At Workz, change is our main specialty, and every day we help our clients manage change. But let’s be honest, nothing has prepared us for the kind of change COVID introduced.

2020 has been a journey into uncharted waters for many of our clients, and ourselves, no doubt. But between grunts of frustration and the occasional sighs of relief, we kept trying and testing to accommodate the urgent organisational needs of online everything.

Luckily, many of our clients had the same attitude. They came to us ready to embrace online solutions, and together, we came up with new engaging formats for involving employees while keeping a safe distance.

For this article (a long read FYI) three of our senior consultants share some of their recent experiences with online solutions and what they have learned.

Airing a corporate TV show

We recently helped a client with an untraditional knowledge sharing session. The client is currently launching a new product globally, which means the first countries taking the product to market have extremely valuable knowledge for their colleagues to benefit from. The client needed a way for the first countries to share their experiences and engage with the countries preparing for launch. As part of this, we helped the client develop an engaging webinar in the form of a 60-minute TV show.

The end of talking heads
Webinars easily become a bit disengaging. A long monologue from a ‘talking head’ clicking through a never-ending PowerPoint presentation is a mood killer, no matter how interesting the subject may be. So, we had to get the audience involved.

"We fundamentally turned the webinar upside down: Normally, you would focus on what you want to say. But here, we based the design on what we believed the audience needed to hear. In addition to that, we designed the entire program flow with the user experience in mind – ensuring that it became easy to engage with the content."
– Anissi Thorndal Abu-Ghazaleh, Senior Consultant

Our audience were busy people and they expected a certain pace and dynamic. With this in mind, we designed a program flow that would shift between (very) short presentations in the studio or through Microsoft Teams, polls to activate the audience, and short pre-recorded video clips. On top of this, we added a host; a central colleague from the client’s organisation who became the anchor of the show. 

The host-role tied the program together nicely. From the first “welcome”, introducing the presenters and interviewing them as if it were a talk show; to taking questions from the audience, and summarising ongoing poll-results.

"We wanted to make the audience feel that they had an important role to play; in general, just moving away from the “talking head” monologue and towards a shared experience."
– Anissi Thorndal Abu-Ghazaleh, Senior Consultant

Content is key
While most of us are able to stay focused for about 45 minutes in a face-to-face session; even 10 minutes of one-way-monologue feels endless when we are online. Due to this constraint, a very central aspect of this project was working closely with the client presenters on the TV-show. We engaged in a thorough dialogue with them on how to curate the content including overall messages, structure, sequence, desired takeaways and audience expectations.

"You may think that a webinar, let alone a TV show, is not the way to go if your subject or your messages are complex. But it is my clear experience that this can be done. It does, however, require you to support the presenters in working with their content and angle – especially if they are subject matter experts. And of course, rehearsals are always a very good idea."
– Anissi Thorndal Abu-Ghazaleh, Senior Consultant

As a result of our preparation, we were happy to see the audience tuning in and staying there, even when participation was not mandatory. This session was purely an offer, but one that was very well received. 

Now, a second TV show is in the making. 

A tool for innovation

Earlier this year, we worked with a client to strengthen their internal innovation culture. Like many companies, this client depends on innovation to remain a key player in their industry. Based on this need, we set out to create a dialogue tool that would address what innovation meant to them and how to create the optimal conditions for innovation going forward.  

COVID-19 emerged right at the halfway mark of this project, so while developing a physical tool, we added a parallel workflow to make a fully online tool as well. Our first challenge was to readjust the scope as well as our own mindset. 

"We had to take on quite the entrepreneurial mindset and not let any bumps in the road stand in the way of the process. We did not have a fixed plan in advance as we’d never used this specific tool in an online version before. Basically, we had to rethink our way of collaborating with the client. In a way, this seemed like quite the appropriate exercise considering our aspirations for the tool."
– Marie Marvel Olofsen, Senior Consultant

Simply put, the dialogue tool presented statements on different types of behaviour. Participants in small groups would use an interactive screen to discuss, prioritise, rate and eventually assess behaviours – all while challenging assumptions and their usual way of thinking.

