If almost everybody’s home is their office – is there any need for out of office messages?
I haven’t seen one in months. And that’s a problem. Why? Because when you’re never out of the office, you never have a chance to refresh, relax and rethink. Today, with so many of us rooted in the same spot for hours on end, and working in roughly the same couple hundred square feet, the feeling of same-old, same-old is intense, and the risk of sleep-walking through video call after video call is very real. And that’s a challenge for organizations that have important meetings that have to happen to keep their business moving forward.
Being out of the office meant a break from the everyday. In the first couple months of lockdown, we saw clients planning virtual events that focused on the primary things people have always valued about face-to-face experiences: the ability to gather information, to pursue connections, and to experience things that drive inspiration.
But recently, we’re starting to have more conversations about ways to design-in those breaks from the everyday that everyone misses and all of us need.
Why blocking your day matters
For important meetings and events that need to be highly memorable and impactful – whether the audiences are internal or external – we’ve been focusing more and more on guiding clients to give attendees reasons to block the entire day. Everyone from Harvard Business Review to the BBC and National Geographic have pointed out that virtual meetings are tiring – people can’t consume more than about 2 hours of content at a time. And even that’s a ton. Especially when they are trying to cram those hours into an already packed schedule of even more virtual content.
How you fill the other parts of the day is where you can differentiate your virtual experience from all the others. It’s where you can really reinforce what you want to teach, how you want to inspire, or why you want people to connect.
Here are five considerations for giving people a reason to turn on that under-used OOO message:
- Create off-line activities that reinforce your key message. These may be tied to your brand purpose, or related to your brand culture. Give your audience time to prepare and share thoughts and ideas in small groups you organize prior to the main event, or create opportunities for scheduled 1:1s for people with different backgrounds.
- Offer up a fun challenge with instructions on how attendees need to connect with others in order to solve a problem. They can then then share their experience in the larger meeting later in the day.
- Partner with a food delivery service for lunch, and connect people close enough to meet informally while they’re eating (virtually of course). Since shared meals IRL are not much of an option these days, partner with an Uber Eats or Postmates to have local eats delivered.
- Don’t forget about entertainment. Groups like Second City have created special virtual entertainment sessions, and lots of artists who aren’t touring are holding one-hour special concerts at all hours of the day.
- Mix up the medium. Instead of all video presentations, provide short audio walk-and-talk podcasts for attendees to listen to early in the day. It can prime them for your main event content, or give an inspirational or thought-provoking way of seeing something in a new way.
The most impactful experiences are a break from the everyday – be it physical or emotional. And while so many of us are working from home, you need to design experiences that take your attendees out of the office mindset, and into an experience that makes dusting off that OOO message worthwhile.
Photo by kevin turcios on Unsplash