Running an event for 150 people across four time zones and five locations

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I recently blogged about the rise in organisations adopting remote collaboration for productivity, performance and cost savings. I talked about the increase in requests to the ASE and how we had started to also see these business benefits blossom through the events we’ve run.

One such event did it’s best to break me. Here are a few of the things I experienced and learnt about remote collaboration during the engagement.

This global client of 45,000 employees had offices all over the world. We were working with the IT function to help them create their strategy for the new year. They wanted to push boundaries in technology and set the bar high, hence they wanted Capgemini, the ASE and the collective wisdom of all their employees.

They also had a travel ban.

We worked with them to determine how we could deliver physical sessions in the US (two locations), India (one location), the UK and have people attending from the comfort of their own homes. The question wasn’t just about building the strategy, it was also how we engage with a global team to get the best ‘group genius’ in a short timeframe, remotely. It was like adding a second, substantial, problem statement to an already challenging question.

We figured that with the time difference, we had a ‘magic four hours’ which, luckily for me, meant mid afternoon in the UK. It was a tough ask for employees. The US team had to be in at 7am and the Indian team didn’t leave until 10pm. Sweetening the deal with some treats for those on site was a must.

We also had to have a clear communication plan; why was this ‘event’ so important, why did they need to be there at those times, why did we really have to have everyone together? What contribution were we expecting from them ‘online’? For us and our sponsors it was clear, for our participants it was not.

Because of the short time frame, we also had to get creative with the normal ‘scene setting’ downloads and inputs. For this event, we created a campaign of content online and maximised engagement through the use of their existing communication platforms while nominating ‘change agents / champions’ and moles to instigate and encourage conversation.

Sussing the tech was our next challenge. We chose to use the client’s infrastructure and existing meeting tool. Once we got our heads around the (vast) functionality, it worked well.

Each of our physical centres had an ASE facilitator and we were all connected using WhatsApp to ensure process flow.  At one point we ran four simultaneous breakout sessions, all facilitated by a client content lead and moderated by our process facilitators in the room. Content was captured on Google Drive, and we set up a mechanism for sponsors to ‘float’ in and out of conversations to check progress, the same as they would in a traditional event at a single location.

At the end the client was delighted. She had employees approach her during the day sharing how impressed they were with the adoption of new technology and methods, that they had pushed boundaries with their ways of working and the efforts to include everyone with strategic decisions was appreciated. Others loved being part of the process because it gave them a role they could choose to take for the coming year.

This short blog doesn’t really do justice to the complexity of the situation (and the hours I put into planning!) However, those four hours have improved ongoing engagement, created directional alignment and commitment to deliver, for 150 people we would never have engaged without it. I think that’s worth the lack of sleep and I think it’s scratching the surface of the power remote collaboration really has.

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