Building virtual communities: Replicating the effectiveness of face-to-face

online meeting on laptop next to meeting

Written by Louise Stokes, Director, Digital Leaders

We are social beings – the interaction, networks and social connections we create at work are important given we spend so much of our lives “at the office”. However, during the pandemic, working from home has meant those watercooler moments and face-to-face conversations completely halted. Remote working was not entirely new of course, but even WFH veterans would be the first to admit that some aspects of a remote environment still had some distance to go when compared with physical interaction. 

Tech has done it’s best, and we all had our digital networks accelerated by the “Zoom boom”; taking part in online quizzes and the like. Virtual drinks certainly helped, but I am much more excited now about the plethora of new digital platforms stepping up to recreate social togetherness for teams and organisations. 

In the last few years, we have seen the technology for group working and one-to-one interaction platforms transform unimaginably. At first through the likes of Slack, Zoom and Microsoft Teams, but for me, the missing link always remained the networking and interaction you get in larger groups, that you can only get through physically attending an event, meetup, conference or summit. 

Pre-lockdown, the Digital Leaders team already ran a large online programme for our community alongside physical events because our members are based throughout the UK and beyond. The platforms we used were typical one-to-many formats like webinars, where content is presented and questions asked. However, it was always missing that golden moment of audience interaction when the serendipity of bumping into a new and useful connection happens. 

This moment is what people value most when attending physical events and in lockdown, this has been lost, but lockdown has now created new platforms that do offer this networking and audience peer to peer interaction, And wow! What a change. Delegates on these new platforms can sit together in groups of 5, use social media tools to connect, move around the space and see everyone else there. This now includes our own member’s space we have christened the #DigiLounge.

Most excitingly, communities of designers and users have sprung up around these new platforms and these groups are making weekly improvements, updates, new features offering extraordinary levels of creativity. I recommend you try them. For me, communities will rely far less on face-to-face meetings attempting the serendipity we lost when we locked down.

Also, these new communities are inclusive, offering access for those working remotely, or for people in rural communities who don’t have the time or the funds to travel and there is the reduced environmental impact to consider. Being live and interactive delegates can network in a natural feeling way. They can meet new people, listen to great speakers and even take part in the Q&A, all from the comfort of their home office.

The truly virtual community is coming of age in 2020 and for me will become the way to network, build connections and bump into serendipity for professional communities.


 

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