Digital artwork with amorphous figures and abstract textures

During the first day of #ascilite2021 today, @enm181 tweeted about temperament-inclusive pedagogy and @gamerlearner drew the parallel into workplace design, which gave me some words to describe something I’ve been developing in my team of late.

While I’ve been running my team’s meetings digital-first (Zoom) and multimodal (+ tools) for a while now, I’ve still felt pressure to conform to standard workplace practices, and so they’ve always been synchronous and talk-based. While I never force anyone to speak or use cameras, and always have multiple engagement modes available (usually text chat plus online collaborative tools like Miro, Padlet, Zoom polls etc), I’ve been uncomfortable with the way this still privileges certain ways of interacting and contributing. So instead I’ve started working on a hybrid engagement model that deprioritises speaking and synchronicity, drawing instead on practices that won’t be unfamiliar to anyone working in the online learning space. As it turns out, designing good workplace practices is the same work as designing good learning.

By way of explaining what this model might look like, my pilot case study for this is going to be our PPDR work (personal performance and development review – you probably have a similar acronym), which I had originally scheduled as a 3-hour team workshop and was the next available opportunity to pilot (as a side note, if you’re interested in the collaborative constructive alignment approach to performance planning we’re experimenting with, I can post that too).

Below is the MS Teams post I wrote for my team explaining the approach, and a screenshot of the Miro board we’ll be working in (deliberately zoomed that far out – you just need to get a sense of the structure, not the details). I’ll gather feedback during the week and do a more structured evaluation at the end of the week (I take a developmental evaluation approach to leading my teams) to further develop the model into something we can normalise to replace all our team meetings.

Hi DigEd – after doing a lot of thinking following our TMS workshop and the discussion around meetings not being an optimal or comfortable way for everyone to contribute, I’ve decided to take a completely different approach to our upcoming PPDR retreat to see if we can create better ways of working.

I’m going to take a hybrid approach, because another thing we talked about was the challenges people face in prioritising, and I know sometimes people rely on the ‘forced prioritisation’ of a scheduled event. So what this will look like is:

  • The PPDR retreat will become ‘PPDR week’ (6-10 Dec)
  • I’ll design the activities to be done asynchronously in Miro and you can work through them at whatever pace and order works for you over the week
  • I’ll run a backchannel post here in the PD channel as a ‘discussion forum’ for questions and chat throughout the week
  • For those of you who know that you just aren’t going to be able to prioritise or engage if you’re left to your own devices, I will leave the PPDR retreat meeting in the calendar and you can treat that as forced time-boxing for you to get it done
  • For those of you who are comfortable with a self-directed approach, you can decline the calendar invite
  • For those of you who need people and talking to think, we will run the Zoom meeting as a social drop-in space during the scheduled retreat time

Hopefully this creates a really flexible space for people to engage according to what works best for them – I’ll be trusting everyone to commit to participating, but how you do that is up to you.

I’ll post the Miro board and instructions for the event closer to the time. In the meantime, if you have any questions, suggestions or thoughts on exploring new approaches to working like this, feel free to comment here.

A screenshot of a Miro board that shows many blank grids laid out with colourful sticky notes and text nodes for strategic and team goals. The board is zoomed out too far for any text to be legible except two frames named '2021 reflection' and '2022 planning'.
Screenshot of aforementioned Miro board

For some further context, this is an excerpt (I won’t bore you with the full text) from the instructions that give you an idea of the flexibility I’m trying to build into the model, to include and value all ways of working:

You can contribute in a way that works to your strengths – if you are great at ideas, you can proliferate sticky notes. If you’re a wizard at making connections, draw lines to your heart’s content. If you’re a killer proofreader, editor, maker of order from chaos or visual layouty person, do those things. If you are terrible at any of those things, don’t do them. If you are the type of person for whom what I just wrote makes no sense and you just want to follow my instructions step by step until they’re done, then that is definitely what you should do.

The event runs all week, and you can participate in whatever way works for you – work in random bits here and there, binge it all in a sitting, do half an hour every day, follow the instructions in order, completely disregard the order, whatever.

If you have questions or want to chat about things during the week, use the discussion thread in our PD channel.

If you want to call or meet or group text chat with your colleagues over coffee at any point during the week to chat about this, please go ahead.

If you need the time-bound event for forced prioritisation, then you’ll work on this from 9am-12pm Dec 7th. Put on DND mode and hook in. If you want people contact and talking, join the Zoom meeting during this time for social chat while you work (drop in and out as needed). If you do not, put on headphones and ignore the world for three hours.

That’s the model in progress – I’ll try and remember to update this post after the pilot to share what we learned and how we might iterate the design. One thing I’d like to work towards is decoupling the synchronous aspect entirely and finding other ways to meet the needs of those who need connection and contact to think and look after their wellbeing, but I need to develop my understanding of what practices serve what needs further first.

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