Is empathy the missing link in tech integration for hybrid?

Building the hybrid workplace requires technology integrators to pay more attention than ever to human behaviour. Canada’s ET Group is using the principles of design thinking to make empathy central to the development process.

In a world where technology is always evolving, it’s so easy to get distracted by all the bells and whistles, and forget about what actually matters: the user. 

This is a huge problem, especially when it comes to creating hybrid workplaces, because when human behaviour is not taken into account, there will be more problems created rather than solved. 

However, we are able to avoid this problem by using design thinking. And a crucial element of design thinking is empathy. Empathy allows us to focus on the human experience, and really understand the true needs and desires of the user; even some they weren’t aware they had. Through walking in their shoes, we see the problem from as many perspectives as possible.  We are able to identify all of the gaps and explore many different approaches to finding the long-term hybrid workplace solution.

That’s not to say that it’s always an easy process. The idea of a deep discovery phase can be off-putting for some clients. They assume that it’s going to be too time consuming. But that’s actually not the case. By taking the time to listen to an organization’s story, we get to the best solution much faster than if we had simply installed whatever tech is new or trendy. Plus inviting clients to be so involved allows for deeper and more trusting relationships, because they feel truly seen and understood.

Discover more reasons why empathy matters every step of the way when using design thinking, and how it opens the door for more creative and inclusive solutions by reading our latest interview with WORKTECH Academy here.


ET Group
 is a Corporate Member of WORKTECH Academy. This article is the third in a series on the role of design thinking in technology integration for the hybrid workplace. Read the first two articles here and here.

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How can technology and design collaborate on hybrid?

Technology integrators and interior designers need to work closely to create the hybrid workplace, but too often there is a divide. ET Group is using the principles of design thinking to build bridges – is this a blueprint for collaboration?

Where designing hybrid workspaces is concerned, technology is to design as music is to dancing. You can’t have one without the other. Sure, you can separate them, but paired together they’re just so much better. 

Include technology early in the design process

In order to create successful hybrid strategies, companies need to think about space and technology collaboratively, not as separate design phases with different desired outcomes. Too often, organizations are leaving technology decisions to be made at the end of the design process, and they are missing out on opportunities to optimize these choices to suit all of their employees’ needs. By taking a human-centered approach, Design Thinking creates the right foundation for the ultimate partnership between interior designers and technology integrators.

Lead as co-experts

This is why it’s important to think of designers and technology integrators as co-experts, and give them the opportunities to collaborate with each other as early as possible. Design Thinking allows for a process that allows both parties to collaborate and build on each others different areas of expertise where best suited, in order to co-create the ideal hybrid workspace for the client. As our CEO Dirk Propfe explained to WORKTECH Academy, “We need to jump into each other’s swim lanes to learn together”.

5 key principles to a succesful relationship

At ET Group there are 5 big things we often think about when working with designers in order to guarantee a successful outcome: 

1. Define what success looks like.
2. Agree on the process.
3. Focus on experience, not just appearance.
4. Prototype together early and often.
5. Keep it simple.

You can read about these 5 big things in more detail, as well as the rest of our interview with WORKTECH Academy here, and understand why we believe Design Thinking will help achieve better collaboration between design and technology.

ET Group is a Corporate Member of WORKTECH Academy. This article is the second in a series on the role of design thinking in technology integration for the hybrid workplace. Read the first article here.


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Can design thinking unlock technology integration for hybrid workspaces?

When it comes to the topic of moving to a hybrid workplace, it’s clear that the key to making it happen is through technology. One of the biggest challenges companies experience today is how to integrate technology successfully into their current systems and processes. Is design thinking the answer?

Designing a hybrid workplace

As companies look to quickly adopt new solutions to enable their hybrid workforce, organizations are struggling to find harmony between the technology tools themselves and the people driving the organization forward. Without a people-centric perspective, companies lack the right balance that is needed to find success to the hybrid workplace.

Could it be that a new approach is required to unlock technology integration in the hybrid workplace?

For the last several years we have been pioneering an approach known as design thinking with our global clients and experiencing huge success. Design thinking is a human-centric approach that seeks to put people at the centre of the solution they are creating for and develop solutions with the user in mind. Design thinking really hones in on the process of discovering and defining every aspect of your business, and looking at it all from every possible perspective. We want to know who your people are, what they do, and why they do it.

WORKTECH Academy interview

We sat down with WORKTECH Academy and explained our approach on the principles of design thinking and why it helps integrate technology successfully in the hybrid workplace. 

Check out our full interview with WORKTECH Academy to learn all about Design Thinking, and how it can help bring your technology to the next level.


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ET Group was recognized for transforming our ways of working. Here’s how we did it.

Everyone wants to work at a place where they feel valued. Where you have the freedom and power to make real change. Where you feel like you have a voice and a purpose. At ET Group, these are only a few of the reasons why our employees love coming to work everyday, and are the driving force behind one of our greatest achievements.

By Ciara Williams, ET Group

In December, 2021, ET Group President and CEO Dirk Propfe traveled to Las Vegas to attend the Inaugural Tony Hsieh Award gathering, and accepted the Tony Hsieh Award on behalf of our organization. The award, presented by the Greenlight Giving Foundation & Keith Ferrazzi, honours the life of the late Zappos CEO, Tony Hsieh and the ways that he continues to inspire organizations to be innovative, authentic, and create better ways of fostering connection. Tony believed that there was always room for improvement and that above all else, people come first.

