Holding the Remote for a Remote PlanSem

If you’ve ever been to a normal college org Planning Seminar or PlanSem, for short, you probably would’ve expected three key things: (1) a mini getaway retreat house in a nearby friendly mountainous or beachy area (cue in Tagaytay or LU), (2) a jampacked roadtrip with 30 orgmates going there, and (3) several days long of fun leadership and reflection activities. PlanSems, at least pre-covid time, were really all the hype. It help made core members align their platforms for the semester and foster an effective dynamic as a team. Being there is one of the highlights of the year, and having the privilege to organize it is a charm all in itself.

But say you had to organize it at a time of a pandemic where everyone was a couple miles away from each other. How can you make the screen feel like a getaway? Well, here’s what our organization did.

The UX Society Council — Our PlanSem Attendees

Last June 27, 2020, the UX Society Council went on our very own remote PlanSem. But before we get onto the details of how we did it, let me give you context on who we are. User Experience Society is an independent student organization based in Ateneo whose vision is to nurture the next generation of UX Design leaders through active mentorship.

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Several members of the UX Society council in our flagship project UX&Chill 2019

As a fairly young org, it was only this year that we opened our doors for associates which, with the executive board, now constitutes the council. Together, there are 31 design leaders who are preparing to serve more than 300 excited learners. The least they deserve is a memorable PlanSem to start the year right.

This is where we come in.

Planning the PlanSem

With the quarantine being indefinite and on-site classes not happening any time soon, only one thing was sure: we had to find a way to convert the entire process online. In a way though, we wanted to imitate the flow of a “normal” PlanSem which has more or less outlines this user journey:

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We’ll give you a rundown what happened that day.

❄️⛏ Breaking the Ice

In order to lay a solid foundation of a growing organization, we set the mood and get to know the team by holding ice breakers through Discord.

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All members on board in Discord

The first was The Morning After wherein the members act out what they did (that’s not watching netflix, eating, sleeping, or designing) the night before PlanSem. In here we discovered how each leader has a different way of going about their days (from the inevitable netflix & chill to playing instruments or bathing a dog) and these differences form a diverse and multi-skilled council. There were lots of laughter as each one tried to pull off their own stint.

Next one was fairly more direct and included everyone all at the same time. This was the No Blinking and No Smiling, where the members will turn on their videos and try not to blink or laugh. Once they blinked or smiled, they had to turn off their video as a sign that they’re out of the game. It effectively promoted honesty, conditioned the council’s focus and even added some laughter as people tried to distract each other.

💪🤔 Posing a Challenge

This part was more of a UXSoc tradition, where the leaders get to practice their design skills as well as how they’d work with a team.

Once everyone got settled in, the council was divided into four groups. A mini design challenge was hosted where members had to conduct stakeholder interviews and design for an online e-commerce product. The twist in this challenge would be that the stakeholders Pat, Cams, Polly, and Kaye were assigned personas and disabilities. The design sprint peg was meant to foster team collaboration, ideation, human-centricity, and inclusivity. It serves as an introduction to the UX methods and tools that UXSoc uses as well.

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Although there were slight technical issues that certainly can’t be helped (such as weak internet connection), the outcome of the challenge turned out to be spectacular. Moderators jumped from channel to channel checking up on the participants and found how each group reacted to the challenge in different ways. When video calls failed, groups took to their respective group chats to continue their discussions. Team members also listed down and took recaps of the current living situations of their stakeholders, as well as the challenges that they faced. All did what they could to cooperate with one another and boost each other’s morale. One group even decided to invite the Groovy bot in Discord to their group’s channel so that they can play music to hype themselves up while doing their work!

Time passed and everyone had the pitch. Noticeably, everyone had a different way of interpreting the challenge which came as a pleasant surprise to the moderators that set up the challenge. One group presented a prototype that would help the disabled person navigate the internet with their given character’s background and disability. Two groups focused more on the process of lessening the difficulty of maintaining and online business such as tools to help disabled people keep track of their business. Finally, one group presented the prototype we were expecting which was the actual online marketplace. Overall, it was amazing how far out the box all groups got. Best of all, everyone seemed to work harmoniously well under pressure.

