As we said last week, we are all adapting quickly to our current environment. Late last week, we shared with you that we were adapting training for United Way Worldwide’s (UWW) Advanced Leadership Program members from face-to-face to a virtual platform. In doing so, we were able to help UWW continue to move forward as well as learn a great deal about how to move forward in these unprecedented times. Today, we want to share some of those takeaways with you so you can quickly and thoughtfully do the same.

Going virtual quickly

Transitioning to a virtual environment tricky given the timeframe (Friday decision and Tuesday class start). Our first roadblock to overcome was timezones. was, obviously, the right move, but we were immediately hit with the problem of time zones. Holding the training from 8:30am to 5pm Eastern Time wasn’t much of an issue for the attendees in the US and Canada, however it would be the middle of the night for the attendees in Mumbai. Initially the Mumbai attendees were still not going to participate, but, together with the UWW leaders, we reminded them of the benefits of the training and encouraged them to attend. We’re happy to say, each individual from Mumbai was an active attendee!

As we reworked the materials, we wanted to make sure that the activities and breakout sessions were as effective in a virtual environment. We also worked to identify a platform that would allow us maximum capabilites to engage virtually in a variety of ways. We did the preparation. We were ready!

Starting and Adapting

Then we started the session. Midway through the first day, we realized that the platform we were using didn’t have all the tools we needed to give the remote attendees the full experience we wanted for them. So, we adjusted. We selected a new platform, Zoom, that gave us the robust capabilities we needed. We then talked with UWW leaders about our reasons for switching, and communicated the change to the attendees. All-in-all, it was another seamless transition that not only benefitted everyone involved, but helped us continue to grow in our knowledge of online training platforms. We were able to effectively conduct breakout sessions and engagement and brainstorming activities without missing a beat.

The next 2 days, we covered all of the material using our tried and true PDI (Practical, Dynamic, Interactive) approach. We continued to use breakout sessions and developed many new techniques to keep a virtual audience engaged. For example, in our in-person trainings, we often use short time blocks for teams to collaborate and come up with answers. In this case, we didn’t want to slow down the energy in the virtual session by breaking out. So, we began using a technique called “1 minute collaboration.” This technique allows all teams to observe the collaboration process while the selected team actively discusses and comes to agreement. If they don’t come to that agreement in the minute alloted, the team leader must anwer. This gives the added layer of learning and helps teams see what works/doesn’t work in this setting.

All things considered, the response to our efforts was overwhelmingly positive. Here are just some of the comments from UWW leaders:

“Thank you for making this year’s United Way Advanced Leadership Program a possibility. Your flexibility and dedication to making a virtual option for participants to continue forward in their development journey is greatly appreciated. You know that we believe the program would not be successful without your leadership and stewardship. And, we do not believe the program could have been successful without your capabilities in a virtual environment. Look no further for evidence of this than the realized outcomes and demonstrated shared support among United Way’s senior leaders that we saw on the last day. Thank you for making the program a success and helping us ensure we have the needed leadership of United Way now and into the future.

Alex Fike
Director, Board & Leadership Programs
United Way Worldwide

“There are no words to thank all of you for everything this past week. The world threw us a massive curveball, and you all responded more than we could ever imagine. You are all the right partners, and we cannot thank you enough.”

Vice President of People Strategies, Talent & Board Engagement
United Way Worldwide

“Thank you so much for helping put on a successful virtual session. I’ll admit that I had my doubts that it would be as good as it was; so kudos to you, Michael and the rest of your team for a job well done.

Dallas Mudd
Vice President of Operations
United Way of Northwest Arkansas

What can you take away?

Every company is currently adapting to primarily remote working conditions. We are no exception.

Although we’ve delivered virtual training for countless clients, adapting in such a short window was open waters. And you’re probably experiencing that too. You know that your work, your training and your meetings can’t stop. You need to navigate these situations with a facilitator/trainer who’s not only flexible, but can identify areas that need improvement and make necessary adjustments. We share this story to ket you know that it is possible. As always, we are here to help you through it.

The overarching lesson for us is that, while we encountered challenges and had to adjust in short period of time, a quick pivot to a virtual environment is 100% possible. Let us know how we can help. In other words, we can practice social distancing, and still do business as usual.