For ET Group, it is an extreme honour to receive this award, and to be seen for all of the hard work and dedication that was put into transforming our ways of working to be more empowering, inclusive and ultimately life-giving. 

While accepting the award, Dirk gave an emotional and eye-opening talk about all of the ways ET Group stands out, and why our way of working is not only different, but essential to our success. 

You can watch his talk here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e9pVgC_Muak

Dirk begins by telling a personal story about the two life changing experiences that inspired him to transform ET Group into what it is today.

A stark awakening in the Galapagos Islands

The first experience details his time visiting the Galapagos Islands, where he witnessed a lot of awe and beauty, being surrounded by so much life. But there was also a lot of ugliness. At the time, he was developing a deep interest in topics such as sustainability and climate change, and while in the Galapagos Islands, he couldn’t help but notice the litter and environmental abuse that could only have been caused by us as human beings. 

He became painfully aware that the world is all interconnected, and that we need to pay attention to how we as a species are affecting the broader ecosystem that others call home, too.

However, rather than letting the ugliness bring him down, he chose to find inspiration in its place. Instead of wallowing in despair at the destruction of this beautiful ecosystem, he asked himself  “how can I best contribute to creating a more life-giving world?”

This one question led him down a path of introspection and discovery. and he found himself soon embarking on another adventure: Sweden

Schooled in sustainability

Dirk enrolled in the Master’s Programme in Strategic Leadership towards Sustainability at the Blekinge Tekniska Högskola school in Sweden, with the intention of discovering how to create more viable ways of working and living. While attending this program, he was able to learn and unlearn many things about himself and others as human beings. He cherishes the opportunities he had to learn about and experience different ways of being and working that “truly energized and amazed [him].” 

For example, while visiting a company in London during his thesis research, instead of simply observing them like he had planned, he was warmly invited to participate and collaborate in a strategy session. He felt seen and heard, like his voice mattered. He truly valued the opportunity to learn something that was never taught in business school, or any other organization that he had been to before, which is that:

 “We can all come together, co-create and be part owners of what we’re going to bring out in the world.”

This was the feeling that he held onto when he returned to ET Group and began laying the foundation to create what is now a life-giving environment that our team thrives in.

Dirk Propfe Sweden Program
Source: ET Group/Dirk Propfe

But what was the reason?

In 2016, Dirk saw ET Group as what could only be called a toxic workplace. We were your typical corporation that harvested an unhealthy and unsustainable working environment. There was in-fighting, debt and extreme egos everywhere. Decisions were made in a hierarchical fashion and for many of our employees, working at ET Group was just a job. A job that was losing people rapidly. 

Dirk knew things had to change fundamentally, or else see ET Group disappear. 

When he came back to work, he was ready to make those changes. And it started with asking one very important question: 

How can we create a more life-giving organization?”

After getting to experience a taste of what a life-giving organization could be, Dirk proposed a major shift in the ways that ET Group operated. In order to create a more healthy and innovative environment, he introduced new company structures inspired by his studies of Teal Organizations and Holacracy. ET Group implemented a self-organized approach to team management, self-set salaries and a promise to create safe spaces for everyone

This means that everyone on our team is self-managed, as well as credited and compensated for their hard work, not just the leadership roles.

Because there are no “leadership roles”. That was made very clear by Dirk, who, even though he has the title of CEO, made sure that this fundamental shift in the company was supported by everyone, using what became ET Group’s Generative Decision-Making Process

ET Group Workshop Session
Source: ET Group

 

These examples are only a small snippet of the long list of key practices that ET Group has committed to, in order to keep ourselves in line with our human-centric way of life. You can find the rest of our organization’s cultural practices, toolkits and values in our handbook.

ET Group developed 3 fundamental practices to create a more life giving organization: self-organizing around purpose, self-set salaries and distributed ownership and safe space practices.

1. Self-organizing around purpose

Dirk’s first move was to get rid of the traditional hierarchy model. Having owners, managers, or “senior” staff creates inequality, making people feel like their opinions don’t matter. 

Now at ET Group, we have self-organizing and self-managing teams (or circles). Our teams are created and organized around how they each contribute to ET Group’s overall purpose: to bring Harmony to Work and Workplace with Technology. In line with Holacracy, each team makes our own decisions regarding how we are best able to meet this purpose, without having to wait for C-Suite approval. Every team member has equal say in what goes, and has equal opportunity to share ideas or concerns.

This freedom allows us to spend less time competing with each other, so we can be more productive and collaborative while ensuring that our clients are getting everything they need and more, because that’s why we’re here.

ET Group Self-Managed Team
Source: ETG Way Handbook

2. Self-set salaries and distributed ownership

One of the most unique aspects of working at ET Group is our self-set salaries and distributed ownership.  In the past, ET Group was owned and governed by only 3 individuals. Today, the company is owned by 70% of our team members. 

But owner or not, who is anyone else but you to say how much you and your contributions are worth? When compensation is directly tied to the value and contributions an individual makes to an organization, you begin to see a drastic evolution in the responsibility and ownership that they feel towards the company. As Dirk says, “you have agency for your own life, and we respect that.” This is why we have implemented self-set salaries to encourage personal growth among our employees and let them know that we do see that value in them. 

We take pride in the things that we own, and there is an abundance of pride at ET Group; in ourselves as individuals, in each other and in our work. 

3. Creating safe spaces for everyone

At ET Group, we don’t hire roles, we hire people.

