Transitioning an Organization into the Virtual World with Monica Vucko
Updated: Apr 23
From evolution: a podcast by entrepreneurship@UBC
evolution is a podcast shining light on our ecosystem’s stories of innovation, impact and hustle throughout their venture building journey. Join us as we build community and knowledge related to entrepreneurship during the course of COVID-19.
This week, host and Creative Specialist MJ Araujo speaks with entrepreneurship@UBC’s Senior Manager of Operations, Monica Vucko. Monica was instrumental in moving the organization and 150+ person network online in a matter of days amidst the world's move indoors, transitioning entrepreneurship@UBC’s entirely in person program into the virtual world.
About Monica Vucko
Monica M. Vucko is an entrepreneur and operations professional who serves as entrepreneurship@UBC’s Senior Manager of Operations, where she is in charge of ensuring that all program operations and services run seamlessly, on time and within budget. Prior to this, she was the founder & CEO of tech start-up LookLab which aimed to bring the sharing economy to the fashion industry. Monica completed a MSc. Sustainability & Social Innovation with a focus on Impact Entrepreneurship at Hautes Études Commerciales de Paris (HEC Paris), holds a BA(H) in Health Studies from Queen’s University and was a fellow at the Yale Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics. When she’s not working at entrepreneurship@UBC, she’s moonlighting as a founder for Speak for Success, a company that provides communication skills training to women who are early in their professional careers. Monica’s passions include impact entrepreneurship, gender diversity and supporting founders.
To read a full transcript, see below:
MJ: Hello, welcome to entrepreneurship@UBC’s podcast, evolution. I'm your host MJ.
Thank you for joining us, Monica. I'm excited to hear your insights on transitioning to completely online work and working from home.
Monica: It's interesting because I think initially, the first week is always kind of enjoyable, because it's convenient to still wake up and you're at your desk in two seconds, but the novelty wears off pretty fast. So it's interesting to work through different strategies to make working from home and self isolating, not only bearable, but actually quite enjoyable.
MJ: It's really interesting to see what strategies emerge from this transition online in particular, among other things. I'm wondering if you could tell us a bit more about the challenges that you faced as Senior Manager of Operations during this transition, and transitioning the whole organization to adapt to the new normal, and the strategies you used to make that process as efficient as possible?
Monica: So the first one, of course, I think everyone can attest to how quickly this situation evolved and continues to evolve, really, but it was in a matter of a few days where on Monday, everything was moving as usual...and by Friday, everything was moving online. So the speed in which it happened was a challenge. We only had six hours notice to prepare our continuity plan to submit to UBC and really only had three business days to figure out how we were going to pivot everything online.
So I think most organizations can relate to that, where there is no choice and you have to migrate. You just have to figure out how to do it very, very quickly. What I found, as the lead on ops, is that there's so much going on in our organization. There's so many events, there's so many workshops and meetings and we had a big Investor Day coming up. So the first thing that we did was just a plot out all of the programming events in meetings that are at risk over the next six weeks. What I mean by at risk are things that are going to be fundamentally affected by having an online program. So what we did is just zero in on the elements of our program that are just completely non negotiable. Once we were able to identify all of the core elements of the program, we were able to then discuss what would be the best way to actually migrate them online, and try and preserve as much as we can of the pre planned program, because obviously, there was a lot of things we were going to do in person that we we just can't move online, but we tried to preserve as much as we could. Then for the rest that didn't make the cut, we either postponed it or we cancelled it. I think that just really allowed the team to hyper focus on the most important and critical aspects. We were able to get super, super detailed of how we were actually going to execute it, which I think is why we were able to do it so quickly and so well, because there were a lot of us focusing on the same core programming.
The second thing is alignment: how can we all march to the same beat in a matter of days and ensure that everybody was on board with a go forward plan. When I say everybody that goes beyond staff, that's our stakeholders, which includes ventures, mentors and Entrepreneurs in Residence. We're talking about around 70 to 150 people here that we had to get all on the same page. So my goal was to eliminate any possible source of confusion in terms of what the next few weeks look like and to make sure everybody knew what was happening, by who and by when.
I would say the last thing, which is interesting, because I'm also seeing a lot of newsletters and blog posts come out about this now, is the issue of digital literacy. As we were going through the risk assessment exercise that was part of the continuity plan, the biggest flag that was raised over and over again had to do with the technology, and not so much whether or not it would work, but whether or not people were comfortable using it and people knew how to use it. I was very aware, just having used some of these tools in the past 10 months, that the digital literacy among not only our staff, but our ventures and stakeholders, varied quite widely. So part of the goal was to ensure that everyone had this same basic level of understanding with respect to how to use these tools so that when we did have programming, people could focus on the programming and not be distracted by the technology.
"We only had six hours notice to prepare our continuity plan to submit to UBC and really only had three business days to figure out how we were going to pivot everything online."
MJ: It sounds like a lot of the challenges that you mentioned are things that other organizations will relate to. I'm wondering how did you make sure everyone felt supported throughout the change? As we all know, transitions can be tricky, and they can be hard, especially one that's happening in such a short timeframe. I'd like to hear more about how you achieved that?
Monica: The first thing we did was offer wide training. For our internal team, we continue to offer one to one training like we always have, but we just really stepped it up and reached out to those we knew may have needed a little bit more help.