Physical, virtual or hybrid?
The physical and the virtual tool were built to work in different settings. The content elements, however, were identical. And in the hands of the client, we ended up with an alternate version of the tool, a hybrid of sorts. Hybrid in the sense that some, but not all, of the participants ended up together physically in one room, and others joined in virtually. This gave the tool great flexibility.

"I believe this will be the new normal. Actually, we have made it our virtue at Workz now, as a standard risk mitigation, to try to develop concepts that can be facilitated both online and physically or in combination, since we don’t know under what conditions we will be working in the future."
– Marie Marvel Olofsen, Senior Consultant

Designing for Reusability  
After introducing the tool, we trained the client in taking on the role as facilitator. The tool has since been used several times internally in the organisation.  Thanks to the format, the tool can be used again and again. It only gets easier with time as the clients get more and more familiar with the process.
"The backbone of everything we do is involvement. The tool we had developed for just that actually turned out to be fairly easy to translate into an online format… but having said that, we know that it takes two to tango. The client put a lot of effort into this project which, looking back, was definitely also a great part of why the integration and the final result turned out so well."
– Marie Marvel Olofsen, Senior Consultant

When one leadership workshop isn’t enough

Sometimes, our solutions span over time. Because not everything our clients are asking can or should be packed into one training session or a conference programme. This was the case with a client who wanted to support a group of managers, all located in different parts of the world. These managers sometimes felt alone when facing challenges such as influencing internal stakeholders and setting a strategic direction. 

Hearing about the client’s ambition to empower and educate their employees, we designed three webinars with strong online workshop components to be run with around six weeks between each of them. One with a focus on networking between the managers, one with a focus on influencing stakeholders, and one with a focus on setting strategic direction as a leader. 

"Setting up this timeline was a great investment in leadership development because it allowed us to fit in all the content the client needed, and managers were able to reflect and regroup between sessions and anchor their learnings."
– Klaus Meier Olsen, Senior Consultant

Attention please!
As with any online event, participant attention must be taken into account. That’s why all three webinars offered a mix of plenary sessions, breakout sessions, video bits, Q&A and panel discussions. This variety ensured that the managers stayed involved throughout. After all, they were the stars of the show. 

In the breakout sessions in particular, the managers could really get involved. In smaller groups of 5-6 participants, they worked directly with interactive PowerPoint documents. The specific design of these documents helped structure and qualify the dialogues, making the participants involved in more than just talking. As we did not have a workshop facilitator walking the floor, it was crucial that documents were simple and intuitive, while still guiding the managers to have fruitful conversations worth their time. 

Running a workshop online is quite different from doing it face to face. You can’t see the audience’s reactions and you can’t ‘feel the room’. In our first tests, we realised that the materials and processes needed to be much simpler than we had initially thought.

"Luckily, our plan allowed for a bit of testing, and the feedback from the actual sessions was very positive. It was particularly satisfying that the participants requested even more time in breakout rooms with the involvement tools we had designed."
– Klaus Meier Olsen, Senior Consultant

More than a technical solution
In the last six months, we have had to develop a new skill set when it comes to technical solutions: How to use a platform like MS Teams to drive important agendas and conversations. It has been a great learning journey on how to create the online corporate experience. It’s a world of endless possibilities, some more expensive and complicated than others, but even still, we don’t want the technical setup to take away from the problem we are helping the client solve.

"We wanted to make sure that the technical solutions felt seamless and took up as little space in the workshop as possible. When push comes to shove, the technical solutions should support the dialogue rather than be the main focus or even worse, come off as a gimmick. Because an online workshop is still a workshop."
– Klaus Meier Olsen, Senior Consultant

At the end of the day, we seek to move and engage people, regardless of the technology involved.