Best practices for online teams collaboration

Jun 14, 2021 | virtual meetings, virtual teams

Written by

BarbaraCV

BarbaraCV

Founder #virtualspacehero

Abril Canale

Abril Canale

Content Writer

This year has been tough for many of us as we did not have much experience in virtual teamwork ?. Still, it also showed us that virtual teams work, but we still need to get better at leading, collaborating and communicating virtually. One of the main questions we are asked on a weekly basis is “How to increase the feeling of togetherness on your virtual team by creating a productive and enjoyable virtual workspace?”

This blog article summarises the main points from a LinkedIn Live with Lisette Sutherland (Collaboration Superpowers, Author of Work Together Anywhere) about what we need to consider in our virtual work. 

Lisette Sutherland

Lisette Sutherland

Director at Collaboration Superpowers

Table of contents

What are important aspects for seamless online collaboration?

Build Trust
Years ago it was not as common as today to work remotely because we did not have that many tools nore the technology we have now. But, another reason was always distrust as managers were afraid that people would not work as much at home as they do in the office.
Now that we are forced to work remotely, there is no way to escape. What we see in many organisations is that people are working even harder than they would do at the office and, actually overworking and burnout is an important issue organisations need to look at. Remote workers are working app. 30% more than their office counterparts, and the manager’s trust issue of course causes tremendous frustration inside teams.
Trust is one of the basic pillars for remote work and therefore we recommend to follow these trust building guidelines. Opt for:
Reliability: means you rely the work will get done
Consistency: means you are doing what you say you are going to do in constant high quality
Responsiveness: means that you always ensure quick and high quality answers.

Have a Team Agreement and be clear on norms
The role of the leader is to set the direction, set the goal and then get literally “out of the way” so the team can work on the next steps. The team leader removes roadblocks and impediments, and makes sure that the team has everything they need to succeed. To be successful in virtual teams it is important to have team agreements.
If the team feels that their manager has got their back, then they are likely to give more. As a leader it is important to set up an environment where people know they are going to be supported when needed. Discuss with the team how they are going to work together, so that all the members will have a concordance and commitment on their ways of working.
Explicit norms are especially important for a virtual team. Choose one or two focus areas as a start, and allocate team time to create a few norms for each. Make sure to talk through with your team how to sustain each norm, and what the implications are if the norm is violated. Caucus your team to find out where they feel norms are most needed, and set aside discussion time to draft them as a team, or ask for a few volunteers to do this as a subteam. Periodically check in for aspects of team collaboration and communication where norms are still needed or existing ones may need tweaking.

  • Team communications:
    o Team meetings
    o Use of asynchronous conference areas
    o Use of email, instant messaging, phone and texting
    o How and where documents will be created, distributed, accessed and shared
  • Work-life balance, scheduling time, being accessible, do not disturb time
  • Decision making
  • Priority setting
  • Status reporting
  • Surfacing issues, navigating through conflict
  • Establishing work hours
  • Asking for help
  • Offering to help

Provide the Tools and Training
Given that there are million tools out there, it is critical for remote teams to understand beforehand where to find the information they are going to need, which platforms they are going to use, how they can use them, how they are going to communicate with their colleagues, and how do they know what other people in the organisation are doing. Outlining that from the beginning will save you a lot of time and will also help the team members to be comfortable on their daily tasks, when working with other members of the organisation and ultimately building trust because of the clarity.

Mindset-shift: recognise the remote field as a new medium of work
Whether you are a team leader or a person working remotely, the biggest aspect to consider is that in person and remote are two different work mediums.
When we started working remotely, what happened was that we took what we were doing in person and we just converted it to the virtual space, but conversion does not always work well – we need transformation. For example, our online meeting often takes longer than it would in person because we express ourselves differently and there are other technological aspects to be considered as well.
In the virtual space we have different ways of building trust, different ways of giving feedback and the structure of our workdays may change, so leaders need to recognise that this is a new way of working and support people in their virtual realities.

Interested in communication in virtual teams? We are involved in too many meetings every day because we were focusing so much on synchronous communication, as we do not know how to communicate well asynchronously. Learn more about this in our conversation with Molood Ceccarelli from RemoteForever.

What tools and techniques can we use to foster a feeling of trust, togetherness and increase camaraderie in a hybrid team?

As we previously said, leaders need to make sure team members have the rules set up but are also trained and have the tools available to work efficiently and effectively. But what tools can we use if we start from scratch, and also want to create a trusted work environment?

?Use efficient communication tools
Emails are an important tool, however you need a group messaging platform to communicate more effectively with your team and have a call tool available for discussions that need more time.
To get the Responsiveness mentioned in the building blocks of trust, you can use Microsoft Teams which has it all built into the  same platform, and/or use Zoom for video calls and combine it with other chat platforms such as Slack, to have both ways of communicating with your team (asynchronous and synchronous). 

