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Finding ways to stay connected with you beyond the computer screen

Tue. Dec. 1, 2020

javier's mask

Starting in a new job in 2020 has been a unique experience. My entire job interview process, meetings with the selection committee and post-hiring discussions happened over video conferencing, email and the phone. Given Manitoba’s current Code Red restrictions, I have yet to meet any board member in person. I do not know about you, but even the most introverted human being out there likes to meet the people who hired them to say thank you and to engage in dialogue.

I have been a bit luckier meeting the Foundation team. While not all of us could be in the office at the same time or host meetings, we were at least able to see each other from a distance, and staff could verify I am not an avatar, but a real human being wearing a funky “I love curling” mask. I am grateful for the opportunity I had to see them before we entered Code Red, when staying at home became an imperative for many of us.

A critical part of any Foundation CEO is to connect with the people who trust you to establish scholarships, bursaries, awards, or donate to our endowment so we can support the work of The University of Winnipeg. I have been meeting these amazing leaders for the past month and a half, and this is what I have learned in terms of keeping communication as real and human as possible: 

1. Be in a listening mindset

While either on the phone or video conference, I found it useful to say very little and instead pay a lot of attention to the words of our friends, board members and donors. By writing down notes, I was able to capture a lot of the sentiment and connection between the individual and the Foundation. It is always a good idea to listen first, but in the absence of the back-and-forth that you can achieve in person, concentrating on who you are talking to more makes a big difference.

2. Send an agenda or some leading questions ahead of time

Credit to this idea goes to Board member Greg Tretiak. He was the first person I talked to as the new CEO of the Foundation, and as I was asking my second question he replied “Javier, it would be helpful to send questions in advance so we can be prepared to answer them”. While this is solid advice for any type of meeting, it is particularly true in times of Zoom and phone calls. Give your interviewee some lead time so they can collect their thoughts in advance and provide high quality feedback.

3. Be creative

An old adage states that you have only one chance to make a first impression. How do you achieve that when you are mostly in 2D as a tiny square on a computer screen? My approach has been to use presentation tools that are not the traditional slide deck. I use different presentation software which allows me to zoom in and out of ideas and eliminates the linear narration and bullet points you see in Power Point or Google Slides. While the new software costs a little bit of money, it can engage your audience which in turn makes for better and less boring meetings. If you want to know what type of presentation app I use, feel free to reach out!

Another lesson we learned in this pandemic is appreciation for the outdoors. We know that indoor spaces is where COVID-19 spreads easily, but if you are outside and you stay 2 meters or even a little further away than that from another person, the risks are much lower. If the weather is not terribly cold, a stroll around a park at a more than safe distance at least gives you the opportunity to see another human being instead of using electronics. Now before doing this check with local public health officials to make sure seeing one person outdoors is allowed!

4. Make sure you follow up once the pandemic is over

I have a running list of people who I have talked to over the phone or via video conference, and hope to reach out to once the pandemic subsides to offer to go for a coffee and meet in person. Where not everyone would have the time or the desire to meet me, I think it is important to remember that our first meeting was under unusual circumstances. Call me old school, but a handshake and a face-to-face conversation has a richness and a dynamic that technology cannot quite replace.

5. Embrace the positive side technology brings

The flip side of what I mentioned above is the fact that technology eliminates distance in a very efficient way. The Foundation now has video conferencing capabilities so we can have video calls with friends, board members and donors from around the globe. In the past we were limited to a phone call or a once-a-year trip to see them. Now we can connect more frequently and more meaningfully than before. There is always a silver lining to any situation!

We can’t wait to engage in meaningful dialogue with you!

Despite the pandemic and the challenges it brings, your University of Winnipeg Foundation team continues to be available and ready to have meaningful conversations with you, to discuss ways in which you can make an impact to the lives of students, to advance critical research, or to support the courageous work of our Collegiate educators and students. Here is our promise: you will be heard. Simply send an email to foundation@uwinnipeg.ca to get the ball rolling.

In service,

Javier and the UWF Team