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Developing strategic ideas in a virtual world

The events of the past year mean that we have all been forced into collaboration online. Despite the pandemic, work has had to continue, and we’ve all been forced to adapt and overcome the limitations of operating solely in a virtual world. Yet how do you build a human connection over Zoom or Teams, and how do you easily discuss/develop complex strategies when you’re not in the same room?

Some of the greatest challenges have arisen in how to secure organisational buy-in for transformation for our clients, some of whom have been sceptical about how virtual workshops or pitches can possibly engage their teams to drive change. However, we’ve seen that far from being impossible, virtual strategic growth is not only practical, but in some cases provides advantages over the traditional days of in-person workshops.

Virtual challenges at a time of global transformation

The shift in our physical environment required a greater reliance on digital in a way we weren’t prepared for, so we had to transform how we worked to progress. Circumstances demanded customer experience transformation for our clients – and at a faster pace than ever experienced before in the modern world. Nonetheless, working to build business cases for major projects (e.g. transformation) is a whole different ball game virtually. How can businesses get everyone more involved in the virtual process, keep everyone engaged and secure commitment and support through that engagement? It can be really difficult to deliver a complex narrative when you can’t see attendees’ reactions, and when your collaborators can easily drift off or ‘multitask’ rather than single-mindedly focusing on the goal you’re aiming to accomplish.

Key coping mechanisms for virtual strategy development

As a Progress and Transformation team, we have developed the following key coping mechanisms:

  • Virtual whiteboarding: Using virtual whiteboarding for workshops (e.g. Miro) allows the style of workshop collaboration many of us are used to, with the bonus that no one is left typing up scrappy post-it notes at the end of a session. Collating and ordering feedback and ideas has become much faster, overnight.
  • Preparation: Effective prep for your workshop sessions is vital. Have a clear idea of topics to cover in your workshops, and before beginning know exactly which questions need answering (and which don’t, to keep conversations on-track).
  • Get the right stakeholders in your sessions: Use the advantage presented in the zero-travel-time aspect of virtual working. In some cases, since the pandemic it’s been easier to get people together to develop transformation strategy – you don’t have to fly people around the world to be in the same room. Getting the right key people dialled in can speed progress and secure buy-in at a much earlier stage of the process than may have been possible in the past, as well as allowing you to draw on exactly the right knowledge and expertise at the right time for your initiative.
  • Smaller groups: When you’re trying to crack any kind of problem, it used to be traditional to invite anyone who might be a stakeholder in the process into a large-scale meeting process. However, by having smaller groups you create a more honest, upfront dialogue that achieves a more rounded outcome. We suggest keeping conversations small and focused, shifting away from big working sessions.
  • Shorter sessions: Scheduling short and snappy sessions not only enables us to put the specialists in the room for relevant discussions, it permits greater tailoring in the allocation of resources. Shorter meetings will keep everyone focused on the mission. They don’t allow multi-tasking or for people to just drop out. Smaller and shorter also makes projects more dynamic, flexible and even quicker – we all know that diary management is worse than ever, so keeping it small and virtual means it’s easier to engage everyone you want to talk to. 
  • Regular breaks: Knowing when the next break is planned in longer meetings focuses your attendees’ attention spans, and allows them regular space to address their inbox or deal with urgent issues as they arise without detracting from your project’s process.
  • Visualising processes to simplify complexity: Map out your processes – e.g. customer journeys - in a more visual and interactive way. It’s vital that we bring experiences to life to show how data and tech integration are both fuelling the customer journey. Using visual mapping techniques should aim to take in complexity and simplify it back down so that everyone is on the same page as to transformational requirements. Of course, the customer’s is not the only experience we need to create/visualise/simplify – often it’s about understanding the organisational experience too, that of the marketer. Visualising processes for your company’s front end and back end and explaining the marketer’s journey to enable the customer experience is just as important as customer journey mapping in determining the right solution for your new customer vision.
  • Pivot: Don’t be afraid to stop, or pivot, if the conversation or stakeholders aren’t right for the objectives. Give yourself permission to say “ok, this one isn’t working, we need to rethink or explore another angle” – people will likely appreciate both your candour and that time back!

Seizing new opportunities

We’d never claim that working virtually has been all sunshine – it’s been a huge challenge for many. But we’ve seen definite opportunities to develop and enact great strategic plans that the savviest organisations are seizing. Whether it’s involving a wider range of geographically dispersed specialists in a project, speeding ideation through online tools, or a greater commitment to documenting excellence for brands, virtual strategy planning has much to commend it. With working life not set to go back to normal for a good few months yet (if ‘normal’ indeed ever does return as it was in 2019), perhaps it’s time that we all embraced change and made it work to our advantage.

If you’d like to see how we could help you solve your strategic challenges, do get in touch.