Whether we’re finding it straightforward or not; we’re needing to use digital tools to engage with large groups of people and to collaborative over really important matters. Five months into this becoming a routine method means we’re becoming familiar with using technology as a substitute for many engagements that would only ever be considered as needing to be face to face.
So; what are some of things we’re learning?
It can be tiring – keep that in mind during the planning.
Fatigue from online meetings is felt by us all. They’re intense. We often have limited breaks between calls, and during calls we have a heightened awareness that we are being watched all the time – and others feel the same pressure.
It’s very different from being in a room – bear with everyone and be patient.
Although you’re likely sat in your personal space, you have no personal space. That may sound a strange thing to say. You’re many miles apart from each other and yet closer than you would be if you were sat in the same room. Our video feeds are stacked on top of each other – and we’re obsessed with seeing as many people as we can on the same screen at the same time. There’s no scanning the room to watch the body language of others in the meeting, where you can only truly take in detailed observations of a few or cursory observations of many. You see everyone at the same time, on a relatively small display, right in front of you. You see everyone; and yet you don’t really see everyone.
There’s a whiteboard; but there isn’t really a whiteboard – give some thought to how you engage.
Sure; our online conferencing tools have whiteboard functionality – but they’re not really a whiteboard. If you’re the sort of person who likes to move about in a meeting or workshop, and get creative on a wall – you can’t. You can try and replicate this with sharing a screen, or using an online whiteboard – but, normally, someone is in control. That’s not engagement – that’s a directed session or a briefing.
… and we refuse to mention the mute issue.
But we’re also learning some new things about each other – and that should be cherished.
We’re letting colleagues in to our homes – not something that happens too often. We’re meeting colleagues’ family members and kids. We’re adapting to develop an understanding that we each have other things going on in our lives that need to blend with work; now more than ever.
So; what are our top tips for achieving impactful engagement?
- Plan carefully: make sure there are regular breaks between sessions.
- Still break the ice: just as you would when you arrive in a physical room; make time to check on everyone, and to make sure everyone knows each other.
- Check at the outset that everyone is comfortable with the technology: this will become less of an issue over time, but make sure people know how to use the platform, so that they can engage. Make sure everyone can see and hear each other – and give some thought in advance to how someone can access technical support if they need it.
- Avoid multitasking and stay focused: just as you should if you were in the same room – don’t get distracted by the notifications (or switch them off) and engage in the conversation. If you don’t have the time to do that; don’t join the session – there’s no point in you being there.
- Make the sessions shorter: even if that means you need more than one session – don’t forget, they’re intense.
- Use collaboration tools alongside the meeting platform: engage the group by using shared spaces that each person can access, and contribute to, independently; rather than just sharing a screen and having one person direct the content.
- Pause more: keep everyone focused and on the same page, and make time for open discussion – engaging everyone like you would if you were in the same room.
Aside from our online meeting platforms such as Cisco Webex, GoToMeeting, Microsoft Teams and Zoom; there’s a number of useful collaboration platforms that can be used alongside, to achieve better engagement between remote and distributed teams, during and outside sessions. Here’s a few:
- Miro: a collaborative online whiteboard platform, designed for remote and distributed teams
- Mural: enables innovative teams to think and collaborate visually to solve important problems
- Microsoft 365 Planner: a simple, visual way to organise teamwork
- Trello: collaboration tool that organises your projects into boards
Good luck, be patient and get in touch if we can help to develop your approach to remote and distributed team engagement.