The Affinity part of our name was always about getting better outcomes by working closely with people who share the same interests. So how does that work in the age of lockdown and virtual working? Surprisingly well it seems!
Affinity Works most critical information feeds come from our customers and partners – without their input we cant gauge whether our services are operating to spec and we cant shape our products to make sure they are a tight fit for their requirements.
Our approach to customer and internal meetings has always been to try and get a healthy balance of face-to-face and virtual meetings. Recognising both the need for and benefits of a mixture of both meeting types both approaches bring positives but also some challenges.
Working with the Public Sector the primary challenge of online meetings has typically been one of technology. Trying to organise a session for multiple attendees across multiple Local Authorities (LA) typically requires a number of preparatory calls and tests to work out what technology people are allowed to access; whether IT intervention and support is necessary and whether the local infrastructure can support the technology being proposed.
Often people are in meeting rooms with a conference facility along with a number of disembodied voices which drift up through the ‘boomerang’ telephone meaning that meetings can often become rather stilted and unnatural – and that’s within groups of people who know each other!
Having people joining virtually who are less familiar with the other attendees becomes even more of a challenge. Then, often despite best laid plans, a ‘technical’ hitch occurs and half the meeting can be lost!
And whilst face-to-face meetings don’t have the technical limitations they are a lot more challenging to organise, particularly when working with multi-site teams or Authority collaborative projects as the logistical challenges encountered can impact attendance. Not to mentioned the challenge of finding a suitable venue (limited access to rooms); travel implications (the added stress of being stuck on a train going nowhere fast….) and the availability of technology to support the meeting and for anyone having to dial in.
These challenges can prove to be obstacles or hurdles to an effective meeting, demanding time, coordination and expense – and with cutbacks to resource – who has a secretary or PA to organise these things?!.
The last few months have seen most of the major technical constraints removed, barriers have come down and virtual meetings have been embraced. The use of standard technology such as MS Teams or Zoom means that we’re all actively encouraged to ‘show our faces’ on group calls – and whilst there’s periodic internet dips (most likely caused by child number 2 attending a virtual lesson or possibly downloading a game just at that moment!) the transition to regular virtual meetings with all of our customers has been a success.
Through the use of effective remote working technology we have been ’enabled’ to progress with projects, particularly those with multiple LA collaborations and we have experienced better attendance to meetings. The outcomes have largely been the same as had we been able to meet face to face. The ability (with permission from attendees) to record and share meetings ensures non-attendees don’t miss a thing either and stay informed and current in their participation. Meeting rigour and facilitation has improved and it remains important to retain the civility of introductions, time management and even asking how someone is whilst watching their pet walk through the video call.
The last few months have shown us all that where there’s a will there’s a way. Mother Nature certainly has benefited from the lack of commuters and I haven’t missed the long drives to site, and whilst it will be nice to sit in a meeting room seeing everyone face to face again I’m really hopeful that the public sector is able to maintain the technically pragmatic approach it’s taken and we can continue to embrace virtual meetings and working – albeit under more normal circumstances.
So the good news – Affinity still Works even when its virtual. Look forward to seeing you on the next Zoom call.