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Learning to build and sustain the Global Shapers community during COVID-19

Every fortnight, we hand over the blog to one of the London Shapers, to give you a flavour of what they do, how they think and what's really going on in our hearts and minds. Today's piece comes from our co-curators: Jas Sidhu, who is helping companies to launch new ventures, and Carlo Minciacchi, who is the founder of Leapian.

In July this year, Carlo Minciacchi and I took on the roles of co-curators of the Global Shapers London hub, a community of 42 talented people from all walks of life.

Shapers work together by volunteering time, energy, and resources to deliver impact in our communities. Having high engagement and meaningful relationships across the hub helps improve both the impact we can make and the experience of being a Shaper. We've been inspired by our hub's enthusiasm and energy this year: the quality of discussions, proposed projects, and interactions have been amazing given everything has happened virtually so far!

Three months into the curatorship, here are some of the challenges we’re working through, and some lessons we’re learning from running the hub in a pandemic and engaging a community virtually.

We're working through the overarching challenge: How can we grow and sustain an engaged community of awesome people and deliver kick-ass projects virtually?

This consists of the following:

1. Several shapers have had their work lives disrupted, creating challenges in contributing to the hub as much as they'd like to. Adaptation requires energy, time, and patience, and here are some examples:

  • Some shapers have been directly involved in responding to the pandemic and, as such, have seen a significant increase in workload.

  • Others who are self-employed or running startups have been forced to adapt their business models and, in cases, have seen their business growth accelerate (or decelerate), leading to varying workloads and pressure to adapt.

  • Many members had never worked from home, having to learn to focus, maintain motivation and find ways to bond socially in a remote way.

What have we tested and learned?

  • It's been essential to give people space and support needed to adapt. The most important thing for us is to be of service to our community. We've adapted our leadership goals to the situation based on the feedback we get from the hub. An example of this is running quick check-ins with hub members to see how we can improve their experience, and further support them.

2. Many Shapers have not yet met each other in person, making it challenging to build more profound and meaningful relationships.

  • Due to the pandemic, many hub members work from home, spanning more than five different countries and time zones.

  • There’s been little opportunity for our new members to meet the old members in person due to social distancing rules. We've postponed our annual weekend retreat: a great opportunity for our hub members to form friendships, get to know each other, and identify opportunities for collaboration.

  • The lack of in-person meetups has made it challenging for some members to feel comfortable proposing activities, projects and engaging as much as in previous years.

What have we tested and learned?

  • Collaborating on Notion to capture project ideas, manage projects, share ‘asks’ and ‘needs’ before and during hub meetings. This is an effective way of getting information across quickly to all members and reduces the amount of communication needed.

  • Creating a 'Who's Who' for onboarding. This is a fun list of profiles that include bio's, interests inside of and outside of work, along with random facts. These tools have helped shapers connect, find common ground, and team up with each other. One of our projects now involves more than 14 shapers!

  • Running unstructured and 'optional to attend' virtual socials for shapers at the end of each hub meeting, with no agenda. We do this by creating Zoom breakouts of 4-5 people and let each group create their own conversation. Feedback from our community tells us that people enjoy more relaxed conversations.

  • Getting creative with team activities: We've onboarded 18 new members virtually this year. Online activities such as virtual escape rooms and quizzes are a great way to build team camaraderie online. Our previous co-curator, Tat-Seng, kindly ran a session for the new intake onboarding with great feedback (highly recommended)!

3. Zoom fatigue is a thing.

  • We've learned that zoom fatigue is a real thing. After a day of video meetings for work, it can be challenging for people to have the energy and enthusiasm to jump on another video call or networking session.

What have we tested and learned?

  • Initially, in our leadership plan, we wanted to increase our shapers' number of monthly interactions. Instead, we opted to let shapers self-organise for additional sessions rather than make them official hub sessions. This has been the same for our committee. This has proven to work so far, supporting more focused sessions for project related work and allowing people to enjoy socials.

  • Using Notion for pre-reads before meetings allows us to reduce our overall meeting times. We aim to keep updates and questions as short as possible to allow more time for bonding. This has been working effectively.

  • Rotating monthly meetings between mornings and evenings. This is a continuation from last year and makes the meetings more accessible for the hub across different careers and time zones.

We're still figuring out whether it is even possible to replicate anything close to the quality of in-person interactions. There is something special about being in the same room with people, without digital distractions. In the same room, you can get a better sense of people, what they might be going through, and how they feel. It allows for serendipitous conversations and to learn more about each other. This instinctual element seems to be missing in virtual interactions - which is why the dinners after hub meetings or our weekend retreat are some of the best times in our hub. For now, these are postponed until it is safe to do them as a group.

Yes, we're about having an impact as a community. It is also essential that we're there to support each other as a community, make sure that we're well and can engage with one another. Without this, it is hard to make the change needed in the wider communities. Our focus in the next few months will be to ensure that our members find a place within our hub to share their challenges and find support whilst delivering impact through projects. The projects we are running are already providing a space for Shapers to give back and contribute to our community, which is proving refreshing and uplifting in these times.

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