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Being present is a key aspect of SDP’s Employees’ Seminars - now it has been proven to be possible in virtual mode

By Sanni Juoperi on May 20, 2020 12:43:44 PM

 

Spring 2020 brought with it many changes to the Finnish Social Democratic Party. This community, comprised of close to 40,000 party members and more than 700 active local associations, embarked years ago on a journey to digitize its activities, but the exceptional situation brought about by the coronavirus pandemic is felt at both the political and organizational level. 

Jarkko Piirainen, developer of SDP's digital services and a digitization professional of long standing, is an important source of support on the party's digitization journey. “Finding the proper ways to involve our community in the digital world, regardless of previous digital skills, is really important to us,” says Jarkko.

Familiar Employees’ Seminar routines had to be reinvented 

The meeting and travel restrictions that shake Finland, and the world as a whole, caused SDP's spring calendar of events to be rescripted.

“We were actually already working on the Howspace platform with the digitization of the party convention as the target when the party conference had to be rescheduled to take place in the autumn. That was also when realized that we need to come up with a way to organize the spring Employees’ Seminar as a virtual seminar, and so launching the planning on the same platform was a natural choice,” says Piirainen,

The SDP Employees’ Seminar is arranged 3-4 times a year, and these events bring together party employees from all over Finland together to review the achievements of the previous period and to make plans for the next period.

“In regard to Employees’ Seminars, being present and the social aspect are really important – there has to be time for discussions, encounters and relaxation as well. When encounter restrictions arrived, the first thought regarding Employees’ Seminars days was that it’s a great pity to have to cancel these events. Then pretty quickly the idea emerged to arrange the seminar as a virtual seminar, initially using only Teams. Then, after giving more thought to how we want to engage people more widely in working together and what kinds of workshop methods we want to use, it became clear that we also want to include Howspace in the realization of the seminar,” Piirainen explains.

Togetherness in virtual mode: “Plan well, but make sure the day’s programme is not too cramped”

SDP’s Digital Employees’ Seminar was a diverse collection of different ways of digital working and togetherness. According to Piirainen, a lot of good things and thinking got done as a result of digital work. Careful planning of the seminar is important, as is the flexibility of the schedule and to set aside time for breaks. Seminar work began later in the morning than if the seminar were held in conventional physical form and the day ended earlier. Breaks are needed, and the seminar days also included more informal elements, e.g. pizza lunch and an outdoor photography competition. The most important process of the digital inclusion was the brainstorming workshop during which the participants (in pre-formed groups) discussed ways to adapt the party’s operation to the exceptional circumstances.

“My biggest concerns focused on whether everyone would know how to use all of the tools and whether we would always find our way at the right time and to the right place and to the right groups. However, these concerns proved to be unfounded; the interaction in the workspace started smoothly even before the start of the actual Employees’ Seminar, and people found their way there regardless of what their previous digi skills were. I thought that migrating from one platform and one way of working to another could be difficult for participants, but (according to the feedback) it brought the variation needed for the activity. Of course, as an organizer, it was also great to learn that the tool was really so intuitive to use and it was not necessary to prepare any separate instructions for the users,” Piirainen sums up the events of the days.

The new methods will remain in use even after the exceptional situation is over 

The feedback from participants regarding the new way of organizing Employees’ Seminar was so positive that we plan to continue it in coming years. 

“Occasional physical encounters bring added value, especially to informal interactions, but encouraged by these experiments regarding the new ways of working, we believe that virtual Employees’ Seminars will continue to be on the calendar at least once a year. In this way, we can save money, participants' time, and the environment.”

 

Photo: Jukka-Pekka Flander / SDP

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