The future of work is here! There is no time like the present to think about how we can adapt our working styles to meet the current realities of social distancing. Problems need solutions and it’s more important than ever to engage stakeholders with empathy and curiosity. Remote engagement methods help us work together to find solutions and move our work forward. 

Before you get too bogged down with online platforms and the “how” of remote engagement, it’s a good idea to think about the “why”. Our blog post, Three Questions to Help You Plan Your Next Engagement Project, is a good place to start.

Now, let’s talk about some ideas for how we might engage stakeholders remotely.

Go to where the people are

At Overlap, we often say “go to where the people are” if you truly want to empathize with people and be curious about their experiences. In the past, this has meant visiting a hospital waiting room, approaching people on the street with a quick survey, or hosting a stakeholder lab with interactive design activities in a community space. 

Today, “go to where the people are” is as relevant as ever, but it takes on a whole new meaning. In many cases, we can meet people on video conferencing and online collaboration platforms—Zoom, Miro (formerly RealTime board), Google Hangouts Meet, and more. Our Tips for Remote Facilitation will be helpful if this is your approach. 

There are also going to be engagement participants who don’t have access to the technology required (video, microphone, reliable internet, etc.), or won’t find online approaches very accessible. So, the first question to ask is, where are our stakeholders spending their time and where can we reach them? 

Get creative with the approach

Let’s not rule out the traditional approaches that we know work, but there are also some fun ways we can put a spin on the tried and true.  

Use a survey

Short surveys are a great way to make a clear ask of the people you want to engage. You can use Survey Monkey or Google Forms to generate a survey link that can be sent by email or posted on social media. Make sure your request is clear—tell people why you’d like them to participate, how long the survey will take (5 to 10 minutes is nice) and how you’ll be using the data. Give people contact information for a real person they can reach out to with questions or concerns. For a low-tech option you can pick up the phone and call some people.

Chain letters, but for research

Remember the old “phone tree” approach? It was simply a list of phone numbers you were responsible for calling to ensure important messages were delivered quickly. Try this approach by email, phone, or social media. For example, you could do a short survey with three people and ask each of those people to survey three friends, then return the responses to you.

Use a simple prompt

A simple prompt question or request can help you learn a lot. Refer back to your aims for engagement to help you come up with a clear and simple prompt. For example, if you want to understand how your community is coping with social distancing you could ask people to respond to a prompt like, “If you really understood my life during social distancing, you would know…” by sharing a descriptive picture, drawing, or paragraph. Invite people to share their responses by email, social media, or by calling a phone number. If you’re asking about sensitive topics you’ll need to present options that maintain confidentiality and share local resources for mental health support. 

Put a spin on your prompt question

Social media provides some fun and creative ways to get quick, short-burst feedback. Invite people to share photo or video responses to your prompt, or try using an Instagram poll. You could even ask people to contribute their ideas to a Pinterest board.

Bias to Action

It can be overwhelming thinking about how to do things in new ways. At Overlap we believe in the power of prototyping and iteration. Test out your new remote engagement approaches with colleagues and friends—ask for their feedback and then iterate before you spend a lot of time rolling it out with stakeholders. You’ll sneak up on success if you start by just trying something—have a bias to action!

Can we help?

If this is new for you, don’t worry. It takes time to get comfortable using a new approach and learning how to adapt your engagement methods to a new format. We’d love to chat with you about your ideas, thoughts, and concerns around remote engagement. We’re always excited to help our clients discover new ways to collaborate and engage with their stakeholders.