During the COVID-19 pandemic, the abrupt transition to remote work significantly altered the way we interact. While digital tools facilitated essential communication, they couldn’t fully replicate the nuanced and dynamic interactions of in-person meetings.
This is especially evident in product organisations working across international borders.
In multi-disciplinary fields like product development, diverse stakeholder involvement is crucial. A prime example is the initiative by Mediahuis to connect technically skilled people in the newsrooms from Belgium, Ireland, Luxembourg, and Germany (Aachen). These professionals had limited prior interaction and found great value in physical gatherings, starting with a significant meeting at our Irish offices in Dublin.
In Dublin, we organised a day of short to-the-point presentations: what The Belfast Telegraph did on election day, how Nieuwsblad organises its Best Friterie campaigns, how De Limburger enhanced its visual storytelling, and so on. That was quite intense, but due to the format of really short presentations, it never became boring.
At night, we went out for dinner on a rooftop restaurant with a great atmosphere. The day after, we visited the Guinness Storehouse and learned how to pour a pint of Guinness. These informal gatherings were as important as the formal presentations. Now our Web masters know each other’s names and faces, which was the goal of the gathering.
Also, a tip for those organising similar gatherings: Take a lot of pictures. They’re nice as a memory, but they also look great in your future presentations. It’s so much more fun to include a nice picture with happy colleagues than yet another boring text slide.
We organised a survey afterward, which revealed these key insights:
- Collaboration challenges: A notable 25% of respondents identified poor collaboration with the newsroom and/or marketing departments as a significant obstacle in their roles. This underscores the need for better integration and communication channels across departments.
- Upskilling preferences: Regarding skill development, 37.5% of participants embrace the idea of peer mentoring, while 62.5% see the benefit of online courses as well. This indicates a diverse appetite for learning modalities, suggesting a hybrid approach to professional development could be most effective.
- Engagement at live events: A striking 75% found live knowledge-sharing conferences to be the most engaging and beneficial for their role. This emphasises the value of physical interactions and events in fostering a vibrant learning environment.
- Community and skill improvement: Interestingly, 31.2% desired a stronger sense of belonging to a group. Meanwhile, 94% identified skill improvement as their primary goal for community engagement. This highlights the dual importance of fostering community while focusing on tangible skill development.
These insights emphasise the evolving role of office spaces and the need for a balanced work environment. While remote working offers flexibility, the benefits of face-to-face interactions are irreplaceable, particularly for brainstorming, skill-sharing, and building a sense of belonging.
The challenges lie in sustaining these benefits in a remote working set-up. Online tools like Degreed and Mural play an important role in community building and knowledge sharing. Yet, to maximise the potential of physical meetings, investing in effective asynchronous collaboration is essential.
To address these needs, organisations must create opportunities for both in-person and virtual interactions. Incorporating live knowledge-sharing events and peer mentoring can enhance the sense of community and facilitate deeper learning. Simultaneously, leveraging online platforms for skill development can cater to the diverse preferences of the workforce.
The future of work, especially in dynamic sectors like the news industry, will be shaped by a blend of remote and in-person interactions. By understanding and responding to the varied needs of their teams, organisations can cultivate a more innovative, inclusive, and effective work environment.
Our next step is now to organise the first showcases and find a date for a new physical meeting. We want to continue to focus on those physical gatherings, but to make that worthwhile we also have to learn to collaborate asynchronously, for example. You can only get the most out of your physical meetings if you also invest in targeted digital interaction.