5 Ways to Stay Connected, Informed, & Productive Outside of Tech Events

Lauren Golembiewski

Over a week ago, SXSW canceled its annual conference and festival for the first time in over 30 years due to novel coronavirus health concerns. While I support the decision, I am also bummed as it’s a significant hit to Austin’s economy that ripples outward—from tech companies seeking funding to artists and service companies losing showcases, premieres, and gigs. Simultaneously, many organizations are instituting work-from-home policies and those who can are practicing social distancing. Recent world events aside, many companies have already moved or are moving to remote or distributed teams which means employees must adjust to new communication styles and workplace cultures. One of the most important factors of happily working from and spending more time at home is to stay connected to teammates, colleagues, and the wider community. I’ve compiled a few of my ideas for how to keep your work-from-home life connected, informed, and productive.  

👩‍💻 Organize Virtual Meetups

It’s important to stay connected to the community even if you’re minimizing your time in public. If you’re already a community organizer, consider how you might host upcoming events in a completely virtual setting. Virtual knowledge-sharing presentations via Zoom meetings or Google Hangouts are a great way to bring people together. If you can’t get a presenter together in enough time, consider organizing small open-ended virtual discussion groups on one of those platforms. Keep the conversation productive by limiting groups to 7-10 people, preparing discussion topics ahead of time, and having a moderator. I help organize Chat UX, a local voice and conversational UX community in Austin, and we’re currently planning how we can host a remote experience for our group members to stay connected in the coming months. 

If you’re a member of a local meetup or group, be sure to check out the latest event offerings as many organizers are creating strategies for hosting online events. Offer to help the organizations you’re part of if you have ideas about or experience with virtual gatherings. 

📒 Take Online Classes

Besides making connections with like-minds, learning opportunities are another huge benefit of attending conferences, workshops, and events. The concepts and ideas presented at these gatherings can inspire your current work or even a change in your career path. Luckily, online courses and webinars are convenient and affordable alternatives to in-person learning experiences. If you’re interested in learning more about conversational design, check out Voxable’s newly launched Introduction to Conversational Design online course which features 38 lessons, seven activities, and the option to work one-on-one virtually with an instructor. Voxable’s CTO Matt Buck and I teach the course and are always excited to share our knowledge and work with others interested in the space. 

🌐 Join Online Communities

As an introvert, I really appreciate the rise of online communities. I love that I can connect to a group of individuals who share my interests regardless of where they live without having to tap into the limited energy I have for social situations. Online communities helped me discover new resources and tools, receive valuable advice from different perspectives, and keep abreast of what is happening across the industry. If you haven’t joined an online community yet, it’s an opportune time to start exploring them. Carl Robinson from the VoiceTech Podcast recently outlined a robust list of conversational design and development communities. So, get in there, be open, and engage in conversations! I find it’s helpful to block out a set amount of time during my day to engage in these communities as I can get carried away if I’m not careful. 

☎️ Hone Communication Skills

The cornerstone of a good remote-working environment is good communication. Even if you don’t work remotely, you can start honing your communication skills now as they’ll benefit you regardless of setting. Start by documenting your work before sharing it. As a designer, I create a document that explains the relevant parts of my process as well as the decisions I make for a proposed design before presenting it to a team member, stakeholder, or client. Even though I’m perfectly adept at winging those conversations in real-time, documenting my work beforehand helps me communicate (and design!) better. Documentation enables me to make a concise pitch for my design solution and explain my process succinctly. Because writing is thinking, creating this type of document ensures I’ve fully addressed the design needs and explored all the possible options. 

Not everyone is sharing design assets like I am, but think about how you could document your work for others to understand your process and decisions. Consider how valuable it might be to have that documentation for reference in the future. Documentation supports asynchronous communication because it records your thoughts and decisions at the time you made them and can be shared indefinitely without additional effort on your part.

🔌 Connect with New Technology

As you determine what works for you regarding online socializing and communication, consider exploring new technology to help you connect with others. The chat application Discord has a feature called “Voice Chat” which opens a channel that is sort of like a video conference, but better. A Discord Voice Chat feels more organic than other online conferencing solutions. This might work better for team meetings that are very conversational and collaborative. 

A screenshot of the Discord application's Voice Chat
Discord is currently upping its limit of people who can participate within voice channels in light of COVID-19.

There are a wealth of real-time collaboration applications that pair well with communication tools. I use the collaborative diagramming app Miro and recently switched from Sketch to Figma to take advantage of the latter’s real-time collaboration feature. These apps make communicating visual ideas remotely so much easier and, in some ways, better than a plain, old whiteboard in a conference room.

Working from home also means you might not be able to check in with your colleagues around the office as casually, so it’s easy to lose touch with what everyone is focusing on. One solution for this is implementing daily standups—an Agile software development practice—in which everyone on your team checks in with each other to discuss what they did yesterday, what they’re doing today, and if they have any questions or blockers. In-person, this is accomplished with everyone “standing up” in a circle to check in. If your team is working remotely, you can use a chatbot like Standuply to automate this practice and keep everyone in the loop. Standuply is a great example of how bots can facilitate communication and streamline processes, which is why we use it here at Voxable.

No matter if you’re staying home more now or you always have worked remotely, there are so many ways to maintain communication and learning. I hope to connect with you in a virtual meetup, class, or online community soon!