Silver Linings – Learnings From a Virtual Programme
For four years, the Future Leaders programme was held on a wholly face-to-face basis at Wrexham Glyndŵr University. A great way of getting together with Glyndŵr students at the end of their studies in a highly interactive format, and providing an additional qualification that would help them get ready for the world of work. We encouraged students to develop their leadership skills, look critically at how organisations operate, and consider topics such as motivation, communication and leadership styles.
Fast forward to Spring 2020 and we were faced with a challenge. Should the programme still run in the midst of a global pandemic? It became clear that in many ways, the programme was more important than ever. Work environments, in many cases, were changing beyond all recognition. The need for a competitive 'edge', and the ability to deal with change would be more important than ever before.
As with so many organisations (and to use a term that I’ve seen far too much of late), we 'pivoted' to a fully virtual programme, with very little idea of how it would go. Would anyone be interested? Would everyone be so busy coping with lockdown that they’d have no time for additional study? Would the technology fail us?
The first inclination that everything might just be OK came with the number of registrations. A record number of delegates from across Wales and beyond enrolled onto the course. So far so good. We chose Zoom as a platform for ease of breakout sessions. It worked seamlessly and each session was recorded for the occasions when delegates had an issue with the technology or network. We then began to notice that, despite the recording option being available, attendance was even better than face-to-face sessions had been in previous years. No last minute car problems, or challenges juggling caring responsibilities. Pets and kids made a number of welcome appearances on screen – this is one of my favourite side effects of virtual workshops. The chat function was used non-stop – its beauty being that everyone can talk at the same time, allowing many more voices to be heard than would be possible face-to-face.
I also realised, quite late in the day, that suddenly I had a whole world of guest speakers available to invite. Rather than persuading people to travel to Wrexham to share their stories, they could instead jump onto a Zoom call from wherever they happened to be based. This allowed us access to all kinds of leaders, including the Chief Executive of Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, dialling in from beautiful South West Wales.
On the whole, the 2020 virtual Future Leaders programme was a huge learning experience for all of us who were involved in it. It taught me that virtual environments don’t need to be a poor substitute, but that they invite a whole series of new possibilities. This was reinforced by the feedback we received from delegates, which was at least comparable with, if not better than, feedback from previous years.
We have since built on this success with a series of new Future Leaders cohorts, taking the content to professionals from a range of sectors, both in the Wrexham area and further afield. Who knew that this is where the pandemic would take us?! The range of perspectives and quality of discussion that can be achieved by putting a mix of professions and experience levels in a room is both energising and rewarding. Our external programmes are running as evening sessions, 2 hours per week, and the Glyndŵr Enterprise team would be happy to hear from anyone who may be interesting in joining a future cohort.
Interested in learning more about leading for the future? Read more about the Future Leaders Online Short Course that’s currently running and email email@example.com to enquire about future dates.
Written by Rachel Hughes, Leader of the Future Leaders programme at Wrexham Glyndŵr University.