From conference calls to unconferencing: The importance of meeting and gathering in person

When Culture Amp’s own Steve Hopkins and I met over coffee two years ago, we had no idea an annual conference on the future of work would result. That day, we were sharing our mutual interest in building out the loose community that persisted after the founding members of Responsive Org had moved on to next projects.

The community of “evolutionaries” about the Future of Work (FOW) felt a bit diffused (mainly a FB group and Slack channel). But we recognized an enormous potential in the strong intellects and kind hearts of those who had gathered.

It was a collective energy that had something to contribute.

Thus after some fits and starts, the first day-long Un-conference ran in February 2016, gathering folks from both Coasts interested in responsive/agile. Interest ran high - in the 48 hours before it ran, an additional 200 people applied to attend. Clearly there was enthusiasm, and I set my sights on a larger annual event to bring together the international Responsive community. 

So was born the 1st Annual Responsive Conference on The Future of Work, and this year in NYC, the 2nd Annual Responsive Conference will build on that momentum further yet. This year will showcase presenters with diverse experience, from Navy SEALS to a psychiatrist-professor teaching about love and authenticity in the workplace.

The future of work is in-person and collaborative

In my experience, in-person community events seem inherently to capture many benefits of the “human economy” that responsive/agile companies aim for. They spark a kind of creativity less available in online meetings, encouraging innovations in how to approach the ever-increasing unpredictability of business: to rethink the role of purpose, networks, individual empowerment, organizational experimentation, and transparency in organizations

There are reasons why community-based events are important:

  • Live events can address different learning styles. For instance, experience design that includes “whole-body participation” is baked into some Responsive Conference presentations; we discourage passive sit-and-listen talks. The neuroscience of learning shows that we learn better when information is presented in multisensory channels. (In the leadership workshops I run, I purposefully include physical movement.)
  • Neuroscience has also established that humans are social creatures and that our brains quite literally can think and problem solve better when we have positive social experiences (such as being in a group of like-minded others).
  • Interacting with new and different people amplifies the benefits of social learning. It opens the door to lively, fresh exchange of ideas. We know that diverse teams spur more innovation, and that there’s a multiplier effect tapping into collective intelligence. And while the studies demonstrating this are longitudinal (tracked over time), simply being in novel situations (interacting with new people in new environments) refreshes thinking too.

A group discussing the future of work

Why are these benefits important now?

I could cite many reasons: to balance the social costs and losses of remote work, to improve engagement especially of remote workers, to shake things up by introducing fun and novelty. But one maybe more philosophical idea seems worth highlighting...

The Future of Work is an unpredictable landscape. It’s why we call some companies “responsive” — it refers to a readiness to respond to current and emerging business realities. Across the board, what we see is that companies are recognizing this need. If you’re reading this, you’re familiar with the changing nature of the business landscape, regarding tech, employee-work relationships, impacts of disruptive/exponential technologies, flattened hierarchies within organizations and shifting value chains between organizations and industries.

The responsive conference 2016 uncovers the future of work

In short, the “Future of Work” is upon us now, and we need innovations at all scales, to maximize opportunities before us: to ensure that new technologies improve society, that the planet’s resources are used efficiently, and that meaningful work contributes to growing markets and to human fulfillment. For Responsive organizations, these aren’t theoretical or lofty concerns but quite practical ones.

It just makes intuitive sense to support the spread of Responsive principles with unconference-type live gatherings, where people come together in the context of a Responsive approach—exploring transparency, empowerment, and purpose with an open invitation to challenge ideas and to experiment.

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If you’re interested in learning more, join us for the 2nd Annual Responsive Conference. Steve Hopkins will take the stage to describe Culture Amp’s journey in implementing a “Team of Teams” organizational structure.


Robin Zander, Director of Responsive Conference, is an author, strategist, and performance coach whose diverse career history ranges from management consulting to circus acrobatics. Robin runs the work-design studio Spring Space, speaks and leads groups internationally, and hosts the podcast The Robin Zander Show, where he interviews exceptional performers to understand how individuals and organizations can accelerate change.

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