Presenting a teaser preview of the Acc Lab in CO staff meeting. Photo credit: UNDP Samoa

Midnight, dawn or late evening, our working times have transcended the definition of regular office hours. Our beautiful Samoa is one of the first places to welcome a new day but then it also needs to wake up at 2am to be part of the global calls. And if this was not enough, one of the Acc Lab members has still not been able to join us and is working remotely with 8 hours 30 minutes of time difference. This pushed us to think of how to build a strong team remotely, make sense of the Acc Lab adventure, manage meetings across time zones and not burn out in the process. 

 

Here are some things that have worked for us so far:

1. Becoming a team intentionally - Knock on wood, we have a wonderful team dynamic and this is not a happy co-incidence. We intentionally created space and time to do so. With work commitments invading personal and family time, a series of bonding calls to know colleagues might seem like a skippable option. But we prioritized this and created different ways to connect. We started by creating a fun WhatsApp and a personal group channel on Teams. We also blocked time every week - initially to get to know each other, and now for personal check-ins. This ensures we are aware of each other's personal challenges and put empathy at the center of our team dynamics.

 

2. Negotiating in-office hours - Given most of our work is currently happening outside the usual UNDP office hours, our Head of Exploration and Solutions Mapper engaged with Samoa’s Multi-Country Office Deputy Resident Representative early on to discuss and conclude on utilizing UNDP’s flexi-hours arrangement. With brutal morning schedules both from the Global Network, the regional and the individual heads of explorers, solution mappers and experimentation groups, securing flexi-hours to safeguard the mental and physical wellbeing of our team was crucial.

 

3. Using virtual meeting times efficiently - With babies demanding attention at midnight to being barely awake for an early morning meeting, we realized the importance of a crisp, well planned, agenda-driven meeting. Before joining a meeting, we share the agenda in advance, do our homework and come prepared. This helps us to focus on the main aspects that require clearing doubts and building alignment in thinking. Our meetings are usually preceded by individual thinking, research and a first draft and have follow-up action items. 

 

4. Using online collaboration tools - Online collaboration tools are life savers. We are trying to make the most of the Teams features and we are in love with Mural. These online tools give us the flexibility to work on the same collaborative document/ knowledge piece as per our convenience and time zones. With most of the individual work done on these tools, the collaboration becomes smoother, and this ensures our virtual meeting time is cut down drastically. 

 

5. Building confidence and skills to collaborate remotely with other Accelerator Labs - Our experience and experiments with online tools inspired us to use them while connecting with other Acc Labs. We recently organized a session with our counterpart from Egypt on climate change, and we used Mural to brainstorm and learn together. The exercise turned out to be more useful than we expected, and we realized we can make this approach an integral part of our working style. We are a multi-county office and in the near future we do not see us traveling to other countries as we could have done in the pre-COVID era. In this new normal, remote collaboration using digital tools can accelerate our working out loud across four countries (Cook Islands, Niue, Samoa, Tokelau). This also sits well with our frontier challenge of Digital Transformation.

 

6. Beginning our journey into sensemaking - With Digital Transformation as our first frontier challenge, we had to get a feel of the waters to know the currents, understand the tides, and enjoy the waves.  Thus, we started sensemaking within the comfort of our own waters, our UNDP Multi-Country Office – Operations Unit, Environment & Climate Change Unit, and Governance & Poverty Reduction Unit. We gained a wealth of knowledge from each unit as they shared best practices and challenges of their diverse work giving us a clearer view of the rough seas ahead of us.  With the support of our ‘skipper’, we embarked into the deep ocean and connected with key ‘partners’ within the digital space.  Partnerships were enhanced with the main Government Ministries, Private, and NGOs; and we look forward to sharing new ways of learning and working together towards a Digitalized Samoa.

Acc Lab Team in Samoa, Maria Bernard (left) and Kaisarina Salesa (right) flanking Samoa's Minister of Communications & Information Technology, Hon Afamasaga Rico Tupai (middle) after their initial meeting regarding digital transformation. Photo credit: UNDP Samoa

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