For this reason, we encourage our team members to bring their whole selves to work, not just their work selves. We don’t believe in hanging up your uniform (metaphorically or otherwise) at the end of the day. When you leave behind parts of who you are under the guise of “professionalism”, you leave behind creative ideas, lack energy and miss out on opportunities to make real connections, which is already challenging in an increasingly hybrid world. 

We recognize that everyone is unique, and it’s because of all of the different personalities, perspectives and talents within our team that we are able to thrive at what we do. Sometimes that means that some of our people hold more than one role, because we don’t believe in restricting ourselves.

DIrk Propfe, Tony Hsieh Award
Source: smugmug.com

When we say that our people are our greatest asset, we mean it. Which means taking care of each other. For example, our human-centered way of life means checking in with each other – really checking in with each other ­– at the beginning and end of every meeting. If someone is having an off day, we want to know so we can empathize and proceed accordingly. We don’t move on until everyone gets to say how they feel, or what they need. 

Our Team Connects allow everyone to take part in companywide decisions, and anyone can bring anything to the table. No secrets or hidden agendas.

Too good to be true?

It probably sounds that way, but it really works! Our Employee Net Promoter Score is always over 50 points, and our retention rate is 95%. At ET Group, our team members want to work, so it makes sense that today, our profitability is 2.5x the industry standard, allowing us to have 4x the growth we had in 2016. 

The results speak for themselves. As Dirk says: 

“This story we’ve been telling ourselves on what it means to be human wants to be retold; life is not about how I can succeed or be better than others. It is about seeing and appreciating each other as wonderful beings with different gifts, talents, and dreams. It is about being in service of each other, and life itself to create beautiful things together. As a collective, it is imperative we shift the narrative and realize what makes us truly happy and fulfilled is to be in service of each other and the planet as a whole.” 

There is always more to the story

Becoming who we are today was a necessary and conscious change, and not an easy one at that. It required – and still requires – being always open to trying new things. Sometimes those things fail, but that doesn’t mean that we’ve failed, it just means that we’ve learned, and only become better for it.

“Every day, we put conscious effort into challenging ourselves to make systematic, consistent change. That requires effort every day. Every day requires navigation towards what you feel is the right thing to do, versus our cultural autopilot. It requires steeping yourself in the practice of evolution.”

All of this is just a sneak peak of what it’s  like to work at ET Group. To hear the full story, check out Dirk’s full speech for more details about why we love our organization!

We also encourage you to visit our ETG Way Handbook and learn about more of ET Group’s innovative and forward-thinking practices.

And before you go, ask yourself:

How can YOU create more life-giving ways of working?


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Collaborative Justice Technology: a compounding investment in the pandemic era (and beyond)

By Ketan Kulkarni Linkedin

In 2021, technology is not only fundamentally changing how industries function, but also the ecosystems they are a part of, in no small part due to the global pandemic. An organization can choose the degree to which they will embrace the purposeful evolution of their ecosystem in uncertain times. The organizations with the strongest embrace will see the other side while also leading the innovation of their industry. Such innovation is the domain of teams of highly collaborative teams versus the great insight of an individual innovator.

Transforming a Traditional Ecosystem

The Justice system is a traditional ecosystem with hardened processes (laws are about as hardened a process as you can get) and well-established training initiatives. Is it possible to apply new technology tools to realize drastic benefits?

The opportunity to improve communication lies in the application of technology, precisely because the processes are hardened and the training is well-ingrained into the traditional culture of Justice systems, wherever you look.

With this backdrop let’s see how the four categories below can be applied to the Justice ecosystem, transform it with collaborative technology and compound the ROI of the initial business case.

©️ ET Group

Operational Savings

The lowest hanging fruits in any ecosystem are operational savings. Operational savings are when you either stop doing something you used to do, or do it differently in a way that allows you get the same result but with less cost. Let’s take the remand process as an example.

Remanded inmates are individuals who do not qualify for bail and who instead are being held in pre-detention facilities, waiting to have their trial. When they are required to appear in front of a judge it is referred to as a remand appearance. Remand appearances require a lot of people and activity to conduct. Accused individuals typically need to spend an entire day being moved from the detention facility to the courtroom and then back. This requires accompanying guards (at least 2, sometimes up to 4), specialized vehicles for transport, all the costs of being away from the facility for the day – food, gas, etc., facilities at the courthouse to hold the prisoners until it is time for their hearing, and the risk of moving prisoners around is inherent in the undertaking.

Applying video conferencing technology to facilitate remand appearances is a perfect example of how substantial cost can be taken out of the ecosystem, maintaining the same end result.

The Operational Savings = Cost avoided / Cost of video conferencing technology

While it is difficult to obtain costs for all the components involved, here is a high level estimate of the costs that could be avoided:

Costs Avoided
1)    Guards (avg. of 3) for a day = 3 x 8 hours x burdened hourly rate of Guards = 3 x 8 x $50 = $1,200 day
2)    Cost of transportation: specialized vehicle + expenses = $750/day
3)    Facilities requirements to handle prisoners in courthouse = $300/day

So, one remand appearance is probably costing taxpayers at best about $2,000. Multiplied by the number of appearances in a year that could be delivered via technology ~ 14,000 x $2,000 = $28,000,000 / year. Over a 10-year period, that is $280,000,000. Even if the estimate for the cost of one remand appearance is 50% above actual costs, there is still significant opportunity to realize operational savings.

