Supporting each other through communities of practice

As with a lot of teams, coronavirus forced Co-op Digital into remote working this week and for the foreseeable future.   

We’re physically disconnected from our colleagues, and many of us are understandably feeling more anxious than usual. But, despite being asked to physically isolate ourselves, we do not have to work on our own. 

What a community of practice is 

A community of practice brings together a group of people who share the same profession – whether that’s content writers, engineers, user researchers – to share learnings and solve problems.  

Our communities of practice operate in safe spaces.  

When we say ‘safe space’ we’re not referring to a physical location. We mean a group of people who have similar values. People who commit to being supportive and respectful of each other – whether that’s during a meeting or call, interacting online, or working within our teams. 

We use our community of practice meetups to ask for help, critique each other’s work and ask questions. We admit when we don’t know, when we’re unsure and when things have gone wrong. 

Our communities encourage us to listen without interruption and understand other perspectives. They are spaces for security and empathy. 

They just got more important 

Staying in touch and supporting each other is now more important than ever. Our communities of practice are helping us to do this. They allow us to connect with our peers, be more creative within our work and deal better with uncertainty. 

During difficult times when we feel less in control, we tend to create deeper connections with others as natural instincts of empathy, kindness and cooperation intensify. Communities of practice are increasingly becoming a place for moral support and compassion too. 

Apart, but not alone 

This week, several teams ran communities of practice remotely. Here’s some of the feedback on them: 

Content design the content community worked around some tech issues. “‘I know it was plan C – but time-boxed Slack chats are actually pretty good!… I’ve found this really helpful, thank you.” said Rebekah Barry.  And content community lead, Hannah Horton says she thinks “community is more important than ever, but we’re going to need to think more creatively about how we work together and support each other.”

DeliveryRachael Shah “was a marvellous host” says Neil Vass. 

Engineering – started with team updates before several lightning talks and moving on to remote pair programming breakout sessions. 

Business analysists – “The topic of conversion involved how we’ve found this week – something I’ve been experiencing in other team meetings too. It’s felt super supportive,” agile business analyst Katherine Welch says.

Screen grab of video call involving Chris Winkley, Katherine, Soraya Hassanzadeh, Gary Brown. Plus a tiny Liam Cross in the bottom right.

Here’s Chris Winkley, Katherine, Soraya Hassanzadeh, Gary Brown dialling into the call. Plus a tiny Liam Cross in the bottom right.

Service design – Principal researcher Lucy Tallon said there was “loads of energy – a good break from business as usual!”  

Supporting through uncertainty 

Our communities encourage us to be open about our uncertainty. This can be uncomfortable and scary.  We might be worried about what people think. The emotional exposure can make us feel insecure and vulnerable. 

But having the courage to admit our mistakes and show our fragility, means we can deal with uncertainty better in future. It can reduce anxiety and fear when we’re dealing with new experiences, and it can help us learn how to deal with discomfort – both personally and professionally. 

Becoming comfortable with discomfort can help create a culture where people are more prepared to: 

  • work collaboratively  
  • take risks
  • try new things 
  • push the boundaries of what’s gone before 

And in doing so we come up with innovative solutions. As Brene Brown, Research Professor at the University of Houston, says:


Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change… To create is to make something that has never existed before. There’s nothing more vulnerable than that.

– Brene Brown

Using courage to grow communities

By having the courage to be open and truthful about our insecurities and uncertainties, we also become more relatable. When we feel heard and understood, we tend to connect with those around us and we grow as a community. 

We can do this by: 

  • listening intently 
  • paying attention 
  • empathising with our colleagues 
  • showing compassion 
  • giving reassurance  

By doing this we remind those around us that we’re all trying to achieve a shared goal – that we’re all in this together. 

Here’s to everyone who’s offered comfort and shown compassion at your community of practice this weekthank you. 

Joanne Schofield
Lead content designer

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