Alli Marshall has been a Vital Partners client since 2007. She is a graphic facilitator and the principal consultant of Strix Insights. During COVID-19 restrictions her business has transitioned completely to online facilitation to support turbo-charged virtual collaboration. You can learn more about her remote meeting facilitation services here.
Even in B.C. times (i.e., before COVID-19) we were all very familiar with the pitfalls of remote meetings.
Our current reality means that remote collaboration is a necessity. In lieu of the communal kitchen box of donuts, I am delighted to share ten tasty treats to elevate your virtual collaboration outcomes:
Book a daily huddle – if your team does not already run a daily huddle, now is definitely the right time to get one running remotely. Use a doodle poll to find the best time of day to catch your team for a 10-15 minute high quality online connection. Plan on a 45-60 minute pre-meeting with your team to set ground rules, intentions and to finalize your agenda. You can find lots of online resources and example Daily Huddle agendas, including this 3 minute video from Verne Harnish.
Get the technology working – nothing kills the buzz of team collaboration more than an awkward connection with failing audio or frozen video. Do not compromise on technology frustrations, and if it just isn’t working, pause the meeting ASAP and take your fix offline to get help. If you have not already been meeting remotely or are switching to a different platform, don’t assume it will work seamlessly and be sure to schedule a 15 minute dry-run meeting with your full team to test everything first.
Less is more with online meetings – our attention spans and potential distractions (shout out to all the kids out of school and childcare right now!) are reduced in online meetings. Consider booking shorter online meetings to address specific goals rather than trying to jam everything into one meeting. Studies show our brains don’t love doing the mental gymnastics required to switch between thinking styles (e.g., divergent brainstorming and strategic thinking vs. crushing a long list of tactical coordination decisions) so you will get better outcomes by bundling different types of thinking into different meetings. Book shorter meetings and then ask for everyone’s commitment to be fully present for the set time period.
Take the time to individually connect as human beings – it could take up to 10 minutes, but I promise your productivity and outcomes will be better if you do not skip this step, especially during these distressing times. Again, there are lots of creative check-in questions you can google online or you could even rotate responsibilities to generate check-in questions. Here are a few to get your creative juices flowing: “what is one small triumph in your life since we last spoke?” “if your mood today was the weather, what would it be?” “if you could live in any era, which one would you choose and why?” “what’s the story behind your name?” – this is a great opportunity to get to know each other better while also setting a positive tone for the work that will follow.
Follow the best practices of what works face-to-face– this includes sending a timeboxed agenda in advance with any requests for pre-thinking or other pre-meeting prep and designating vital roles such as the facilitator, time-keeper and also note-taker. Run a parking lot for off-topic discussions that could also include prioritizing when the team will choose to talk about important or urgent parking lot items. Visit Think Productive Canada’s blog for more tips on meeting etiquette, productivity and managing stress. Note that they have two free webinars running next week on March 24th and 25th on how to improve productivity while working from home.
Set yourself up to win – after your good work in #3, you have a clear purpose and outcome for your meeting. You may also have thought about how you want participants to feel, what they need to know (this might be part of the pre-work), and ultimately what you want to them to do – what are the potential calls to action from your meeting? Make sure your agenda design and supporting materials include a solid process to get your outcome across the finish line. Consider using an offline survey before or after the meeting to help you progress.
Spice up your virtual connection – a beautiful slide deck, visual templates, interactive polling and small teams or breakout rooms are just a few options to get the best participation from your attendees.
Ask great questions – simple questions like “what do you need?” “what is most important to you about that?” and “what one thing should we do differently?” can be extra-powerful in a remote setting to go deeper in your dialogue.
Be curious about opportunities for improvement – ask each person to rate the overall meeting as well as their own participation and ask “what can we do differently for the next time to increase our scores?” The plus/minus/delta or plus/delta framework could also be a useful tool for reflection. Recognize that low scores are just opportunities for improvement on your learning curve.
Don’t be afraid to have fun – this is a time to honour the things you love about your workplace culture and adapt them to a virtual setting, whether that includes sharing jokes, celebrating birthdays, or even spending some of your team time finding ways to give back to others and your community that are in need right now.
Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss these tips and many other ideas to enhance your online collaboration. Our brains are hard-wired to connect, so the efforts you invest into having high quality online meetings will help everyone on your team to retain a sense of positivity, purpose and progress while we navigate the uncertain timelines and impacts of COVID-19.