Investing in the infrastructure required to facilitate these hearings would be significantly less than the 10-year cost of doing it without technology. One of the key investments in this process is the technology in the courtroom that allows the remand appearances to be conducted remotely.

In any organizational ecosystem there are always rooms where people from different parts of the ecosystem come together to meet. In the judicial system, these are the courtrooms in the various courthouses across the country.

A courtroom is where the 4 different constituents (Judicial, Legal, Law Enforcement and Corrections) come together to conduct their trials and is the focal point for moving the judicial process forward. To enable new communications tools to change the processes, the courtrooms must be equipped with the technology required to conduct electronic communication, which are rich experiences – just like being there.

Productivity Improvements

Courtrooms that have been enabled in this way can now be much more productive in processing the courtroom workflow (the proceedings) – a must given the backlog created by the shutdown of physical locations as a result of the pandemic. A judge in court can hold remand appearances sequentially, connecting with prisoners who appear, via video, from various correctional facilities – one after another. The physical scheduling and logistics that used to be a key component of the “old method” suddenly becomes vastly simpler and less costly. The simplified scheduling and logistics of remand appearances through the use of video conferencing technology also increases the number of appearances processed. The beneficial results of doing this:

©️ Unsplash

The opportunity for greater productivity in the Justice ecosystem can be found in many other processes. Many jurisdictions have learned that leveraging video can reduce — or eliminate — many of the hidden delays and costs of the Justice system associated with logistics such as travel time for a variety of participants including witnesses, interpreters, attorneys and inmates. In an ecosystem where everyone wants to talk to the inmate (prosecutors, probation officers, public defenders, judges, etc.) easier access via video can accelerate workflow.

Clearly these productivity improvements, which were not planned for as part of the initial business case, would likely add even more financial benefits. Often, the productivity benefits that are realized in an ecosystem will quickly outweigh the operational savings provided.

Strategic Transformation

As new communications infrastructure and endpoints have been put in place over recent years – a process accelerated by the pandemic – the Justice ecosystem is being unintentionally transformed with far greater capability than was initially envisioned. The people who are using the new communications tools will start to apply the same tools to situations that were never envisioned at the start of the ecosystem’s transformation.

Let’s look at three real life examples of strategic transformation in the Justice ecosystem:

1) International Trials

With the globalization of business, there are now occasions where the globalization of court communications could greatly help the operation and productivity of trials that happen where multiple countries are involved. Our company, ET Group, facilitated a trial like this where two courtrooms in two different countries were in a single combined session at exactly the same time. The benefits were substantial:

One court session brought together two different jurisdictions simultaneously.

©️ Pexels

2) Virtual Meeting Rooms (VMRs)

The use of VMRs in a collaborative ecosystem typically happens at a later stage in the development of the ecosystem. VMRs are very powerful because they can:

In the Justice ecosystem a perfect example of using VMRs would be to allow the general public to pay their traffic tickets with a hearing in a VMR. When you use a VMR you don’t need a courtroom (massive cost savings), and you allow a person who received the traffic ticket to call into the VMR for their trial. The judge, the officer, the lawyer (if required) and the defendant would all be participants in the VMR. The result is significant savings in travel costs for all involved.

Using VMRs as described in the traffic ticket scenario above would also require software which would would mimic the workflow of the traffic court. People would need to check in online, be held in a queue waiting to see the judge in the VMR with the other participants. But over time this additional expense stands to be minimal compared to what could be saved through the strategic use of VMRs within the Justice collaborative ecosystem.

3) Collaborative Portals

With technology infrastructure in place, new functionalities can be implemented that were not possible before. With software, recordings of the courtroom proceedings can now be captured in a way that was not previously possible. Video and audio streams can be recorded simultaneously from the different cameras and microphones in the courtroom and can be captured as the record of the court.   These court records can be:

Extending capabilities leverages the initial investment in technology already in place and further accelerates the velocity of collaboration in the Justice ecosystem, thus compounding the initial investment.

There are more than just these three strategic transformation examples which stand to further influence the business case for investment in a new collaborative technology platform. Being able to continue to conduct business and enable access to justice for citizens using VMRs in the face of a global pandemic – in some cases more than ever before – is a prime example.

Conclusion

The natural evolution of a collaborative ecosystem is to capture operational savings first, then to realize productivity gains as a by-product through the extension of the technology to new processes, and finally, hit the home runs through the strategic transformation of the ecosystem.

It takes considerable fortitude by those steering the ecosystem to make the investment without truly understanding how the ecosystem will function when the collaborative technology is fully implemented and enabled. They must resist the temptation to cut corners and compromise on the building of the platform that will become the foundation for transformation for years (if not decades) to come.

All its woes aside, COVID-19 helped accelerate a fundamental systemic change that was already occurring – one that has now proven itself here to stay. The technology stakeholders in Justice systems around the globe would do well to take notice.

Building a virtual culture

How do you maintain and build a strong virtual culture in a pandemic?

By T. Smitten

Creating a Culture That Thrives

Over the last year a vast majority of organizations have transitioned to some form of a hybrid workspace, where team members have the flexibility to work remotely for most, if not all of the time.

Mark Bystrek is the head of ET Group’s People Development. He works to maintain an enriched company culture of human connection, co-creation and collaboration while using virtual technology. Through our expertise in virtual technology, ET Group has built an effective hybrid work environment and developed a company culture that thrives in it.

