The COVID-19 pandemic is impacting organisations across the world, leaving many organisations figuring out how they can continue their operations amid social distancing requirements that mean working from home is often the only option.
But given these restrictions, how can people stay connected to colleagues and customers, regardless of where they are working?
At Nous, we have a collaborative and productive culture across staff in 15 locations worldwide. Whether working from home in Tokyo, Hamburg or Toronto, or at our main offices in Australia and the UK, our teams connect successfully. Online tools enable it and an abundance of goodwill assures it.
There are a few important things to remember when connecting with clients at this time:
- People may be distracted and misunderstand even simple requests. You may need to give clients more time to ask questions, to run through agendas or to trial new tools before doing it live.
- People may be more hesitant before making decisions and taking actions. Be reassuring and calm. Help them think through information, risk and mitigation so they can make wise decisions. Keep communications simple, with the least amount of data needed to convey the intended message.
- Survival instincts can override normal behaviour. Be prepared for biased reactions and overreactions. Be calm and patient. Have empathy for the person while also being clear, confident and steady about next steps.
The good news is the basics of engagement remain the same for remote working. Whether you are running a project meeting, an online workshop or in in-person session, the three Ps for any audience engagement remain: plan, prepare and present.
Take care of logistics
Software. Make sure your clients or other session participants can access and use your preferred communication platform, whether it is Zoom, Skype, or another. For hardware, check that your participants have appropriate headsets or hands-free audio that they can use without disturbing others.
Think like a producer. While you might not be emulating the ABC’s Q+A, consider the online experience you want participants to have. What resources will you need to make it succeed?
Get in the zone. Take account of participants’ time zones when scheduling a meeting.
Get on the same page. Share a clear agenda with participants beforehand that includes:
- session objectives
- session structure (what will happen, for how long, who will lead)
- who will attend
- what to prepare or bring (remember power cables so devices don’t shut down part-way through)
- links for the main meeting and any break-out meetings, along with a number to call for support.
Manage the space
Share guidelines on how you will manage the virtual space, including describing how you will check in with people (by location or in alphabetical order are good options). This guards against forgetting someone, helps set the expectation that everyone will be asked to contribute and manages any awkward silences or people speaking over each other. Consider using online breakout groups that make sense in terms of people’s different locations and perspectives.
Hope for the best and prepare for the worst
Prepare a contingency plan in case of technology issues. At a minimum, include a contact phone number and email address in case participants have problems. Collect participants’ contact details to reach them during a meeting in case of platform or connectivity failures. Even the best technical platforms can be temperamental when depending on home internet services.
Allocate some important roles
Successful online engagement requires clear roles. If you try to replicate the fluidity of face-to-face engagement it can result in confusion for participants. Common roles include:
- the meeting lead, who anchors facilitation and manages the interaction between participants
- a local lead, who supports breakout groups if required
- a session producer, who coordinates access to the technology, particularly if a session has many people in many locations.
If you are new to online facilitation, consider asking a colleague to be ready to give you feedback both in the moment (in case of volume or technical issues that you have not noticed) and after the session by sharing reflections on what you did well and possible improvements to try.
Choose the right tools
Whatever blend of tools you choose, remember practice is your friend! Practice with your support team, so that on the day you are relaxed and confident about how things will work.
Consider the interaction you need:
- For most meetings, workshops and other facilitated communication, video-conferencing platforms such as Zoom and Skype are widely used and have many features that bring these events to life. Microsoft Teams is emerging as a powerful substitute for these platforms. Do not forget to record your session as it can be valuable for future use.
- Increase participant engagement with online polling to respond to challenges, identify priorities, submit questions and vote on options. Tools such as Slido, ParticiPoll and Stormboard are proven performers, and available cheaply.
- For working together in the moment, try running the video conference in parallel with collaborative tools such as Microsoft Teams, Slack, Trello or Microsoft Planner.
Brief the support crew
Make sure all participants have access to information beforehand and have prepared. Do not rely on email; if possible, get on the phone and talk through things. Ask participants to keep their phone handy in case the internet fails.