Technology and innovation communities need to work together in person. In the long run, that is the only way they can be successful. And that is why we in the SogetiLabs community meet in person twice a year. In the past two and a half years, a lot of people learned how a lot of work can be done remote. That has great benefits for many. It can create a better work-life balance, reduce time stuck in traffic and extend time for focus. However, remote work has limitations. An active community of technology thought leaders and innovation experts, needs in person events.
SogetiLabs community meetups
SogetiLabs is our community of over 150 technology and innovation experts. And they come from all over the world. Their day to day business is with clients in their geography. They connect over client cases, new technologies and innovation. This way, they leverage the international group’s expertise to bring the latest in technology to our clients.
Twice a year, we organise a meetup. At these meetups, twenty to thirty of the community fellows come together. There, they work on innovation challenges provided by a client. Over the years, we worked with clients in retail, insurance, legal, energy and mining equipment. We ask them for two or three of their most wicked challenges in innovation, and attempt to solve them in one and a half days. For this purpose, we use a condensed version of our Thinkubator approach to applied innovation. After the one and a half days, we present a concept and a working prototype (or Minimum Lovable Product, MLP, as we call it), for each of their challenges.
Working together in person works
I have had the personal pleasure of leading the organising team for the latest two meetups. To be sure, these were the furthest apart ever. The second to last meetup was in November 2019. And the latest meetup was in June 2022. Of course, we all know the reason for that. However, to me, meeting up in person after so long emphasised the importance of it. Certainly, we cannot achieve the same results as when we work remote. Firstly, to collaborate in a team with people you did not choose, know or work with before, under pressure and be successful together creates a bond. Secondly, the physical space and being away from your usual surroundings extends your attention span. Thirdly, get to know each other in an informal way strengthens the bond.
Team composition is paramount
People tend to choose others who are similar to them, to work with. And they tend to choose people they are familiar with. So, one of my personal pleasures in preparing for a meetup is team composition. On one hand, I make sure each of the teams has a variety of technical skills. They should have all skills needed to make a well-rounded MLP. On the other hand, I combine as many different geographies as possible, separate known buddies and add the biggest possible variety of characters.
The teams follow a strict process, guided by a moderator. And they are under huge time pressure, to complete their challenge. To add to that, the client is in the room. Consequently, they will have to form a team and come to results together very fast. By all means, this can only happen if they get to know each other and bond some way or other.
Physical space matters
Who would argue with me that being in a room together has a different energy than being in a call? Being in a room together with your team, creates several opportunities. First, you can read non-verbal signs, which makes it much easier to interact. Second, you can step out of the room for a moment when you need it (grab a coffee, a snack, have a chat). Third, you can interact with part of the team, the whole team, or sit in the back and code by yourself if needed.
Thus, being in a room working with your team creates lots of energy. Subsequently, there is a much longer attention span. Furthermore, getting out of your usual surroundings means a lot. Moving to Manchester, Paris or Stockholm for the event will freshen up and open your mind.
Not just work, also dinner
Last but not least, spending time with each other outside of work is very valuable. Activities like going out to dinner and having breakfast together in the hotel, creates the opportunity to connect on a personal level. This lowers the bar significantly to contacting each other at times when everyone is back to their day to day work.
(Un)digital happiness: work together in person
In conclusion, nothing beats working together in person for an innovation community to stick together in the long run. Being away from our usual surroundings, working with people in 3D, solving (digital) challenges under high pressure using the methods and technologies we love, and getting to know each other over dinner. We are already working on preparing the next meetup.