The Importance of Company Culture

Mark admits maintaining company culture isn’t easy, but he highlights the importance of it , “It’s going to be a challenge for all organizations, how do you connect and keep that team spirit together? Remotely? It’s something we can never let go of.  We always have to keep that in paramount, no matter how busy we are. “

Mark and the ET Group leadership team have worked to find the right balance of technology, and collaboration to create a well-connected agile work environment for team members within virtual space. But how did ET Group do this?

Mark has has found the keys to successfully maintaining company culture are:

Define Your Team Culture

At ET Group Mark and the leadership team have outlined the ET Group way, this is a document that is posted with the details of the company’s values, code of conduct and best practices. You want to make sure your company values are clearly outlined and easily accessible.

Share Your Team Culture

Post, post, post! Mark post videos, links, and announcements in the company’s web messenger channels for all staff to easily access. You want to make sure you are continuously sharing items the highlight, support and outline your company culture.

Open Communication is the Foundation

Communication is the foundation of a successful virtual team. Company culture should encourage communication and welcome feedback. ET Group has found using web messenger channels for announcements, surveys and to share info has been an effective for team members to share their ideas, reactions, and responses easily and openly. You want to create and allow for dialogue around your company culture posts and messages.

Ideas for Staying Connected

Communicating workplace culture in a virtual environment can seem a daunting task but it can be done using the technology we have today. It can take a little strategizing and some tech savvy but once that work is done, organizations can easily maintain organizational culture and real human connection amongst their members. Mark often will use WebEx (A web conference and message application) to share company updates. ET Group schedules company wide video conference meetings for all to attend. As part of the company culture the team is encouraged to use “video first” to hold  “face to face” conversations to help maintain connection.  

Mark is continually finding ways to develop virtual teams. He’s found the company to be far ahead of other companies working virtually in 2020 citing the various creative ways they have brought the team together. “We did weekly townhall meetings, we have a water cooler chat, – we were far ahead of a lot of organizations as such and that was keeping us connected.”

Mark also schedules virtual Team building events for the team such as:

Please see our company handbook where we share open information about how our company works together. This includes unique approaches, processes, and practices such as self-set salaries and decentralized decision making.

The workplace is going Hybrid

Exploring the new reality of a hybrid workplace. One which allows the flexibility of employees working between home, office, and remote locations.

When asked how he would describe 2020, David Kerr, ET Group’s Unified Communications and Collaboration Specialist replies “exceptional and unprecedented.”

On any given workday in 2019, David would be designing and implementing Unified Communications solutions for a variety of large Canadian organizations. Fast forward to present day and his workday remains fairly unchanged. While most organizations found the requirements of social distancing a major challenge to their continued daily operations, ET Group did not. In his five years with the company, David has been a part of the ET Group team that works on designing, integrating, and optimizing clients unified communications and collaboration environments. The kind of hybrid environments that allow working from anywhere, whether at home, in the office, or completely remote.

Work is no longer about where you do it, it’s about what you do and how it gets done.

Hybrid is the future workspace

Organizations have mobilized work from home infrastructure and policies that have forever shaped the way we approach work. Now that the dust has begun to settle, they are collectively looking to the future once again. As companies explore shifting their workers back to the office. They are also envisioning what a flexible workplace might mean to their long-term workplace strategies.

David is part of the HybridX innovation team at ET Group. He has witnessed and assisted in the architecture of workplace communications firsthand. He is proud to share that, “We’re not afraid of doing remote work and using remote technologies. We’ve been demonstrating it for years. It works, I mean, we’re thriving.”

Workplace and tech strategies are changing

Having worked with many clients to implement their technology strategies to transition to an integrated modern-day workspace. David reflects on the success in leading others to their ideal connected and collaborative work environment, both physically and virtually. “We’re (ET Group) currently experiencing what we’ve been already living for the past few years. Covid has forced us (society) to put it into place now to some degree. By living it, it gives us great advantages in terms of being able to share the experience with others and see what the potential could be.”

“73% of employees want their company to embrace flexibility (working both remotely and in office) post COVID-19.”

Mckinsey Report – June 2020

David has noted the required changes that companies have begun making to their workplace strategies:

Stay Home Stay Safe – Remote Working in 2020

Prioritizing flexible, collaborative technology

David has also witnessed some setbacks for companies who did not prioritize flexible and collaborative technology tools within their operations. He remarks at the number of companies who were unprepared to work remotely this year. “It was really quite surprising to me but it’s not all that uncommon. It seems that some companies are still kind of slow to change and Covid has really exposed that.”

David listed some fundamentals items every organization will need for a hybrid workspace:

Challenges of going to a hybrid workplace

As part of ET Group’s HybridX innovation team, David works on identifying and resolving the human challenges of collaboration, communication, and connection using technology.  “There were a lot of users that weren’t ready for this. From the standpoint of some users – technology kind of makes them afraid.” Increasing team adoption, training, and comfort levels with technology is critical to overall success when transitioning to working flexible between the office and at home.

When implementing new technology into a hybrid environment, David notes some things to consider are:

David offers his take on additional challenges he has seen this year, “What I think is happening is a couple of things, one, sometimes whoever is making the decision makes it a challenge. It could be making the decision on the technology platform that we should move forward with, but there was really no consultation with the users in terms of what we really need. Which can definitely be a challenge and wreck user adoption or hinder user adoption. The other element is personal bias at times that gets in the way. So, it’s like, ‘Hey, I’m a Microsoft guy’ and that’s all I want to deal with’. I don’t really care about whatever else is out there, even if there are better tools. Other challenges are a lack of information around what technology you need to work better, which is what we’ve been trying to do at ET Group, share that info. “

Preparing your company for the transition

David shares valuable words of wisdom when it comes to integrating new technology into your business. “Organizations must lose the fear of failure”. This can cripple the ability to discover new things. He recommends keeping an open mind when it comes to trying new technology and stresses the need to consider your users when implementing new technology.

