FEW: You have joined the Academy as the Community at Work Skills Coach. How did you become interested in this subject?
VP: I've been involved in online communities since the early 1990s, and through the rise of the public World Wide Web I saw the way humans were using these new tools to bridge distance, build relationships and find common ground. I've been working as a professional online community builder and manager since then, and I'm deeply passionate about the opportunity these tools afford us (while also mindful of the risks they present if we don't bolster our skills in this area).
FEW: We have all experienced immense change due to pandemic not least the sudden requirement for the majority of the world's workforce to work from home. Why is your skill so important for us to get a handle on now?
VP: We will all be called on to form, participate in, even lead, groups of people across digital platforms and tools, and the core skills and practices we use to design, mobilise and sustain these gatherings are transferable across contexts.
We're already seeing the organisations who moved to the cloud for COVID-19 running into challenges with culture and engagement. We've mastered the tools, we need to return to the human and understand how we design, manage and lead gatherings in digital spaces.
The future of work, of business, of education, frankly, of just about everything, is communal, so it's the perfect time to level up our skills in forming healthy communities and how to be a good digital citizen within them.
FEW: There's a lot of talk about Zoom and platforms to bring people together in this new world of work. What role does intentional design and these new skills have in making this new world functional?
VP: Though tools can be designed to guide or encourage certain behaviour, they are basically inert and hollow. We know that without purpose design and social practices to create culture and incentivise outcomes, we won't get the full value from these platforms – and worse, we run into avoidable challenges and issues.
FEW: What is your human superpower (this is anything a machine can't replace)?
VP: For myself – for all of us – it's our story. Our lived experience to this moment. We bring that perspective to bear on every task and challenge, and its innate diversity means we collectively surface original ideas and solutions.
FEW: Who is your favourite superhero and why?
VP: I'm drawn to heroes who turn darkness into a force for good. I'm a big sci-fi and comic nerd, so I have a long list of them! Two favourites are Jessica Jones and Crazy Jane. Jessica channels personal demons into helping the vulnerable. Jane has 64 different personalities (a result of trauma), each of which have a different superpower! Despite dreadful pain, they make the hard choices and rise to the challenge.
FEW: Can you share your top tips for refining your citizenry in the cloud?
VP: Show up and be present. It's so easy to be distracted but we know that focus is essential for getting the most out of any engagement. Reflect on purpose and shared value. What is the goal of the group or gathering? What shared value are you and others working toward, and how can you contribute to that? Be accountable for culture. Keeping experiences safe and productive is everyone's responsibility. While there are community professionals to help with oversight, all of us shape culture online, and we should never walk past harms. And know when it's important to cede the virtual 'floor' to others, particularly voices or perspectives that are not often heard from. Active listening is a powerful gesture!
FEW: What are you most looking forward to in leading modules on the human+ Guided programs?
VP: Meeting and connecting with a great community of learners, committed to growing and opening to opportunity. I'm also thrilled about introducing more people to the world of community thinking and practices – it's a critical literacy and can unlock tremendous potential in individuals, networks and organisation.