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Making Our ‘Sustainable Action Celebration’ An Online Success

Every year near Earth Day, SERA hosts a firm-wide celebration in honor of our sustainable workplace culture and project accomplishments. As Chair of the Sustainable Action Committee (SAC), my vision for the celebration this year included a physical timeline of SAC’s 15-year history, an unveiling of our 2020 Sustainability Action Plan, and collaborative break-out sessions to map our future.

It was an aspirational plan, but in my past five years as part of SAC, I’ve seen us accomplish big things when we work together. 

Then Covid-19 threw us a curveball. 

Only five weeks away from SAC’s 15-year anniversary date, we were determined not to deprive staff of this important tradition. We knew we needed to completely rethink our event structure and in-person gathering. And so we agreed on an all-virtual event. 

How would we pull off an engaging and collaborative virtual event for 180 designers and big thinkers? Since working from home, SERA staff have gotten quite savvy at staying in touch and keeping our design juices flowing remotely. But the SAC team would need to learn new tips and tricks to take our online collaboration to the next level.

We’re sharing what we learned because we all have important cultural events and traditions too important to cancel because of Stay-at-Home orders. With some effort, and lots of planning, you too can create an engaging online gathering. 

Our tips for successful online events

1. Use and integrate the tools your coworkers are already familiar with. First we learned how to use Microsoft Teams to organize break-out groups with this tutorial. We also learned by trial-and-error that multi-user collaboration tools like Google Slides and MindMeister can be very nicely embedded within Teams to minimize the need for people to switch programs and find content. By having everything embedded into Teams, it was at everyone’s fingertips during the celebration, maximizing our short schedule for deep thinking and brainstorming.

Using the MindMeister app, we brainstormed on the sustainability impacts of COVID-19.

2. Remove barriers by creating templates and specific questions so that users can respond – and see others’ responses – in real time. As an example, we created a Google Slides workspace to present all of our studio goals organized onto one slide. With this setup, our staff were able to use markup tools in real time during the discussion. We also used simple surveys to capture opinions and comments as our staff moved between each breakout session. 

Google Slides allowed one breakout group to discuss our latest studio goals, alignments and opportunities.

3. Lastly, there’s a lot of value in having a practice run. The biggest hurdle we needed to overcome was teaching all of our staff how to navigate multiple Teams breakout groups quickly and efficiently. So a couple days before the event, we ran staff through a dry run, allowing them to learn and ask questions along the way. This also helped us work out a few bugs before the event!

This year’s celebration included slideshow presentations from four speakers; a web-based timeline showcasing SAC’s history; six breakout groups led by 12 facilitators; mind maps and interactive slideshows to capture the ideas that were flowing; and even a game with a prize winner. (Side note: if your employees are like ours, make sure to include friendly competition and prizes! That might be Step 4.)

Since the celebration, the committee has received a ton of compliments and kudos for executing this virtual event. Staff came away with a deep understanding of SAC’s past, present and future, and collaborated in new ways they hadn’t before. One person even called the event “the most engaging video call I’ve been on while under shelter-in-place!” 

Moving forward, we expect some of the lessons learned from our virtual SAC Celebration will influence how we collaborate on projects with teams outside of SERA. Despite the curveball, the change in plans actually made our team more resilient!

Have any other virtual-event planning advice to share? Let us know!

4 Comments

  1. Nicole Meehling says |

    Pivoting to an entirely virtual celebration was an impressive (and fun!) adaptation for this event, and a perfect example of SERA’s innovative problem solving ability. The ease of engagement across all of the workshops raised the bar for remote collaboration given our current circumstances, and I hope to see some of these tools adopted as a norm for brainstorming, sharing, and gathering feedback moving forward. Nice job, SAC!

    • Beth Lavelle says |

      Thank you, Nicole! I’m glad you enjoyed the event and gained a few more tools for better collaboration in a remote working environment!

  2. Becca Dobosh says |

    Loved the format including the history of sustainability @ SERA …as someone who has been here for fifteen years, I thought I pretty much knew it all …but I was completely wrong which speaks to the many-pronged approach to sustainability in all facets of our business and the services offered. This Celebration was another opportunity to celebrate SERA and get excited about the future…Thanks to everyone who put it on AND who attended. The enthusiasm was palpable …

  3. So much learning, creativity and fun was had by all! Well done SAC Committee in keeping our focus on sustainability alive and relevant.

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