re not talking about delivering what would be an in-person event over web conferencing – that’s never going to work. We’re talking about delivering virtual experiences intended for digital audiences. Ways the playing field is leveled for participants include:
- Ability to modify audio and visual experiences to best suit their needs
- Ability to turn closed captioning on and off
- Ability to turn on translations for speakers whose first language is not English
- A comfortable, safe space to experience the message
- An environment free of distractions, allowing attendees to focus entirely on the material
- An increased sense of safety, allowing people to play more fully brave and open to experimentation
- There is no ‘back of the room’, meaning everyone has access to the sound and visuals of the presentation
Virtual provides safety for moments of vulnerability
Imagine you’re sitting in a room with 300 other people. How likely are you to comment on something vulnerable in front of everyone? If we had to guess, it’s close to zero.
What we have seen play out over the last 14 months is that people feel safer sharing their vulnerable moments in the safety of a group chat room environment. There is less exposure to facial expressions or body language that may make people feel withdrawn or less likely to share. You allow your people to dig deeper and do the work when you deliver through a virtual model.
Virtual increases people’s willingness to experiment
Effective leaders take time to explore situations by gathering information and considering multiple perspectives. They experiment with new possibilities to learn, make progress and discover what works. Finally, they intentionally reflect, cultivate learning, and evolve in a way that is purposeful.
When you allow people the safety of a virtual environment, they are more likely to provide you with the insights necessary to evolve your workplaces in the ways that will best serve humans.
Virtual and remote work is the future of human-centered workplaces
Whether we go willingly or kicking and screaming, virtual is the future or of work. People have realized that the jobs and positions they were told for decades couldn’t be done remotely absolutely can. It will be a hard sell to force people to give up what they’ve gained over this last year. And any leader who truly values and cares about their team members must understand this.
Ways leaders can deliver an exceptional virtual experience
- Keep slides to a minimum, instead show up as yourself to engage with the chat. When you do use slides, make them impactful.
- Call out people in the chat by name. It’s a small but incredibly meaningful gesture to the person you’re responding to.
- Have someone in the chat reinforcing key ideas, if possible. Having someone in the chat ready to get the conversation started and flowing can help others join in, too.
- Find ways to allow people to engage anonymously and in real-time. Our favorite real-time tool is MentiMeter.
- Be open to the unknown, stay vulnerable, and invite others to meet you where they are.