From in room to zoom: Why some gatherings extend while others destroy the digital divide

We can’t wait to gather again in person. This much is true. And, for now, the digital counterparts will suffice.

In the search for staying connected, we settle for a synchronous substitute – zooms, and the like.

We put our training classes, town-halls, workshops, and more on a platform instead of in-person.

As helpful as the technology is, we bemoan its lack of real connection. It’s not the real thing, we say. In one breath we both bless and blame the technology for its divide. 

Gatherings are a mechanism and opportunity for change to happen among a group. 

No matter the channel, some bring us closer together, and some further apart. 

Technology or lack thereof isn’t what fuels or propels connection and engagement – we can’t blame not being in person as the reason. Every piece of technology still involves a human behind the scenes making choices on how to use it. 

We are making these choices all the time that either pulls others in or pushes away those we wish to connect with. 

These choices are channel and format agnostic. Some pull, some push, some focus on one-size-fits-all, while others personalize. We can modify or tweak three dimensions: our language, structure, and space. Put together, these choices lead to different outcomes that either make change stick or stall. It is more challenging online, no doubt, but not impossible.

Both channels allow us to either use gatherings to do things to people or with them. The choice is ours.

Now, more than ever, we can utilize gatherings for the latter, and save the rest for asynchronous communication. Gatherings meant for compliance or information sharing are perfect examples. 

Take a company’s new hire orientation, for example. It may be tempting to simply convert the same sessions you led in-person and put them on zoom. We do this in part because we might not know what else to do. Instead, play with one dimension, space. Send the slides or content ahead of time for asynchronous consumption when it’s ok for people to be passive. Leverage your synchronous gatherings to make more space for questions and digestion. This makes the content come alive and become active, just like you want your participants to be. Adult learners need that space anyway to process the material and make it their own. In other words, to connect to it.

We are longing for connection, we say.  But it also doesn’t mean we were connected when our gatherings were in person. 

Just because our gatherings are online doesn’t mean we have to settle for tick-the-box. And just because we can’t wait for them to be in-person again doesn’t mean they will be transformational. 

Changing the channel or waiting for the channel to change back won’t solve our lingering questions. Questions like, why isn’t change happening in my organization? How do we help people get from A to B? How do we encourage buy-in and ownership of new initiatives? We are always wondering how to spark that movement or change in the way we gather. Even now. Especially now.

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