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Building online communities


Today’s digital tools can help us build powerful communities online.

Every morning our teams gather on Microsoft Teams for a check-in on inspiring readings, projects for the day ahead and questions for the team. Uniquely, this check-in with my most important community has become increasingly personal as we are all working from home these days. I have by default been invited into everybody’s homes, met my colleagues’ children and thus gotten to know more who they are.

For the past 10 years I have built, hosted, and closed communities that focus on conversations. Be it a community of young leaders who recently became managers, an intergenerational community of leaders committed to give back or communities committed to causes such as global health, these conversations have been face-to-face, around a round table, prepared with biographies, contact details of the participants and a pre-read.

And now, rather than cancelling them, we have hosted them online on Teams, following the same principles, ensuring that everybody is fully present and not multi-tasking, and limiting them to an hour. Previously they were often scheduled around international executives’ visits to Oslo, such as a New York Times journalist, the prison warden of Nelson Mandela or a global health expert. Now the meetings are online, they can be held whenever the executives can spare an hour to meet and discuss.

I am certain that as we are now seeing how the technologies can in many ways compete with face-to-face meetings, online communities will also complement face-to-face meetings in the future. I already have my favourites: tools like Microsoft Teams gives everybody the same voice and a place to work together and Zoom is a space where one person can speak to many, where I can raise my hand and ask questions. Online conversations are easier to organise, they’re cost-effective, and they give new opportunities for conversations beyond geographies, demographics and time zones.

If you want to build an online community, you need to look at what you can give back. Perhaps you know someone with insight into how the technology industry is responding to the current environment who might be able to chat with small businesses? Perhaps you can share what you have learnt from having worked and lived through similar crises, such as the financial crisis in 2008? Perhaps you want to ask questions and share the opportunities that you see from a wider lens with the people you regularly meet at conferences that have now been postponed (but should instead be taken online). Moving conversations and communities online gives you an opportunity to think big, make the transition quickly and foster the community cost-effectively.

I love hosting conversations online often from 7.30 – 8.30am. It doesn’t intrude, but rather inspires my day. With no travel time and no small talk, online conversations can be held in the early morning, in the evening or even during the day. To ensure that the conversation is inspiring, preparation is key in terms of the agenda, pre-read, and biographies. The key is to focus on connecting the ideas and then you can let people connect naturally.

Conversations are just one element of the community and it is important to stay in touch. Share readings, insights and information. Whether it is through a WhatsApp group for quick updates, a LinkedIn group for professional connections, a Facebook group for personal connections, or an email thread, the host needs to build the connections outside of the formal conversations.

Recently I hosted a community conversation online which was previously held regularly and in person. I look forward to seeing everybody face to face again when we can. In the meantime, I am really excited to see who else I can bring to the conversation, to challenge my thinking about what the new normal looks like now that time zones, travel time, and plane tickets are no longer obstacles for building a community with caring and curious people.

Ingrid Helsingen Warner

Senior Advisor, International Communications, based in Oslo

Ingrid is currently on maternity leave. At Leidar she supports internationally-minded leaders and companies with their positioning and thought leadership activities.

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