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Digital alternatives are available to replace flip charts and whiteboards. There’s no need to point webcams at boards or share photos of post-its anymore.
Most teams are still hesitant to include (more) screens in their in-person meetings though, worried that digital devices will break the natural flow of in-person collaboration. "Mobile phones and laptops away," an oft-heard refrain from facilitators of in-person collaborative workshops. You’ve probably experienced this before - and it’s understandable. Facilitators want the undivided attention of the team so they collaborate effectively.
For sure, digital devices can be distracting. It's easy to check your email or chat with someone outside of the meeting. Thus it’s even more important to come together on a clear set of rules and expectations for your meetings.
Start your meeting by defining the social contract of how you will work together (i.e. don’t check your phone, take turns to speak, listen actively to each other). More critically, get everyone connected to a shared virtual workspace so their use of a device feeds into the outcome of the session.
In this way, even your face-to-face interaction can be leveraging laptops, tablets, phones, and collaborative touchscreens to augment your meetings.
Going digital first makes it easier to assign pre-work before you come together, continue to work on the same topic during the session, and continue to collaborate asynchronously afterward. The idea is to do as much work asynchronously as makes sense to maximize your together-time.
For instance, rather than taking time to do personal introductions, warm-up, and thought exercises during a live session, try running activities in advance. This frees up time and energy for the group to concentrate on the content of the challenges you’re solving together.
By collaborating digitally you also save a lot of time on the follow-up. There is no need for interpreting and transcribing physical notes, and you can share the link to the digital workspace as a follow-up. It’s all about keeping the momentum going.
Everyone can see what happened in the session since it’s digitally saved and recorded. This might be useful for:
By recording notes digitally during your meeting, everybody can follow the conversation afterward even if they may have missed the session. Stakeholders who aren’t present still are able to access the step-by-step summary, end of meeting conclusions, including all decisions that led to the conclusions.
Make your meetings more inclusive by providing everyone access to contribute. Allow participants to post their questions and have conversations using digital tools. Digital tools also facilitate the integration of digital media in your meetings such as video, audio, digital documents and pictures to make the conversation richer.
People are also drawn to participate more when they can contribute via their own device. If participants are constantly checking their phones in meetings, give them tasks they can complete via their personal devices. Everyone can see who is contributing in the workspace which provides a motivating peer pressure to contribute more.
We’ve also seen people who are normally quiet and shy during collaborative sessions suddenly contribute a lot more than usual. Using a digital whiteboard even for your in-person sessions changes the type and balance of interaction you’ll see.
Allow remote participants to join your in-person meetings as default. Remote participants can work on the same workspace as co-located participants which helps them not feel like second-class citizens. They can see the work happening in the digital workspace and through cameras and microphones they can see and hear both in-person and online participants. This is second-best after having everyone face-to-face.
By working digitally all participants can contribute to a shared board via different devices, whether they are remote or face-to-face. Not just one person holds the pencil or guards the board, but everyone can contribute at any moment. This levels the playing field and makes sessions more democratic.
Not only do you save time transcribing content, you can also save time setting up sessions. Another benefit of going digital first is that you can easily duplicate and reuse canvases, activities, elements, and icons. Create your own library and playbooks of activities and share these best practices throughout your organization.
Lead in your company and invite your team to design this new way of working together. And then lead for your clients. Allow them to participate and collaborate as if they were members of your team. Colleagues and clients will be drawn to this novel way of facilitating session because of its benefits and you can be the expert leading the way.
Companies like Steelcase and Microsoft are exploring new ways to incorporate digital technologies to enhance collaboration and innovation. MURAL has developed an app for Windows 10 that can be used on Surface Hubs and other interactive touchscreens. EY are using digital devices in their Wavespaces to create a more engaging client experience.
Digital tools and devices will make your existing practices easier, quicker or of higher quality. But they can do much more than just replicate the real-life experience. They can also add new functionality to boost your digital collaboration.
Think about digital timers, voting, polls, templates, video instructions, animations and sharing your screen view. Also not being limited to the size of a physical space, you can expand your digital space to be as large as needed.
When everything is digital, you’re more agile and can pivot quicker. Content can be easily duplicated, changed, and extended without having to re-print and re-hang materials. And everything is shareable to include everyone’s voices to validate your assumptions.
It's time to invite more screens and digital devices into our in-person sessions and leverage their capabilities to augment our performance.