Collaborating virtually has become a standard option for distributed, hard to schedule teams. Over the years, we’ve developed and refined a tried-and-true approach to maximizing these virtual sessions, and we wanted to share the strategies and techniques we utilize so your virtual sessions are as effective as possible.
Watch this video to see our virtual sessions in action, and then keep reading for our checklist to keep your virtual sessions humming.
Preparing for the Virtual Session
Any working session, but especially a virtual one, needs to be about moving forward, not catching everybody up, so preparation is critical to the outcome.
- Prework is the springboard: We engage the team with right-sized prework as an input to the session, which insures these sessions are honoring what’s known today and also moving the thinking forward.
- Break patterned thinking with new frames: We then synthesize the prework and analyze any existing materials ahead of time, and we map these insights to bespoke strategic frames, which brings new clarity to the challenge. This helps everyone engage with the subject in new ways, see new insights, and identify new possibilities.
- Don’t waste in-person time on what can be read beforehand: We send prereads to level-set the team ahead of time, so the time together is spent doing rather than introducing, updating, or reviewing.
- Elevate the experience by providing hard copies: We also sometimes prepare workshop kits for participants and mail them out in advance, so they have the best of an analog and digital experience. The gesture sends a clear signal that this isn’t your typical video conferencing session and that deeper participation is necessary. These printed templates are also great for individual processing as an input to the collaborative activities and helpful for people to orient themselves during the session when on-screen work zooms in or out.
- Test the tech: We send out links to the digital tools ahead of time, so people can test access and firewalls, which minimizes the potential day-of disruptions.
Facilitating the Virtual Session
Virtual workshops are not a place to disseminate information. For dissemination, we provide pre-reading. In-session, everyone should be asked to create content, make trade-off choices, and otherwise be an author during every portion. Here’s how we make that happen.
- Have tech support ready: Someone will have a connectivity or technical issue. We have someone standing by to work with them one-to-one to resolve it so the facilitators and participants can stay on track.
- Keep it to a half day (or less): While our in-person workshops last all day, virtual meetings have a different physical and mental reality for participants, and we’ve found the sweet spot is between 3 and 4 hours.
- Turn the cameras on: Everybody in the session needs to be all-in, which means video cameras are on and everyone is actively participating in all activities.
- Get visual: We use virtual whiteboards (Miro is our favorite) where the team can easily contribute ideas visually, align, and the facilitators can quickly process and synthesize the ideas in-session.
- Mix it up every 30 min: People get restless sitting at a computer screen, and unlike a live workshop, there is less physical social norming to keep people engaged. Brisk pacing is key. We try to change the activity and format every 30 minutes.
- Create space for silent processing and idea generation
- Mix that up with group discussions and additions.
- Use breakout video conference rooms for deeper, focused discussions to encourage divergent thinking. Just be sure to have a facilitator for each group (or one rotating) to keep everything on track.
- Use real-time polls and dot voting for instant feedback, so the team can quickly see what everyone thinks and make decisions accordingly.
- Take advantage of the fact that everyone is on a digital interface by utilizing video, audio clips, and simulations. The all-digital format makes these elements seamless.
- Take breaks, we try to do 10 minutes every hour.
Following Up After the Session
Nothing ruins the momentum post working session like not hearing anything for weeks. Make sure your follow-up is prompt and meaningful.
- Share the proof of what they consumed and produced: We like to follow-up asap with the artifacts that were inputs and outputs to the session. They need tangible proof of their progress, and a deck is still the dominant currency.
- Document the “so what” to keep the momentum: Finally, we synthesize all the ah-has and decisions into a clear, tactical, and shareable roadmap for the team.
We hope our approach to virtual working sessions provides some fodder as you consider how to stay productive and move your work forward.