Can’t meet in person? Four ways you can stay connected with your teams, customers, and communities during and after COVID-19.

Tobias Mehra

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced organizations to rapidly change the way they operate.  As the health, psychological and economic impacts of the pandemic unfold, and people are forced to physically distance, organizations are finding ways to engage their stakeholders, about their immediate needs and longer-term strategic considerations.  

Here are four ways you can use to stay connected with your teams, clients, and communities during (and after) COVID-19. 

  1. Schedule unstructured time to check in. 

As people grapple with the widespread impact of COVID-19, many are prioritizing personal connections with others in their community – often scheduling brief, unstructured time to simply connect – keeping relationships current – and to check in at a business and personal level.

One of our clients has added a 30-minute wellbeing check-in to their bi-weekly virtual team meetings, allowing team leads to tap into what’s on employees’ minds, create space for discussion, and use this feedback as a starting point to develop further opportunities to engage with one another.  These team leads are pairing powerful questions with technology features such as virtual whiteboards, anonymous polling or chat functionality to encourage creative, honest input and to create a safe space for everyone to participate.  

  1. Conduct pulse check surveys to solicit employee, client, and stakeholder feedback. 

As governments imposed lockdowns, organizations pivoted, improvised and in some cases reinvented their offerings overnight, with little time to second-guess.  Many are using ‘in-the-moment’ pulse surveys to assess stakeholders’ perceptions about the changes they have made and to respond to community feedback by making adjustments as appropriate. 

For example, Berlineaton’s Data & Insights team designed and offered, an online pulse check survey to help independent schools gather feedback about online learning.  We surveyed schools across Canada and provided benchmark comparisons.  The survey findings helped participating schools respond in real-time, to important community feedback which led to changes and adjustments to their online learning offerings – immediately and as they prepare for the upcoming school year.

Our Data & Insights team also offered clients with ‘always-on’ pulse checks, providing leaders with a continuous feedback loop about the impact of new strategies and initiatives being deployed throughout the year.  To do this, we combined structured and unstructured data to overlay the rich narratives of employees onto performance metrics and key drivers. These overlays give our clients unprecedented insights into why KPIs are changing in their employees’ own words.

  1. Use digital and analytics tools to collect and analyze open-ended feedback in real-time. 

Often, the most actionable insights are found by studying open-ended text responses.  However, analyzing these takes considerable time, something that is often in short supply.  We offer clients technology that combines powerful machine learning and native language processing to help distell this feedback into actionable insights.

Recently, we used this capability to help an independent school client determine how their strategic positioning, as seen by students, parents, and faculty, had evolved since the start of the pandemic.  The findings of this analysis are being used as a starting-off point for their strategic planning process. 

  1. Use virtual workshops to invite input regarding strategic decisions. 

During crises, leaders need to make far-reaching decisions about the future of their organizations.  They know that it is critical, now more than ever, to involve a cross-section of stakeholders and encourage different points of view to make smarter decisions, build trust and confidence, and create sustainable outcomes.  

In our experience, hands-on, interactive multi-stakeholder workshops can be a powerful approach to engage stakeholders.  To replicate this approach in a physically-distanced world, we are helping our clients deploy virtual facilitation tools that empower participants to share and discuss ideas, identify common themes, and co-create solutions. Find out more about how to lead great virtual meetings here.

One such tool is MURAL –a visual collaboration workspace for virtual teams. Based in the cloud, MURAL provides shared, digital whiteboards for teams to explore complex challenges.  Recently, we used this tool as part of a large-scale process-improvement initiative with a provincial ministry. MURAL helped us facilitate a cross-functional team of 15 people through an interactive process-mapping exercise, which helped the Leadership Team quickly identify and implement opportunities for improvement. 

While we can’t predict the long-term impacts of this pandemic, we believe that the importance of community will be amplified – and in this new world it will take some patience, effort and learning.  Staying connected with, seeking input from, and responding to the needs of stakeholders will help leaders carry their organizations through the pandemic and make informed decisions, ready to embrace opportunities that will undoubtedly present themselves. 

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