🌱👬 Solidifying Foundation

As with all events like this, it really wouldn’t be a PlanSem without the actual Seminar! After a couple of hours of fun, it went straight down to business.

We organized the seminars into clusters with each department getting 30 minutes to introduce themselves and present their plans for the year. Even before the PlanSem, all members were already given assignments, including preparing department presentations and creating a jingle like this!

Given that there were quite a number of departments, this section was allotted 4 hours of the entire PlanSem making it one of the most tiring sections. Members were invited to get snacks and have breaks of their own, and as some had internet connection problems, not everyone was able to be in the room for the entire session. Regardless, the presentations themselves were very thorough and most tried their best to make it funny. Considering this sets foot the foundation of the year, the 4 hours was spent wisely.

💖🔗 Building Team Trust

After a rigorous session of seminars, it was time to just relax and take the entire session in.

While video chats were effective in big group scenarios with a more robust and proactive form of communication, we felt it wasn’t appropriate for a section meant to be more intimate and modest as self-reflection. We wanted to employ the feeling of being present in the moment with your team, despite being miles away from each other.

Something we felt an MMORPG-like simulation such as LINE Play could help provide (take note: LINE Play can only accommodate 6 members in a room so in our case, there were 6 rooms prepared in total).

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Teams divided into different LINE Play retreat houses designed

Through this app, we got to conduct reflective exercises like Trusted Walk, Connect with Some Who…, and The Privilege Walk that slowly helped make everyone open up about their apprehensions and emotions. To make the simulation feel even more realistic, we reduced the need to use the keyboard chat by connecting voice through Discord. Some even added calm music to stage the vibe. It was amazing how effective having a sim ended up being, with everyone being able to add their own personality into the group. By the end of it, we definitely felt more sympathy within the group and had gone only deeper now than ever before.

🌏📝 Drafting our Resolution

The last section, and the most collaborative for all members, was drafting the mood and resolution for this year. After everything that was discussed and emotions felt, we wanted to create a ground in aligning the vision of all 31 design leaders for the coming year ahead. In the full nature of UX Design, we made this happen through sticky notes on Figma.

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Everyone helping draft the board in Figma

We intentionally left the page blank, save for a couple of the notes on one side. Anyone could also just go in and out, so no one needed to wait for the other. Everyone had their own take, some even coloring the notes a diff shade or using an unconventional font. What we were able to produce was a very colorful page filled with hopes, promises, honest messages, and even memes! It was definitely a great way to end the night.

Our Key Takeaways

With all of the fun, stress, and madness of the PlanSem, we had a lot of insights ourselves. Some of which are:

  • Our PlanSem definitely wasn’t perfect. There were a lot of mishaps we overlooked in the preparation which we had to compromise and battle through. Nonetheless, we are confident that it led to a colorful experience which brought us closer together.
  • It is really helpful to keep a masterfile for the program flow, activity goal, and instructions on hand. Not only does it help you remember what to do, but also helps align the workplace of one organizer to the next.
  • All activities were crucial in showing how the council members are opinionated, open-minded, grounded, inclusive, and have initiative. It was proud to see everyone giving time and effort to be complete no matter how tiring a 10-hour video conference could be.
  • Roadtrips and getaways definitely add flare and excitement into PlanSems but we should not forget that the purpose of it is really to build a strong foundation for the coming semester.

All in all, this remote PlanSem was a unique event in itself. We got to feel firsthand both the convenience and inconvenience of organizing something online different from a standard webinar. Elevating the scene outside of merely a video conference tool allowed us to do so much that a time like quarantine can limit. But wether it be onsite or remote, one thing is for sure: here in UX Society, we’re passionate in make it a beautiful experience.

This article’s content was wonderfully crafted by Kaye Castro, VP for Human Resources, Jill Aliño, AVP for Community Engagement, Matthew Cruz, AVP for Internal Management, and I for User Experience Society.