The community’s need for connection and support doesn’t stop – so neither did the Sydney Trailblazer Community Administrators Group’s meetings. In fact, they ramped up to weekly virtual catch ups, writes group Co-Leader Simon Gascoigne.
2020 was off to a great start.
In December 2019 the Sydney Trailblazer Community Administrators Group held a pub-quiz party. It was a blast – heaps of people, heaps of fun, plenty of optimism about the year ahead. In January we held our usual monthly group meeting with a guest appearance from Salesforce CEO Pip Marlow and a huge turn out.
But by March, the idea of being in close quarters with dozens of people was a bit uncomfortable. World Tour had gone virtual, and everything had changed. We weren’t quite at the stage of gagging at the words pivot, transform and adapt, but already they’d taken on new meanings.
In the blur of the weeks following, being in close quarters for anything that wasn’t essential became unthinkable and virtual meetings became the norm.
In this extraordinary situation, my co-leaders and I felt that one of the most important things we could do was help people stay connected and reduce the impacts of isolation.
The decision to switch to a virtual meeting was easy in that sense, but we didn’t know what to expect. For the first time, we didn’t have a strict agenda. We just wanted to throw it open to people to talk about whatever they needed to, be it Netflix recommendations or Trailhead tips.
We held our first virtual meeting on 20 March. Unsurprisingly, talk was dominated by the pandemic. What would work look like now? What changes were people experiencing and making? What could we expect?
We had around 50 to 60 people join the virtual meeting, including some of our regular attendees who’d already lost their jobs. We had all seen the queues around Centrelink on the news and the hard reality of job losses was tough to bear witness to. It also firmed our resolve to stay connected through the group.
One of our key functions had been to help job seekers but, as jobs suddenly became fewer and further between, keeping people connected and encouraged became our priority. We saw a lot more people using Trailhead to work towards new certifications and there were always plenty of members happy to help others with that.
One of our Melbourne users even created a Slack group that turned into a really useful resource. The community created all kinds of channels, including job channels and working from home channels. A lot of the users already experienced in working from home shared their tips as we all settled into the new paradigm.
Virtual meetings are rarely perfect and managing that grid of talking heads is challenging. In the first virtual meeting I thought it would be a good idea to have everyone introduce themselves – it seemed like the right thing to do. But 10 minutes in, the intros were still going and people were already logging off.
I’m also cautious to avoid a cliquey feeling. I know a lot of the people in the group and it is easy to call on them to help keep the conversation flowing. At the same time, we want to make sure everyone has an opportunity to be heard.
Some people are very happy to sit quietly and listen. But some people have surprised me by speaking up more on the virtual platform than in a ‘real life’ meeting situation – it’s been great to hear from people we’ve never heard speak up before.
What’s more, we’ve had people attend who have never come to a physical meeting before. Virtual meetings have no borders! Our local Sydney group has welcomed members from Brisbane, Melbourne, New Zealand and even Boston. This has increased our diversity of voices and perspectives, and has solidified the sense that we are all in this together.
One of my favourite virtual meetings happened around Easter when we got ‘Zoom-bombed’ by Pip Marlow. Her contribution was a fantastic boost to morale, and she was able to help provide some new connections to those looking for new jobs.
Things already seem to be moving towards a feeling of business as usual. More opportunities are coming up – in the meetings we spend less time talking about the pandemic itself, and more time talking about what our working futures could look like and how we can best prepare for them (Trailhead!). We now meet more often than ever before – instead of once a month it’s around once per week.
My co-leaders and I have further fine tuned the way we manage virtual meetings – they’ve become a valuable tool and I can’t imagine we’d do away with them once things return to ‘normal’. In many ways, they make my life easier – no rooms to organise, no catering to sort out!
That said, I feel there is a danger of over-programming our lives. Some things are harder in a virtual environment – the secret sauce for creative brainstorming for example is in a face-to-face connection. But until that’s possible, we’ve been grateful to still be able to see each other, learn from each other and even broaden our networks in virtual meetings.
Simon Gascoigne is Co-Leader of the Sydney Trailblazer Community Administrators Group. Find a group to join here.