“I had the opportunity to work with my church, for example. There’s a lot of users there that just aren’t into this remote working space at all,” says David. “A proper understanding of the users (i.e. accessibility requirements, sights impaired vs hearing impaired, etc.) is crucial to seamless user adoption within an organization.”

Many businesses are still unprepared to implement work from home programs although we are at a time in history when technology makes it more possible than ever. With companies starting to reintroduce their teams back into the physical workspace amidst and post-pandemic, they are experiencing unique operational challenges within their industries. “ET Group is really taking the time to hone in on what we have not only experienced but kind of referring back to what we’ve heard from our customers.”

Work isn’t about where, it’s about what

HybridX (Hybrid Workplace Experience) makes it possible and beneficial to every team, organization or business that thrives on communicating, collaborating, and connecting anywhere in the world.

Work is no longer about where you do it, it’s about what you do and how it gets done.

ET Group has invested years into studying and fine tuning the design for the workplace of the future. ET Group’s strategies for collaborative work environments have kept people together even when apart. “What HybridX is really saying is there’s a new work experience, we want to hone in on what that experience is for you and what makes the best sense,” says David.

ET Group takes a strategic approach to designing innovative hybrid workspaces solutions. By applying human-centric design processes, we create seamless and powerful connections between the office, the home, and the remote worker.

Transitioning your organization to a hybrid work environment can seem overwhelming and costly. With the right tools and design process, your organization can experience a new level of communication, collaboration and connection while increasing your ROI (Return on investment) in the long term.

5 Tips for hosting effective large video conferences

If your team has been hosting large group video conference meetings because of COVID-19, here are some key insights to maximize your meeting potential.

By Tracy Smitten

Article based on our Webinar: Hosting Large Group Video Conferences Effectively. Download the webinar.

Amid the COVID-19 public health emergency and for the first time in our history, society has committed to maintaining physical distancing with a strong need to work together to find new ways to communicate, collaborate, and connect with each other.

For the last 4 years, ET Group has grown as a productive, self-managed, collaborative unit, while working almost entirely remotely. Our team’s operate regularly in large group video meetings. We host virtual team connects that run up to 5 hours in length, host large group town hall meetings with over 40 people, and collaborate daily in large group virtual settings. We continue to explore new tools and practices that can enrich our team’s virtual experience. Technology strategy and design help increase productivity, but it’s not all you need.

Here are 5 key tips we have learned to make your next meeting more effective.

1. Identify the technology you will need

What are the technology platforms, tools, and equipment will need to use. Make sure to choose a video conferencing platform like Zoom or Webex that can take advantage of large groups using settings like gallery view. Equipping all of your team’s participants with the best audio and video equipment available will maximize everyone’s experience. This will ensure that everyone is on the same playing field, limiting technology issues and creating a more engaging experience for all.

2. Define your meeting roles


It is critical to establish a few base roles to ensure you create clarity and the ability to run a smooth meeting. Who will be the meeting hosting? Who will be facilitator to guide and hold space for the conversation? Who will be scribing and taking notes? Who will be responsible to manage the technology?

It may sound like a lot of roles but they are key to your success!

Host: Establishes the meeting context and the meeting objectives
Facilitator: Guides the conversation, keeps the meeting in check and on-time, while allowing the group to focus on the content.
Scribe: Takes notes and documents the meeting.
Technology Manager (Optional): Ensures the meeting is set-up, handles tech issues, and records the call if necessary.

3. Put together the structure for your meeting


What is the purpose of your meeting? What do you want to get out of it? What do you want people to experience?

Establish a structure for your meeting to make effective use of time and increase the clarity and expectations for participants. Create your meeting objectives, meeting milestones, determining meeting length, and choosing your facilitation style.

4.  Choose your meeting practices and processes


Determine the level of engagement you plan to invite from your participants.

Check-in’s are a fantastic way to establish everyone’s place in the meeting. Asking a question such as, how are you arriving and what do you expect out of today’s meeting. It helps people feel engaged and not lost in such a large virtual group.

However, in a large group setting it can be tough to manage this in a timely manner. Instead, ask your participants to write their check-in via the chat window or using a collaboration platform like Webex Teams or Slack.

Use practices that maintain involvement and engagement from your participants. Send out periodic meeting polls or pose questions that participants can answer in the chat window, rather than out loud. This can also help manage time in a large group while involving everyone.

It is important that you use practices and processes that create an environment that invites everyone to participate. So that it is not the One-to-Many experience that so often plagues large group settings. This is one person speaking to a large group.

5. Understand the mindset of your participants


Understanding the mindset of your participants is key to an effective meeting. What mindset are participants potentially arriving into the meeting with?

Are they arriving with confusion surrounding the meeting? Are they unclear of why they are invited? Are they feeling excited or down?

As a host or facilitator, it is your job to gauge the room and ensure you can manage the group, shift gears if required, and draw the best out of everyone.

 

We would love to hear about your experience in the comments

We have sought and found virtual meeting techniques that enhance human connection.  We have found video conferencing can be extremely productive! We thrive when we can bring harmony to our work and workplace with technology.

