The Buying Digital Community collaborates virtually using Zoom to discuss a wide range of topics designed to support public sector buyers during the coronavirus pandemic. 

American author and public speaker, Scott Berkun once said:

“Most people doubt that online meetings can work, but they somehow overlook that most in-person meetings don’t work either”. 

This view led me to think about ways in which we could plan and prepare for a community gathering online, without losing the ‘community spirit’ we achieve when we all come together in one room for our regular meet-ups. 

Identifying ‘virtual’ challenges 

We decided to use Zoom to host our meeting, but there were a number of factors to take into consideration when it came to planning for this new way of working. Firstly, we’ve probably all experienced ‘death by powerpoint’ and in an in-person setting you are somewhat trapped – a captive audience. In a virtual setting you can simply close out of Zoom and go and do something more interesting. So, our challenge was to figure out how we could run an engaging event within the limitations of online conferencing.

Collaboration and creation

Content was key to getting this right, and given that we are currently living through a worldwide pandemic, we decided we would like to support our community by talking about topics which would resonate with them during this testing time. We collaborated with some fantastic guest speakers to deliver hour long sessions across the 4 days, which touched on a wide range of topics including engaging with SMEs and making the most of commercial during the COVID-19 pandemic, an update on IR35 and its implications within the DOS framework, and a more ‘pastoral’ session on the power of introverts, led by the renowned brand consultant, Richard Etienne.  

Using screen-sharing, virtual rooms, and real-time messaging enabled discussions to flow, ideas to be exchanged, and challenges to be debated. We were also aware that the silence of a newly formed breakout group could feel doubly uncomfortable without visual cues, so we ensured that each group included someone who did not experience  ‘stage fright’  to get the ball rolling. Having relevant, timely topics that you know people will have an opinion on also helps, as does the text messaging feature, so that people can raise their comment or question without interruption.  

On average, our sessions were attended by around 60 members of the Buying Digital Community which we felt was a huge success, and in contrast to planning a face to face meet-up, virtual conferencing was a breeze logistically.

How to get involved

This first step into online events has certainly fired up the Enhancing Capability team and our focus now is to expand this to a wider audience, with a wider range of topics that the Buying Digital Community needs. If you want to find out more or get involved you can contact me by email on simon.smith@crowncommercial.gov.uk. For more general questions, please contact our customer service centre at info@crowncomercial.gov.uk.

Simon Smith
Enhancing Capability Team