Global leader in Community @ Work joins the Academy

In keeping with our goal of developing new skills building programs to meet our fast changing landscape the Academy has collaborated with Venessa Paech, a founder of Community Management globally, to create modules in the fundamentals of Community at Work. Not sure how to design your distributed work environment to ensure your teams are engaged and your culture flourishing? Wondering how to facilitate psychological safety and self-determination in the cloud? .  Watch this space as we launch Community at Work Fundamentals in January 2021.

Although it is too soon to accurately predict lasting impact of the pandemic on organisational models, edicts from tech giants like Google and Facebook, Twitter and Slack (and closer to home, Optus) suggest blended working arrangements are here to stay. Even countries like Germany, with a traditionally work from home (WFH) rate now have 1 in 3 workers operating in a distributed environment.

The initial response from organisations was to connect employees and implement tools for collaboration in a distributed, virtual environment. Beneficiaries of the mass WFH shift include Zoom (345% increase in customers), telecommunications companies (41% increase in broadband usage) and team collaboration platform Microsoft Teams, whose active users more than doubled since the lockdown.

As business settles into its new normal, attention is turning to matters of culture and management; questions leaders are struggling with as they design blended workforces post the pandemic. 

We are having an increasing number of conversations with leaders and managers around the world who appreciate the opportunity to reset work with a more human-centred focus. But we are also seeing leaders struggling with topics such as psychological safety and well-being. And they are concerned about how to maintain their company culture in this new paradigm.

As Virtual Collaboration is one of the skills in the Academy’s scope 2020 seemed a good time to complete the global search into experts who can work with the Academy to create learning packages that organisations need right now. The challenge with the practice of Virtual Collaboration is that it deals ostensibly with the processes and tools associated with working in a distributed environment. Looking further afield the profession of Community Management came onto the radar. 

At the Academy we view the workplace as community and to design good workplaces (rather than accept a centuries old model) requires us to look further than traditional organisational theory. Community Practice (as much as it has evolved into the online world in recent years) is a rich source of information for tools and techniques for designing our distributed workplaces that has at its heart culture proliferation and human engagement.

And who better to collaborate with than Venessa Paech an industry legend in community
management who co-founded and leads the APAC Centre of Excellence for online community Australian Community Managers?

FWSA: You have joined the Academy as the Community at Work Skills Coach. How did you become interested in this subject?

VP: I’ve been involved in online communities since the early 1990s, and through the rise of the public World Wide Web I saw the way humans were using these new tools to bridge distance, build relationships and find common ground. I’ve been working as a professional online community builder and manager since then, and I’m deeply passionate about the opportunity these tools afford us (while also mindful of the risks they present if we don’t bolster our skills in this area).

      FWSA: We have all experienced immense change due to pandemic not least the sudden
requirement for the majority of the world’s workforce to work from home. Why is
your skill so important for us to get a handle on now?

VP: We will all be called on to form, participate in, even lead, groups of people
across digital platforms and tools, and the core skills and practices we use to
design, mobilise and sustain these gatherings are transferable across contexts.
We’re already seeing the organisations who moved to the cloud for COVID-19
running into challenges with culture and engagement. We’ve mastered the tools,
we need to return to the human and understand how we design, manage and lead
gatherings in digital spaces.

The future of work, of business, of education, frankly, of just about everything,
is communal, so it’s the perfect time to level up our skills in forming healthy
communities and how to be a good digital citizen within them.

      FWSA: There’s a lot of talk about Zoom and platforms to bring people together in this new
world of work. What role does intentional design and these new skills have in
making this new world functional?

VP: Though tools can be designed to guide or encourage certain behaviour, they are basically inert and hollow. We know that without purpose design and social practices to create culture and incentivise outcomes, we won’t get the full value from these platforms – and worse, we run into avoidable challenges and issues.

          FWSA: What is your human superpower (this is anything a machine can’t replace)?

VP: For myself – for all of us – it’s our story. Our lived experience to this moment.
We bring that perspective to bear on every task and challenge, and its innate
diversity means we collectively surface original ideas and solutions.

FWSA: Who is your favourite superhero and why?

VP: I’m drawn to heroes who turn darkness into a force for good. I’m a big sci-fi and
comic nerd, so I have a long list of them! Two favourites are Jessica Jones and
Crazy Jane. Jessica channels personal demons into helping the vulnerable. Jane
has 64 different personalities (a result of trauma), each of which have a
different superpower! Despite dreadful pain, they make the hard choices and
rise to the challenge.

FWSA: Can you share your top tips for refining your citizenry in the cloud?

VP: Show up and be present. It’s so easy to be distracted but we know that focus is essential for getting the most out of any engagement. Reflect on purpose and shared value. What is the goal of the group or gathering? What shared value are you and others working toward, and how can you contribute to that? Be accountable for culture. Keeping experiences safe and productive is everyone’s responsibility. While there are community professionals to help
with oversight, all of us shape culture online, and we should never walk past harms.
And know when it’s important to cede the virtual ‘floor’ to others, particularly voices or perspectives that are not often heard from. Active listening is a powerful gesture!

FWSA: What are you most looking forward to in leading modules on the human+ Guided programs?

VP: Meeting and connecting with a great community of learners, committed to growing and opening to opportunity. I’m also thrilled about introducing more people to the world of community thinking and practices – it’s a critical literacy and can unlock tremendous potential in individuals, networks and organisation.

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