We would love to hear about your experience with remote working and how the 5 core elements of Effective Video Conferencing have worked for you. Contact us and let us know how you do!

Register for our upcoming webinar series

In an effort to help organizations and individuals during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are launching a series of webinars to offer our expertise.

 

What we learned from our first design sprint

Over the last several years we have had a burning desire to build out our Advisory Services after many years of working with clients that need a fully baked A/V Strategy prior to undertaking massive office change. Many companies pull in A/V technology companies after offices are nearly complete. A/V Strategies are critical in the early stages, often informing how offices should be laid out and how technology can be used to help people collaborate, innovate, and be more efficient.

Chris Wheeldon from Two Raven Consulting Services was brought on board to help us undertake our Service Design Sprint. This is an interview we conducted with Chris on his experience hosting our sprint and what was learned.

What is a service design sprint?

The short answer is that it’s a way for a team of 4 to 7 people to create a new service for their business in just five days. It was designed to be a fast and inexpensive way to innovate.

The longer answer is to unpack the term into three parts:

Design is a people-oriented approach to creating. Done properly, it steps back and looks at the big picture realizing that the whole, is more than just the sum of the parts. Putting oneself into the shoes of others is a key element. In a workplace, these others include the occupants, the service support people and those who approve changes – financial, legal, managerial, etc. Thinking like a designer means considering an ecosystem of people, not just one or two.

“Service design, as the name suggests, specifically creates new services and improves existing ones. It thinks about the journey of the customer and the touch points that people encounter as they interact with a service, and looks for ways to improve the effectiveness and experience of those touch points. Service design changes negative or neutral experiences into positive ones by remembering that services are parts of a system and that people who use a service do so because they want to get something done.”

How does it differ from a more traditional process?

Design sprints differ in several ways from conventional methods of innovating.

They deliver results quickly – solutions can emerge in as little as a week – and rely on the members of the team to do the work of understanding the problem and creating a solution. Because of this they are much less expensive than the traditional consultant model. Most companies can learn how to run sprints on their own. This reduces the cost of innovation and dependency on outside consultants.

Design sprints can be an effective way to bond siloed departments around a common challenge. Their co-creative approach builds an enduring sense of ownership and empathy within the team – they understand one another better and care more about shared concerns.

Sprints enable companies to work like startups, who have what’s often called a “fail fast” mentality. What this really means is that through a sprint process they start with a minimal solution, learn quickly what works and what doesn’t and can easily adjust course to suit. This lets companies move towards the right outcome with smaller investments of time, energy and money.

Can you talk about the process you undertook with ET Group?

It started as a conversation – to understand what they wanted from a sprint and whether it was the right model for their stated objective of building an advisory business.

The sprint was run over four workshop days plus an interview period and looked something like this:

Defining the challenge

The first day was about framing the initial problem to be solved. The team started by sharing what each person knew about the challenge and its environment. This is the start of empathy within the team – sharing what everyone knows and assumes. This helped them decide who they needed to interview.

Insight-gathering interviews

The team conducted several interviews over the next week and a half, mostly with visionary leaders that they knew. They were exploring what these people experience now and what their struggles are when planning for AV services. The team amalgamated all this learning into an overall map of customer experiences, including the most painful parts.

Co-creation +first test + lean start-up

Building solutions came next. Each person on the team came up with a solution to address one or more pain points, then shared it with the others. Then, each person added their own thoughts. No critiquing was allowed. After everyone had shared their ideas, each person drew a final version of their solution. Then they all voted on what they liked about each proposed solution.

With these ideas fresh in their minds, the team developed their Minimum Valuable Service. The MVS is unique to Service Design Sprints and is a map of how they want the customer to interact with their new service. In contrast to other types of mapping – value stream, swim lane, etc. – it starts off by identifying what the customer is trying to achieve at each step, then describing the tools they are going to apply to meet those needs. It’s minimal because everything not essential to addressing a pain point is parked for later.

Finally, the team ran a test of the new service and gathered feedback. This is really an on-going process but at this early stage the question is whether the customer even values the solution. If not, then a new solution can be quickly built and tested with the information they already have on hand. By designing and running simple experiments that become more sophisticated over time, the team will get to the right solution that they would not have seen from the outset.

Was there an “a-ha” moment that led to surfacing their goal?

What’s interesting is that at the beginning the team doesn’t know exactly what their goal is – only a general one. The process encourages them to have questioning minds and discover those unmet customer needs that are the source of true innovation.

Why would you encourage others to try it?

Service design sprints are akin to project management in that they aren’t specific to any industry – they’re a way of looking at re-building services with an outward-facing, questioning mindset and using a team-based approach to create better ways of doing things. By applying an approach that uses experiments to produce the evidence that decision-makers need to perceive the value of an innovation, it can potentially save hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on a new initiative.

Embracing technology for accelerated growth

I recently had the pleasure of speaking at a MacKay CEO Forums breakfast panel discussing embracing technology for accelerated growth. The speech was well received and a number of participants suggested I share some of the insights with a broader audience. This my attempt at doing so. I hope you will enjoy it and find some of the suggestions useful!

Some context. At ET Group, we help our clients weave people, space, and technology in a way that facilitates collaboration and fuels innovation, which I believe are two of the most critical creators of value and growth for any business. As such, we live and breathe different types of social and digital technology innovations and have had lots of learnings along the way.

