One thing (ha! Of many clearly) that COVID-19 has robbed us of, is being able to connect with peers within our industries. As someone who has been doing user research for just shy of 2 years — this is something that I have struggled with.
How do you connect with peers when you don’t have in-person conferences and meet-ups? Especially when you’re a solo researcher OR you work on a team that you’re still new to and don’t feel like *you can* reach out to people. I am on the fence about Communities of Practice as they aren’t always as open as they purport to be and…not easy to find?!
One of my favourite ways to learn and grow is to connect with others and learn how they might apply the same theory and tools in their teams and environments.
But it is tough; the pandemic has forced us to be more insular and working from home has blurred the lines between work and home and the ‘time’ to ‘connect with others’ has somehow disappeared out the window — where we also wish we could throw our laptops and endless video calls and ‘can you see my screen yet?’
I made myself a promise in January 2021 that I would try to reach out to other researchers and since then, I have had calls with 13 researchers around the world. America, Spain, France, Holland, Berlin, Turkey, Singapore and England. I am especially grateful to those people that made the time for me. It’s not easy reaching out to, and engaging with new people, especially when we are all essentially living though an incredibly trying time (different for everyone but no less awful because of it) which is why I made myself do it.
If only for my own sanity and to not feel like 2021 was as ‘lost’ as 2020 in terms of my professional development and networking.
So how did I do it? Logistically, I used Calendly to set up the invite and then I shared it via different channels in Slack and Discord (honestly, I use Discord now, what am I? A gamer?! <- such preconceptions were what I had before the Pandemic but no longer!) I also took advantage of the ‘networking’ feature on the HopIn conferencing service which I think should be standard for all virtual conferencing these days. I attended a ‘Show and Tell’ session as well for the sheer experience of it too!
I was very specific about the times I would like to chat — 8–9am on specific mornings in the week. I was inspired by one person who did something similar towards the end of 2020 and adapted their methods for myself. Ironically, this person and I now catch up every few months and it’s great! I wasn’t sure if anyone would take me up on my invitation because, end of the day, I am British, and it is bloody weird to have a stranger rock up and be all ‘LET’S TALK, WANT TO GET TO KNOW YOU’
So how do these sessions go? Well given that it’s all user researchers it’s been people that are good at holding conversations, making sure that conversations are flowing, and that each person has space to talk. Interestingly, majority of people who answered my call are very similar to me — fairly new into role, wanting to learn more about user research in England etc. For me, I’ve learnt about how e-commerce and UR works in Turkey, a VR studio in France and varying agencies in Spain (Valencia is a hotspot FYI). I’ve also learnt that user practice in England is exceptional. It’s easy to forget and get mired in ‘being agile’ and ‘what phase are we in’ and ‘will we have an assessment’ that goes along with working in the public sector, but we have a solid practice in England. Potentially not across all industries, but that’s a chat for a different time.
However, I would be remiss if I didn’t say that yes, some people booked in meetings with me and cancelled last minute. OR that they just didn’t turn up on the day. OR that some of these meetings were pretty excruciating. I had one meeting and the fellow attendee was very dismissive of me, and my experiences. Snobbishness seems to be a thing regardless of industry and is never nice to come up against. *shrug* Live and learn, I guess. The Show and Tell I attended was cliquey and again, not something for me to fix, but to understand and probably never put myself in that situation again. My attitude is to ‘try’ and not so much succeed but learn and understand and figure out where I am welcome. *newsflash* not everywhere.
The sessions that have been especially precious to me, are those that have been with fellow researchers of colour. In the 13 sessions I’ve mentioned, I have spoken to one Asian person, 1 Black person and 1 Indian person. That’s 3/10 or 30% — ALL FROM DIFFERENT COUNTRIES. We shared what it’s like to be (usually) the only researcher of colour on a team, or how anxious going to interviews might be, or what it’s like to be on a team that is so White that everyone looks and sounds the same and how detrimental this is to building good services. It was nice (and sad) to appreciate how we’ve all had to deal with our own instances of institutional racism and how bloody exciting it can be to turn up to an interview and someone of colour interviewing you! (It happens so rarely that I get Very Excited about it).
One of the attendees spoke about how they turned up to an interview and it was a Black woman and Latinx woman doing the interview and how they were so excited they nearly fluffed part of their interview.
And it’s only April 2021! I have 8 more months to connect with people! And I won’t be in the middle of renovating my house or leaving/starting new jobs. What will I do with all this free time?!
If you’re reading this and you would like to connect with me, you can! Here is the Calendly link and hopefully I’ll get to talk to you soon. And if you don’t want to talk to me, maybe this post has inspired you to think about ways you can reach out to your communities. Turns out people do want to talk, and 30 mins is just about right.