Our annual Justice Services Conference usually takes place in person and gives us an opportunity to bring our teams together from around the country. But what do you do when you have a global pandemic and the majority are working from home? Instead of cancelling, we turned it into a virtual event so we didn’t lose the chance to collaborate and meet our new colleagues!
Justice Services brings together the digital and technology teams supporting the Legal Aid Agency (LAA), the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) and the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG). Despite the challenges of the pandemic, we held the conference last year in November so we could get our teams together to celebrate successes, share knowledge and learning, and get to know our new and existing colleagues a bit better.
How did a remote conference work?
We held a week-long event with 42 fully remote sessions, including meet and greets, workshops and guest speakers! We arranged each of the sessions via Microsoft Teams, and created a schedule of activities which included all the links attendees would need to access the sessions. This of course was after a series of test sessions we did in advance to make sure it all worked.
We wanted to ensure the conference was inclusive, so we ensured the sessions were accessible to all and because the sessions were all remote, no one was excluded by geography or had to spend hours on a train. Attendees could join the events that interested them, and could drop in and out around their other commitments. Holding the sessions virtually also meant we could record the talks and discussions, so no one missed out if they weren’t available.
To make sure we still got the chance to meet colleagues, we held ‘meet’ sessions each day and across the course of the week around 20 colleagues took the opportunity to introduce themselves.
What worked well?
We ran engagement sessions with each of the three agencies a couple of months before the conference, and asked colleagues to feed suggestions and ideas of the content they’d like included in the event, as well as asking for volunteers to run individual sessions. This meant the conference was shaped and tailored around the interests and expertise of our colleagues.
Each day had its own theme, for example, Collaborating Remotely and Wellbeing, with a series of events that gave us the opportunity to explore the theme in more detail. We were able to include a wide variety of subjects and styles, so there was something for everyone.
However, it wasn’t just all work related, we wanted our colleagues to feel like they weren’t missing out on the face to face social element, so we planned some social activities as part of our agenda.
This was clearly a success as the feedback from attendees told us they appreciated the diverse and flexible agenda as well as the wide range of speakers and topics – with 4 out of 5 keynote speakers being women.
What were the most popular sessions?
By far, our most popular sessions were our keynote talks, which included a designer from NASA, a workshop on Imposter Syndrome and a talk on Managing Anxiety.
Other well attended sessions included an introduction from Jake Barlow, Head of Justice Services and Tom Read, our then Chief Digital Information Officer, as well as ‘explainer’ sessions – run by each of the agency teams giving overviews of their services, user groups and key successes.
We were also really lucky to hear from Fiona Deans, then interim Director General and now Chief Operating Officer at GDS.
What did people say about the event?
Siddiqah Islam, Junior Interaction Designer – Legal Aid Agency
“Joining MoJ as a new starter during the Justice Services conference week was a good way to get a broad overview of all the departments. I got to find out more about how the teams within the LAA got created and how they plan to expand in the future.
There was plenty of insight, as well as the opportunity to get to know colleagues individually. This was helpful for me as it allowed me to mentally prepare myself before starting my project, as well as learn how the teams here worked remotely.”
Ermias Worku, Lead Infrastructure Engineer, CICA Digital and Technology
“This was my second conference and it was quite different to the first, not just because it included cats, dogs and other pets or was carried out remotely, but because I had the privilege of showing off what our team had been doing.
Being asked to contribute made me feel valued and it helped that the conference was diverse and inclusive, with a range of speakers. Out of all the great sessions it is hard to pick my favourite, but I found the overview of each department insightful and “meet your co-workers” was a great idea as I got to know some new people.”
We’re really pleased that the conference was a success and want to build on the momentum it’s created. We’re now planning to run quarterly day long events, as well as continuing to hold an annual conference.
If you’re looking for ideas to run your own conference, our ‘top tip(s)’ would be to not miss out on the opportunity to ‘meet’ and collaborate with your colleagues. Create a flexible and diverse agenda and get those appointments in the diary as soon as possible, so people can plan their time around the events they’d like to attend.