Music adoption example

To get started, I invite you to answer the following questions:

I bet most of you had or still have some of these devices and most of you do not use them anymore. Why is that?

Next question; Do you have a Spotify, Apple Music, or Google Music account?

Most of you probably answered yes.

Final question; Do you listen to music?

Assuming of course that most of you listen to music, we can deduce the following: most, if not all of us, listen to music, and listening to music is the “job we are trying to get done”. Listening to music stays constant, while the technology we use to “do the job” changes and evolves, and that change and evolution will continue.

I’m sure you would also agree that as good as they are, Spotify, Apple, and Google Music are not the end of the evolution of technology to help us listen to music.

This brings me to my key message: Using technology to accelerate growth for your business is not about focusing on the technology itself. It’s about having clarity on the “job to be done”.

Once you understand the highest ­value work that you need to complete, you can choose the right technology to help you get that job done ­­faster, better, with greater collaboration, and with better engagement. By doing this, you will truly be using technology to enable accelerated growth for your companies.

As discussed with the music example, technology changes constantly. This constant change comes with a desire to embrace the “new”, to jump in with both feet now, so that we don’t feel left behind. But there can be a cost to being too quick to adopt technology simply based on a bigger, better feature set. We run the risk of being seduced by the allure of something new before we truly understand how it will support us to do the work we need to do.

I’ve experienced this first hand at ET Group, and it’s been a transformational learning experience for me and for my team.

A story about ET Group

I believe very strongly in the power of real ­time communication to strengthen team dynamics and collaboration. And so, inspired by this belief, we set out to improve real ­time communication and collaboration at ET Group.

We are a small enough company that has the luxury of experimenting with different technologies to see what works best for us. And “experiment” is exactly what we did.

In trying to improve our communication and collaboration; we installed Polycom hardware in one room and felt like we were off to a great start. Then we paid for a managed service to give us the functionality and quality we needed. This was expensive yet worthwhile. Once those were in place we wanted video at the desktop ­­ so we tried a number of platforms (Vidyo, Polycom, Cisco Jabber, Videxio, Microsoft Lync). Everyone now had video at the desktop. But not all platforms could connect with each other and we started to see “islands of technology”.

We had to make a choice, so we mandated Videxio as the single desktop video platform. As with most mandated decisions, it did not satisfy everyone. Instead of increasing collaboration, it was disrupting key business processes and people were getting restless.

After buying additional infrastructure to integrate some of the technologies we continued adopting new tools. Now it was time to try out Slack. Slack ­­was a great platform for asynchronous communication and real ­time collaboration, but I didn’t get the right buy in or communicated its purpose clearly. Instead, I simply started using it and asking people who worked closely with me to use it as well, believing they’d see the value and embrace it. I thought that I had the perfect solution but the result was not what I wanted. 100% of the company was on the platform but only 20% were using it.

Things didn’t seem to be getting any better until we discovered Cisco Spark. At first, Spark looked like Slack with a smaller feature set. But soon we realized that this platform could potentially replace our phone system and video infrastructure, connect to our rooms, provide asynchronous communication and messaging. In short, it could lots of different “jobs to be done” that we really needed on a daily basis.

We went all in with Cisco Spark, and today we live and breathe with it. It has transformed how we work and how we get things done to fulfill our purpose and bring value to our clients. Through Spark, we can work in a more elegant and effective way.

Although we did eventually find a solution, we got there by taking the long path. ­­A much longer path than we needed to. The most important lesson of the story: If we had started by clearly defining “the job or jobs to be done”, we would have been able to avoid spending so much time, energy, and money on iterative and redundant solutions along the way.

We learned a lot from our journey. And I want to share with you the five biggest things I learned ­­and that I believe are critical for the search and adoption of any new technology:

5 key findings:

Approach with humility

First, approach the process with humility. Listen to different people and perspectives. We all know that listening well is one of the key attributes of great leaders ­­ and it’s absolutely critical where technology is concerned. Listening allows us to truly understand “the job to be done” in all areas of the business. As CEOs, we know how value is created, but we may not know exactly how the job is being done.

Choose the right leader

Second, choose the right decision ­maker. Identify a person who will gather input from all those who will be affected by the change, and have expertise around the matter. This requires humility and the ability to balance priorities from a range of inputs.

Bring in outside expertise

Third, bring in outside expertise when you need it to help surface the jobs that needs to be done. Some organizations are already great at this ­­ and if yours is, you’re ahead of the game already ­­ but many are not. There are fantastic advisors out there who can help uncover the information you need. Invest in using those advisors.

Clearly share the thinking

Fourth, clearly share the thinking behind technological change ­­ and allow people to own their part of the solution. This fosters engagement and buy­-in from inception through implementation.

Invest the time

Fifth, and most important: invest the time up front to fully understand the “jobs to be done” before jumping to a solution. I can’t emphasize this enough. By slowing down, you’re able to hone in and identify the high ­potential technologies that will truly transform your business.

If you take this approach, you’ll be amazed at how smooth the adoption of technology will be. You won’t need to worry about buy-­in, because the people using the technology had a voice in the decision making process. And this means that the solution you provide them is one they helped choose ­­ and one that will help each of them do the “job they need to do” better. The effect is extraordinary. I’ve experienced it myself, and it now informs every technology advice we provide to our clients.

To restate my key message, embracing technology for accelerated change is not actually about the technology. It’s about understanding the highest­ value work your internal teams and your customers need to do. Once you have that clear, your path to a solution is easy to chart.