The effective remote work of distributed teams — now more than ever — relies on the technology that makes it possible. There are three crucial elements to think through when constructing a communications forum, and while content and behavior are often focused on as two of the core components, we see teams all too frequently overlooking the technology aspect.
Technology capabilities are critical to the execution of any successful communications forum — from digital meeting platforms to internet bandwidth to cybersecurity. Whether taking advantage of your current platforms or building them out to suit your needs, organizations must make connectivity work for them and have the right digital infrastructure to bring their teams together no matter where they operate.
A forum, by its very definition, is relational. People exchange ideas and conduct business in an open and accessible manner. In a hybrid workplace, the technology that hosts and empowers your forum must:
- allow people to easily connect and engage
- support the natural exchange of information and ideas
- enable accessibility supported communication
- protect people and information explicitly
There are three essential elements to ensuring that the technology tools that support your forum support your business needs:
- Picture success. Define your end goal. What challenges do you face to hosting your forum and what does success look like to you?
- Plan for success. Ask questions, gather information, and examine potential solutions, making sure to identify any specific roadblocks or requirements that might be associated with each solution component.
- Proceed slowly. Start small and allow people to embrace, adapt and thrive through their forum interactions. When you have a clear picture of success, and agreement on the solution tasks and technology components you can get to work implementing your technology tools, platforms, governance, and security measures, informing, supporting, and strengthening engagement.
At McChrystal Group, our weekly forums are hybrid events connecting our entire company — whether they are in the office or at home. Our in-office forum space is reserved in advance. Equipped with monitors and whiteboards, the modern meeting room is ready with audio and video hardware and management tools to facilitate the sharing of information and ideas. Using Microsoft Teams as our meeting application, our forum is conducted in a dedicated channel that can be accessed by the entire organization and recorded for those who are unable to attend. The online host shares the slide deck that serves as the outline for the forum, and the agenda is consistent and predictable to support the various presenters and contributors.
Because it is hosted on our managed cloud environment:
- Security and governance policies apply
- Information is secured in the cloud, in transit, and on the user’s device
- Information access and download is managed and governed
- Information compliance follows company policies and procedures
- Search, share, and collaboration are consistent with everyone’s day-to-day work experience and expectations
Because we use Microsoft Teams:
- People can join from anywhere, using their managed device of choice, or using a personal device like a mobile phone with the Teams app installed.
- People can use accessibility features like captions, screen magnifier, high contrast color, voice assist, and screen reader support.
- Zoom, pop-out chat, and share tray options that include PowerPoint live allow attendees to focus on content they need in a way that suits their needs.
- Meeting moderators are in control and can monitor and mute attendees if needed to minimize distraction and background noise.
A consistent and informative communications forum, when done right, leads to more efficient information-sharing that can increase the speed and agility of how hybrid work is performed. A hybrid-focused communications forum can reduce the need for meetings of sub teams and redundant messages between individuals, in turn saving valuable time, as we know meetings are still consuming an outsized share of employees’ time. Since February 2020, the average user of Microsoft Teams saw a 252% increase in their weekly meeting time and the number of weekly meetings has increased 153%, according to data from Microsoft. The average user also sent 32% more chats each week in February 2022 compared to March 2020, Microsoft’s Work Trend Index report found.
Plan for Success
It is very tempting in this age of countless technology options to look for the newest platform or hardware. However, this can lead to lengthy proof of concept, testing and piloting, ultimately delaying the deployment of technology tools for forum success. This approach also contributes to distrust of technology teams, skepticism as to the value of company managed collaboration solutions, or worse, resistance, as users find their own ways to collaborate.
When it comes to hosting a sustainable forum, asking the right questions will help you identify the right solutions to achieve your desired outcome. First, assess the needs of the forum by examining the planned location, participants, and the content and communication that will be essential to success. Then design the in-person and online meeting space, digital identity and resource permissions, hosting, sharing and retention, the location-based bandwidth and quality of service networking configuration, and your remote attendee connection requirements.
As you look to hardware and application selection, keep capital and operating costs in focus and if possible, leverage existing technology investments by using interoperability software. Not only does this speed implementation but users are more likely to embrace technology, such as hardware and applications already in use.
Here are some questions to consider when designing the physical or virtual environment for the forum
- Will you be in person, remote only, or hybrid?
- Will everyone be from the same organization?
- How many people will be included?
- What are attendees' accessibility needs?
Slow is smooth, smooth is fast — in technology deployment we call it crawl, walk, run. Don’t delay creating and implementing your forum until you have all your parts and pieces in place. Define your minimum requirement for attendees and presenters for the first day, and then work diligently to get that in place. A successful start might be using the technology and on-site facilities you used throughout the pandemic for meetings and upgrading from there.
Workers and teams are increasingly making flexible work their own, infusing flexibility into their schedule and reshaping the workday. Communication is still a foundational aspect of work, no matter where or when it happens. Giving your team the proper digital tools to make a hybrid communications forum operate effectively will save you and your organization time allow you to move with