You don't have to do it in person

Agtech leader provides tips on moving online

Machinery
Farmers2Founders CEO Sarah Nolet

Farmers2Founders CEO Sarah Nolet

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Farmers2Founders has moved its workshop program online, co-founder Sarah Nolet shares some tips for companies looking to do the same.

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Just because people can't meet in person is no reason to halt meetings and training programs, its simply an excuse to move digital, saving both time and money.

Farmers2Founders co-founder Sarah Nolet said putting things off until you can do it in person is just an excuse, while there were challenges to overcome, moving to online was also an opportunity.

"In the last year, we've run nearly 50 workshops with hundreds of participants," she said.

"But just as we were starting to feel confident, COVID19 hit and we had to overcome a new challenge.

"With less than a week to prepare, we had to move the two-day kickoff workshop of the Farmers2Founders Ideas Program, with 20 farmers we'd never met, to be completely online."

Ms Nolet said while there were some challenges in moving online, particularly around engagement and technical requirements, it was doable.

"We knew we couldn't just keep the same agenda and move it to a video conference," she said.

"We've learned some surprising lessons about what you can and can't do online.

"Running online allows farmers to do what they do best, farm."

Ms Nolet said to be successful it was important to set ground rules for online meetings, and ensure appropriate training in the use of new conferencing tools and set up was available.

"We use online tools such as Zoom for video conferencing and Slack for sharing information and chatting," she said.

"Because these tools can be unfamiliar for some, we normally spend a whole session in our kickoff workshop marching through the tools."

Ms Nolet said in face to face workshops, people will often comment that the connections they make with other people are the most valuable, this could also be achieved online.

"An online workshop runs the risk of treating all the attendees the same in the name of efficiency, speaking at them and keeping them on mute rather than talking with each other and creating connections," she said.

"To ensure we treated participants as individuals, we gave everyone homework to prepare a personal introduction.

"Getting through these intros took a while, but it was well worth it. By the end, everyone knew a bit about each other, saw some beautiful farms and funny pictures, and was comfortable using chat to share experiences, taking themselves off mute, and sharing their screen."

Ms Nolet said another tip was to carry out unstructured 'social' sessions to encourage people to connect.

"In small groups, armed with a tasty beverage, we talked about holidays, farms, and of course coronavirus and hoarding," she said.

"A big key to success was having the coaches show up and engage, but as humans having a chat, not as facilitators driving the conversation.

"Even online we were able to connect as individuals and find common interests, bringing together different perspectives, skills, and knowledge."

Ms Nolet said to prevent online workshops from becoming boring it was important to focus on providing engaging content.

"We used chat to keep things interactive," she said.

"While one facilitator presented, others could answer questions and reach out directly to individuals who needed more help or time."

"Moving online meant we had to change the agenda and content, but it was not an excuse to forget about the user experience. In fact, the challenge presented an opportunity to create what in some ways was an even better one."

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