Every day we’re reading more about offices closing and events being canceled. We’re glad everyone is being cautious and staying safe during these unprecedented circumstances. As we navigate this unusual and shifting landscape of work, we’re contemplating how to help keep human connection alive in well in online spaces. Over the last twenty years, we’ve tracked emerging technologies and have a well-informed perspective about what works and what doesn’t in the virtual meeting space–both related to digital platforms and (more importantly) processes that support meaningful interactions online. In the first of our three-part series we offer our top 3 tips for facilitating an engaging remote meeting. Next we dive into the tools we use and our favorite process models.
1. Use visuals
Visuals help people process information and clarify abstract ideas.
Hire a digital scribe. Digital scribes help capture conversations visually that in turn can be shared as reflection points and as a visual wrap-up and artifact of what was discussed once the meeting has concluded.
Share documents for co-creation: Shared documents add a layer of productivity and help to keep people, literally, on the same page. To help people stay actively involved create a shared document where emergent ideas can be captured, questions surfaced, and agendas set for the next meeting… it’s about engagement and allowing participants equal space to share thoughts and ideas.
Add an element of play: Play adds a sense of creativity to work and can foster a sense of shared culture. To help close the distance and make it more personal participants can bring in an element from their own context. Experiment with playful activities like a virtual dance party, or have everyone grab (or make) a hat to wear. We’ve invited participants to grab a blanket and put it over their computer for a blanket fort meeting. In addition to playful activities, you can weave in centering practices like a guided meditation, or moment of silence.
2. Make space for social connection
Serendipitous moments of social connection are easy when people are working side by side. In a virtual setting, the same opportunities for bonding are there, but need to be accessed more intentionally.
Re-invent the check-in: If you’re in a large group it can be hard to know who’s present. Take a moment to share something that will help participants feel anchored. Try this: Invite people to type in chat an answer to the question, “What are you excited to talk about today?” Take five minutes to read responses. Or, have people grab a piece of paper and draw their check in. It can be figurative or abstract.
Use clever icebreakers: Distance makes it difficult to build rapport. Virtual icebreakers help participants break down communication barriers. This can be a fun task (take a picture of your shoes and share); a social question (if you weren’t on this call what would you be doing); or something that involves the whole body (a quick round of charades).
Create a dedicated non-work chat channel for sharing cat memes. A tool like Slack can help foster a sense of banter that allows for a quick and easy check-in with colleagues.
3. Be organized and clear
People are working hard to readjust and acclimate to new ways of working, which can be stressful. Being organized can help everyone keep focused and stay engaged. Here are three ways to stay on track:
Have an agenda that everyone can and access: Share it before the meeting and be open to new items that can be followed up on.
Honor participants’ time: Appointing a time-keeper. It can be difficult for the host to manage the discussion and watch the clock to help manage the agenda.
Create a process around how people will communicate: What signals can participants use to indicate their desire to speak? Planning these, and laying out expectations, helps keep the flow of the meeting and people feeling respected and heard.
Stay tuned for Part 2, when we dive into the tools we love and are using to support our virtual meetings. We’d love to hear what you have tried in the comments below!