NEXT – Learning Community
By Gijs Groeneboom & Eiko Saathoff.
At the beginning of our Value Creators (VC) journey, we Gijs Groeneboom and Eiko Saathoff started with the topic of remote work. Based on our own experiences with the COVID-19 pandemic, but also stories from the business sector we have been curious what benefits and challenges this ‘new’ way of working brings along. After one month of research, we came to the conclusion, that remote work is not that ‘new’ as we thought. Many successful companies already operate remotely for many years and it's proven to be effective. Also, we found out companies such as GitLab, Remote How, Google, Microsoft, Prezi, and more provide a lot of useful information for managers and employees. Advice on which digital tools to use, effective team organisation or digital culture creation, can easily be accessed from everyone.
Based on these insights, we concluded that the problem (why many companies are struggling) lies on the side of communication. We realised that due to the lack of physical events, companies barely get in contact with each other, which is why challenges and/or best practices hardly get shared. Also, yet, there is no digital knowledge sharing tool available, which allows a broad group of businesses to share their experiences in a safe and effective environment. In our research on remote work, we detected many features which could make digital knowledge sharing more beneficial for all parties (real-time transcription, open-sourcing, asynchronous access, etc.).
With our Value Creator product, NEXT – Learning Community, we aim to fill this lack of communication. Based on the concept of collaborative learning, NEXT aims to connect organisations from the region of Zwolle in a digital setting. Small intervision sessions of four to five members allow businesses to share their current challenges and exchange experiences and expertise with others in likewise situations. NEXT is not only the answer to the circumstances caused by COVID, but it also has the potential to become an established tool for local organisations in a post-pandemic era. Modern challenges, like remote work, sustainability or employee wellbeing describe only a few objectives, which can be discussed during the intervision session. The concept combines the benefits of collaborative learning, with the benefits of remote work (effectiveness, time-efficiency, accessibility, e.g.). Our goal is to establish NEXT in the area of Zwolle and become the number one go-to platform for local businesses.
As one semester is not enough to build up a fully working and thought-out platform, we decided to firstly run a pilot. The goal was to first test the concept of remote collaborative learning and find out which practical approach would work the best (e.g., ‘do the sessions need an external facilitator or not?’). Hence, after the finalisation of a pilot plan, we started the pilot at the beginning of December. Nine participants, divided into two sample groups, ran two sessions (mid-December and mid-January) of around one hour each. After the last session, we conducted qualitative interviews with around half of the participants to get as much valuable feedback as possible. All the insights will be collected and merged into a comprehensive evaluation report, which will be the foundation for the next steps.
Talking about next steps, we decided to transfer this VC project into the upcoming Minor semester. As a result of the current circumstances, Windesheim Honours College allowed us to continue this journey for one more semester, which we are very thankful for. As the Minor semester has a different framework than the Value Creators, we will expand our project team to four students. Also, Karin van Vilsteren (Account manager for impact entrepreneurship at the municipality Zwolle) will take over the role of our client. Together with this new composition, meaning more diversity and expertise, we aim to make a huge step towards becoming an established part of the local economy.
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