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Connect the Dots: Fostering positive virtual engagement in the time of global social distancing

Stakeholder engagement firm Connect the Dots, based in Dublin, Ireland and Philadelphia, Penn., in the U.S., focuses on developing stakeholder engagement tools and processes to enable insight-led decision making for public and private sectors. Their current client list includes Dublin City Council, South Dublin Co Council, the National Disability Authority, and Meath County Council in Ireland and Comcast NBCUniversal, Independence Blue Cross, South Street Headhouse District, and Center City District Philadelphia in the U.S.

In the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, Connect the Dots has been working to redefine the processes that drive this core work. The company has translated its traditional in-person, end-to-end stakeholder engagement activity into a robust, remote process due to restrictions on face-to-face contact on both sides of the Atlantic.

Now more than ever, Connect the Dots Co-Founders, and Directors Marisa Denker and Naomi Murphy emphasize that there are four key points that companies should adhere to in order to remain virtually engaged with employees, partners, and customers:

  1. Empathy: It’s essential to understand the evolving needs of stakeholders in order to adapt responses and solutions in an agile way.
  2. Transparency: Organizations of all types and sizes need to develop transparent, accessible, and clear two-way communications to keep stakeholders connected.
  3. Collaboration: Empathetic and transparent collaboration leads to innovation and resilience; important pillars for any organization.
  4. Creativity: Fostering creative methods, cultures, and working environments is a powerful tool for driving engagement across the entire organization, benefiting internal and external customers alike.

“We help our clients to understand and work with their stakeholders to gather insights, enabling them to make optimum decisions based on people’s needs and ideas,” said Denker. “And right now, empathy is more important than ever — all our needs are quickly evolving, and priorities are changing as the situation progresses, so it’s imperative to build trust with all stakeholders and take the time to carefully listen and understand their concerns is very important right now.”

Denker explained that it’s critical right now to understand people’s comfort levels with their remote working situations and if they need help and support with navigating the technology or perhaps help in keeping a healthy work/life balance. It’s vital to understanding where people are mentally, and to make decisions with them, based on understanding their strengths and concerns.

“What we’ve found is that it’s important to make sure that each person involved is prepared and is comfortable with participating with remote business events,” added Denker. “This may mean offering one-to-one virtual prep sessions, sending out demonstrations beforehand, and doing training ahead of time. Practice sessions for a workshop or an event can greatly reduce anxiety, resulting in much more positive outcomes for all involved.”

Murphy explains that because things are particularly tumultuous right now, it is even more important for people to get clarity and have two-way communications happening in the workplace just to stay connected, stay on board, build trust during this time. With transparency, it’s about keeping stakeholders, clients, and staff engaged with openness and feedback.

“Another way of staying engaged with stakeholders and staff is to take anonymous surveys to make sure everyone has a chance to be candid and honest about their feelings and thoughts,” said Murphy. “Focus groups are a good tool as well, and the point is to gather insights and make sure that people have an equal voice and to share challenges as well as solutions across the organization.”

Denker and Murphy explain that their third point — collaboration — is critical in this unprecedented time. They explain that there’s no way one person can have the answers, so it’s particularly important to bring together stakeholders to solve challenges.

“We often take a design-thinking approach, putting ourselves in the place of the user or attendee as they move through a virtual event,” said Denker. “We do this for in-person events where we think about participants walking into a room, being greeted, and thinking through the interactions and available tools and information in a room — we do this for virtual events as well. It’s a way to think through and test what parts will work, and what parts might need adjustment in this new virtual way.”

The team’s fourth point is focused on an organization’s creativity. Connect the Dots finds that creativity and innovation greatly support a company’s work, especially in challenging times. Companies need to come up with solutions to stay positive, proactive, and keep moving forward.

“We recommend using a variety of different tools, especially in a virtual workshop or a focus group,” said Murphy “In Zoom, for example, we can incorporate images, diagrams, and graphic collaboration tools like MURAL to make work-related presentations more engaging for everyone.”

From a more social perspective, it’s also essential to find creative ways to foster personal moments and to create social cohesion. The classic water-cooler moments within the office aren’t happening right now, but they are an important form of communication.

“In addition to professional communications, we all need informal spaces in the workplace where we can connect and be creative,” added Denker. “It’s important to encourage those moments and possibly structure them into the workflow experience. Creating virtual spaces for people to come together and have a moment to share coffee or celebrate a birthday or work anniversary — just as they would normally do in person — is critical to everyone’s mental and emotional well-being and to the health of the entire organization.”

To find out more about Connect the Dot’s work in Ireland and the US, visit www.connectthedots.ie

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