We’ve talked in previous blogs about adapting working arrangements in the face of these really challenging times, but I’m not sure if you’ve noticed there is another phoenix that has risen from the ashes of this “new normal” we often talk about – webinars.
The mythical phoenix (source: Wikipedia)
The webinar isn’t a new concept, but it has largely taken the place of conferences and face-to-face workshops all over the world – and fair enough too, because we are necessarily less mobile but there is a lot of great work continuing out there in our industries and important topics to discuss. What I have noticed is a significant increase in the number of available webinars and their accessibility; I am able to attend interesting events hosted in Melbourne, Brisbane or anywhere globally really, from my home office. The accessible nature of the online registration process makes it quick and painless to jump in, and importantly the format opens up more opportunities for mums, dads and remote people to participate.
The webinar experience (Image source: Alexandra Koch)
Hats off to the organisers too, I know it is not a simple matter to coordinate and facilitate these events and must take many hours of preparation.
I also have to say the invites are coming into my inbox thick and fast, and I have this extra step in my morning routine now to do a quick review if a webinar is worthwhile to attend. As a team we regularly talk about upcoming events, and often we’ll identify a particular webinar as something more interesting to a colleague’s area of expertise or professional development. For example, this little process has seen our team attend data science workshops like the ones offered by the Western Australia Data Science Innovation Hub (WADSIH) and Machine Learning webinars from Amazon Web Services.
If I can wind the clock back one year, I recall a conference in a regional centre with a “pre-conference workshop” on environmental regulation being held the day before. I couldn’t make the trip that day earlier but asked if it might be made available on-line. I don’t think organisers were even thinking of a remote audience back then, and for this one they simply couldn’t offer a video feed as an option. I can tell you they are now. Conference organisers are adapting quickly to survive; however, by engaging the remote audience I would suspect their audience is scaling up, not down. Take the Environment Institute of Australia and New Zealand for instance who have chapters in each State and Territory and would previously advertise their events in capital cities around the country. I wouldn’t usually think to get on a plane for a short workshop in another city, so as interesting and relevant as some of those events were it wasn’t feasible to attend, and dialling in via video conferencing wasn’t really a thing.
Fast forward into the “new normal” and these groups are now running regular webinars available to anyone, anywhere. There is sometimes a small fee, or a non-member price, that I am happy to pay where I can see value. There is also the environmental value of reduced carbon emissions for people not needing to commute to meeting places. We’ve touched on this in a previous blog entry from our company’s working-from-home perspective (and we’ll post more about that soon), but for webinars it could be thought of more broadly as a cumulative benefit across industries.
The networking aspect is another important challenge to look at. As you can imagine it is tougher to get those break-out conversations going following an intriguing presentation – and so it will be interesting to see if the traditional webinar format evolves to incorporate this aspect, and I am sure the usual technology providers are already pivoting their products. I actually went along to one of the EIANZ events in Darwin (while practicing good social distancing) for a presentation from the Northern Territory government on ‘What’s new for the NT in environmental impact assessment.’ I found out today that there were somewhere in the range of 70 online participants representing every State and Territory! It was really interesting to see the positive and proactive policy and administrative changes being put in place around environmental assessment following the establishment of the NT Environmental Protection Act (2019).
The onset of this pandemic has really challenged the way we work and our ability to connect and stay in touch with the rest of the world. I have been able to attend a number of webinars here from my base in Darwin that previously have been only offered through physical attendance. It has certainly broadened my horizons, and it seems that organisations are ramping up their presence in this online space, recognising there is an audience beyond their own borders and improving on the “old ways” of working!