Improving your virtual learning
'Lockdown fatigue’ affected people in different ways. We heard from organisations worried for their teams, their company culture and their future. They asked us how they might use virtual meetings to bring their people together and revitalise them. We shared a studio experience that has helped us terrifically.
During the pandemic, two of our UK-based clients got in touch with us to share a challenge they were experiencing.
With their people working from home, some isolating and lonely, and with concern they wouldn't be returning to the office soon, morale dropped to its lowest point. Zoom calls – once a novelty – now felt cold and uninspiring. Not only was it difficult to see colleagues struggle, our clients told us, but it was now affecting company culture and productivity.
Both clients asked us how they might refresh virtual meetings and workshops, to instill a stronger sense of togetherness and add a little joy. We shared an experience that has helped us to adapt our own approach.
The Dark Angels Tuesday evening gathering
Dark Angels run creative writing for business courses. Before the pandemic, these were held all over the world, from southern Spain to Whidbey Island, 30 miles north of Seattle. With travel limited, the courses moved online, and the collective added a weekly ‘gathering’ for alumni. We joined one early in February 2021.
Led by Neil Baker – Associate Partner at Dark Angels, writer and communications consultant – this was a gathering in the most human sense of the word. A kind, creative, nourishing hour, bringing people together and revitalising them.
Speaking to our clients about the experience, we shared why we felt it worked so well.
Time for togetherness
As faces began to appear on screen, jazz played gently in the background. Neil smiled and waved hello. Music fading, he asked us to find and light a candle or draw one in our notepad. He then invited us to enjoy two minutes together, videos on, sitting in silence, bodies relaxed.
Sharing that experience with 15 other people was magical, moving and deeply human. That we were joining the videocall from around the globe didn’t matter. For those two minutes we were together.
Invitation over instruction
Neil had prepared a handful of writing ‘practices’ for the gathering. Similar to the introduction, he invited us to take part. For each, we would have around five minutes to respond. And we could respond any way we wished, adding our writing to the chat box if we felt comfortable sharing.
Being invited rather than instructed to respond was empowering. The less pressure we felt to perform, the more of ourselves we wanted to give. With freedom to explore came a greater desire to be involved.
Joy of creativity
"You can draw a candle if there isn’t one in your room." This invitation set the tone for the gathering. So when Neil asked us to write a short response to a question like "Where are you?", we knew we could interpret it as creatively as we wished. The only limits were those we gave ourselves.
At a time when so much of our lives was controlled by circumstance, this encouragement to be creative felt more liberating than ever. And so full of joy.
Reframing right and wrong
Martin, another writer at the gathering, read Sarah Howe’s prose poem ‘There were barnacles’. We were asked to listen, note lines that spoke to us, and later follow one or more of these into our own poem. Wherever our writing led us was good. There was no wrong direction, just different approaches.
Dark Angels courses are always this way. They invite and encourage writers within an environment that is safe to explore. Without fear of ‘wrong’, we felt confident, brave and in control.
Same time next week
Neil leads the Dark Angels gathering every Tuesday at 7pm. The structure is very similar each time, the invitational, encouraging tone is a constant, just the inspirational examples and practices change. Neil tells us new people appear each week, but that a group of regulars always attends.There’s comfort in knowing this. That there are people like you gathering together each week, sharing, creating and inspiring one another. Friendly faces, always there to guide, support, encourage and help one another through.
A final thought
If our clients’ challenge feels familiar, try organising your next virtual team get-together as a gathering of people rather than an objectives-driven hour in the diary. Try beginning with your version of a candlelit moment of reflection and connection, try inviting rather than instructing those on the call, try to introduce a creative practice or two, and try removing right and wrong. And, as you begin to lead the meeting, somewhere in your mind hold this message from Neil, shared as he moved us into breakout rooms: "If you’re here, in the room, you’re participating."
You might be delighted by how something kind, creative and nourishing can help struggling colleagues, improve your company culture and a little further down the line boost everybody’s productivity.