If It Ain’t Broke, Fix It Anyway: The Evolution of Virtual Payara Day

This Friday is Virtual Payara Day – a quarterly event that looks quite different from our first-ever Virtual Payara Day (VPD) in 2018, despite the consistent success of VPD since then. Once we kick off a recurring event like this that receives glowing results, isn’t it easy to publish our template and rest on our laurels? However, because the needs and culture of a business are always developing, no template should be rid of that “edit” button. At Payara, the evolution of VPD is a useful example of how an already successful event can be improved by remaining alive and responsive.

What is Virtual Payara Day?

Virtual Payara Day, or VPD, is our quarterly, day-long conference where we bring all Payarans around the globe together, virtually, for a day of comms and leisure. We started VPD in 2018 initially as an operations-focused communications event: it existed to share info across teams to realign with Payara’s goals, and we did this via a CEO keynote, all-hands stand-ups and intensive workshops.

I think that still sounds fine on paper, but Payara’s needs have shifted, both gradually and abruptly (looking at you, 2020!). We’ve calibrated VPD accordingly, and while VPD’s DNA of global, company-wide gathering remains unchanged, the event now prioritises nurturing Payaran relationships over operational comms (which get their due spotlight elsewhere). We’ve replaced hyper-focused stand-ups and long workshops with guest speakers for professional development and popular social activities.

Our VPDs now include fun activities like team yoga!

How VPD Did Not Stagnate

So what did we do to evolve VPD these past years? Here are three very simple tips:

Surveys Are Your Friend

This is one of my mottos. After every event, send to all attendees a thoughtfully crafted, bespoke survey. This is such an easy and valuable tool for feedback across the board, where you can see what people enjoy and find useful – and what they don’t. If the unpopular bits are necessary, then consider this a gap for improved communications before the next event. You can also find some great nuggets of inspiration: someone might suggest the perfect session in your survey for example, making your job much easier.

Our first get-to-know-you VPD activity was inspired by survey feedback!

Our global team connecting at November 2021’s Virtual Payara Day

Integrity, But Pattern Recognition

We can’t start the day 2 hours later because 5% complain or remove stand-ups because someone loathes them. It can be easy to fixate on fault-finding in your feedback when you design an event where “engagement” is an objective. However, unless you see consistent, wide-spread patterns, consider how criticisms signal the need for communications, as mentioned previously. If you do identify consistent patterns (with timing, topics, sessions, etc.), then arrange one-on-one conversations with leadership and random attendees to get more context and confirm the need for careful change.

When we saw consistent feedback from Payarans about wanting a bit more time during VPD to catch up on the previous day’s messages, I had a conversation with leadership before we changed the schedule to include a longer break at the beginning of the day.

A bonding activity at a previous VPD – asking all Payarans to share the last pictures on their camera roll, helping us to get to know everyone a little better.

Proactive Openness to Change

If we aren’t proactively open to change, then it will only happen when change is unavoidable. This often means a crisis, which we can sometimes avoid with well-designed, pre-emptive adjustments. To intentionally maintain a mindset of openness is fundamental; don’t just keep that “edit” button – highlight it! Whether it’s via surveys or interviews or simply keeping your “ear to the ground” for developing business needs, consider diverse and consistent touchpoints to identify the need for change.

We pre-emptively shifted VPD’s raison d’etre from operational comms to relationship building when we considered the possible impact of shifting to a 100% remote workforce.

Thanks to these simple principles, this coming Friday’s Virtual Payara Day will not be the VPD of 2018. By creating channels for consistent feedback and taking initiative to respond to the business’s needs, any event or project can stay effective and alive, as it should remain.

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