The second thing we did was create a library of how-tos. Whether it was our own videos that we created using a platform called Loom, showing folks how to use different elements of the tools and a lot of them already have a ton of videos online. So we made it really easy for people to find the ones that were relevant.
And the third thing we did, which is, I would say the most important and probably the most impactful, was every time prior to having any sort of programming, we always hosted rehearsals. What I mean by rehearsals is anyone who was part of the call that wasn't a venture - so staff, EiRs and our mentors- were expected to be on that call. We used it as an opportunity to do some basic training and then to actually go through the workflow of what the agenda was going to be to ensure that every aspect of that program session, everybody knew what to do down to what button to click, where to find it, and who to go to if they had some technical difficulties or a question came up. Those were the three major strategies.
The last thing I will mention is that a lot of the complaints that we get about the online meeting experience has to do with just a lack of guidelines and etiquette on how to conduct yourself on a call. For example, if you join a call and everyone's joined and unmuted, people are going to be talking over each other and there's going to be a lot of feedback. We put together a one pager outlining really basic online meeting etiquette. We very, very clearly laid it out. So once we were on the call, everyone knew how to behave, which I think made the online experience really positive because we weren't running into those minor issues that become quite annoying throughout online meetings.
MJ: It sounds like there has been a culture shift to adapt to the new way in which we interact with one another at the workplace. I'm wondering how have you managed to maintain the essence of the culture at entrepreneurship@UBC during this transition?
Monica: One of the things that we immediately did was ensure that every single person on the team and our EiRs had a webcam. I think we were able to snatch them off Amazon before they completely sold out. Really, the effort there is to ensure that we still get that face to face interaction, things like facial expressions and body language are really important in communication as we know and having frequent communication. Of course, it's almost a foundational rule when you're in the middle of a crisis where you have that constant communication with your team. So, we made sure that in the first few weeks, we at least as a management team, met every single day. Then, all staff met twice a week to ensure that we were able to continue that communication, even if there weren't updates, just checking in on people and doing a temperature check, like how are you feeling? How are you working remotely? How are you finding the experience of doing meetings online? We wanted to keep that communication frequent. I think that has also really added to continuing to build the culture that we otherwise probably would have would have been a little bit at risk. How do we just go on to completely virtual with no webcams, and no effort to continue that informal relationship building.
"Of course, it's almost a foundational rule when you're in the middle of a crisis where you have that constant communication with your team. So, we made sure that in the first few weeks, we at least as a management team, met every single day. Then, all staff met twice a week to ensure that we were able to continue that communication."
MJ: Yes, it's so important. My last question for you is how do you see this transition as an opportunity to evolve entrepreneurship@UBC’s programming? How do you think the workplace will be affected after having worked remotely for an extended period of time?
Monica: Our programming - all of it - was actually delivered in person. So, I think a lot of other incubators and accelerators do have a bit of a hybrid where they do have online and offline programming but for us really, most of our programming, if not all of it, is delivered in person. This has been a really great opportunity for us to expedite our digital transformation and this is something that everyone's been working off the side of their desk on this, so we're trying to adopt new tools, get better at it and be more efficient. But this really gave us no choice...and I think that's been really transformational for entrepreneurship@UBC.
One of the topics a few of us are actively discussing right now is how to make our online programs even more engaging and fun and high energy than they already are. An interesting question we're kicking around is, is it possible to create and make the online experience better than the in person experience? Is that possible? And what would that look like? Once this is all over, and hopefully, it's soon, I think we have now become one of those incubators and accelerators that actually does offer a hybrid of programming. For me, one of the most exciting elements about that is now location becomes a non-issue. So instead of just looking locally and being like, okay, who can we bring in as a speaker from Vancouver or the greater Vancouver area, we can start bringing in experts from all over the world. Think about all of these seasoned entrepreneurs and investors and founders that we can engage with. That's only if we're able to really nail this online experience and make it extremely compelling for people to want to not only participate in but to actually attend. I think we're well on our way to do that. It's an exciting thing to think about because it opens up a lot of opportunities for us. Trying to find a silver lining in all this, I think our team is going to come out stronger and be able to offer our network of entrepreneurs even more resources and opportunities to learn from some of the best people in the industry.
"For me, one of the most exciting elements about that is now location becomes a non-issue. So instead of just looking locally and being like, okay, who can we bring in as a speaker from Vancouver or the greater Vancouver area, we can start bringing in experts from all over the world."
MJ: For sure, it will be very interesting to see how the world changes and shifts once we are out of the self isolation phase. In the meantime, there are many things we can learn while transitioning to the new normal, so thank you so much for sharing your insights with us.
Monica: Thank you. This has been definitely a ride for the past couple of weeks. If there's anything, I always try to share what I've learned because it is difficult, especially if you're new to a lot of these tools. I'm certainly not new to these tools, but I learned something new every single week. So, the more we can continue to share those resources out and save people time and headaches of having to figure it out themselves, I think the better.
Thank you for joining us, and we hope to see you next time. In the meantime, stay safe and stay healthy.
entrepreneurship@UBC is an initiative that propels UBC innovations out into the world through entrepreneurship and venture creation, providing UBC students, researchers, faculty members, alumni and staff with the resources, networks, facilities and funding they need to succeed.