?Consider Virtual Whiteboarding
One of the things we usually do in-person and do not apply remotely is to get a whiteboard and draw your ideas while explaining it to others, or to design something that can be shown to them afterwards. You can also apply this virtually, ideating the ideas or drawing workflows in a shared board, to be clearer when communicating and allow the other team members to add their thoughts there as well. Some online visual collaboration platforms available for teamwork are Microsoft Teams or Zoom Whiteboard or Miro as a much more advanced collaboration tool.

?Apply Online Project Management tools
When working in a virtual team, it is crucial to track and visualise your work and what others are doing. This practice shall not be used as a control mechanism, but rather as a tool to foster transparency, understanding and therefore create trust. To make tasks visible to everybody, a project management tool such as Trello and Yammer that allow you to add tasks and also add the status of them on the board will be needed.

? Consider Virtual Offices
If you want to offer something really different and provide your team with the feeling you are in a “real” office, there are different virtual platforms offering these services (e.g. WorkInSync, Teemyco). A virtual office is a digital, simulated office space equipped with collaboration and communication tools to replicate a physical office space. Virtual offices can be the collaborative hub for virtual teams that don’t have the ability to meet in person daily. While virtual teams can connect using internal communications software or video conferencing software, virtual offices provide structure and a framework for interaction that wouldn’t otherwise exist. Within virtual offices, team members can see which of their coworkers are “in the office,” deliberately bringing teams together and providing spaces to interact.

Virtual Offices help to create a space where your virtual team members can work together and create stronger bonds as a team. But also when you want to ask something very quickly there is no need of setting up a meeting for that, you can just have a chat in real time.

?Start with Why
Every time we are doing something or for every meeting that you host, you want to know what the purpose is. To know the answer, the first question that comes up is “Why are we here?”, “What are we hoping to accomplish in this meeting today?”.
Even at the beginning of your emails, Why is always the first question that needs to be asked, as it will put your objective in a way that you and the other person will know exactly why you are writing it. Then we should focus on the answer as this is where we need to keep the approach.

?Give yourself and your team a break
Leading in a challenging environment can be complex for many of us, and during Covid leaders had to deal with these new tools whether they wanted to or not. Remote work during a pandemic is not the normal remote work, so when we are telling leaders to focus on why, we should also focus on giving people time to be at home, with their kids online schooling, as just the fact that we are in a pandemic can have stressful times.

?BUT: Minimise the number of tools
It is good to experiment with new tools and platforms that simplify your daily tasks, however we need to try to avoid overwhelming our team with too many platforms. Even if these platforms are out there to help you save your time, if you have to login to different tools every time you have an update or need to track something for your team, this can end up being the opposite and will require a lot of time from you. Think about your tasks and real needs to be efficient in your work, and minimise the number of tools you are using to the very minimum you need.

“We are always experimenting with a lot of different tools because our clients have different IT infrastructures, but still have to keep it simple with three basic tools that you need to communicate”. – Barbara Covarrubias

What if you have a new team member in your virtual or hybrid team?

Onboarding is crucial in an in-presence setting and even more important when working in a virtual setting. There are a few aspects to consider when onboarding new team members!

?Set a proactive onboarding process
Onboarding is where a lot of companies drop the ball in person, and onboarding remotely is a bigger ball to drop because you have less context with that person. With onboarding processes you want to set out very quickly what success and failure looks like, and then put feedback loops in place as fast as possible. This is your chance to impress your new employees, and you show them your support during their first steps inside the organisation.
The aim of onboarding is that the new team member gets to know the organisation, the vision, mission and goals, the people they will work with, their position, the tools they have available and how to be successful within their new role. Building this process in a proactive way where your new team member has a good reason to contact all the people they need, will speed up the way they will go through their first weeks while working through their tasks.

A great platform that can be used is Trello, an intuitive and simple board where you can add the tasks to be completed, as for example the tasks to have a new employee all set up, and assign these to the person that works on that particular task, and this way the newbee will know how the internal process is, the status of their set up and meet people inside the company.

?Assign a buddy
A buddy system is a great HR tool when it comes to employee onboarding. Implemented well, the buddy system supports an immediate personal connection between new hires, their teams and the wider organization. The buddy must be aware about the importance of having someone dedicated to checking in on new hires which at the end supports long-term employee engagement and organisational commitment. 
You can also choose to leave it up to the new team member to set up a virtual coffee meeting with the new team and therefore demonstrating proactivity. However, not everybody is comfortable with this approach, so it is really helpful when they know that they have someone to go to when they need support, they can quickly ask a question if needed or just want to chat to someone.  It can be really easy to feel disconnected or feel isolated. A buddy system supports your team leaders with their challenging task of leading virtual or hybrid teams.

? Want to know “How to design a virtual onboarding event for newcomers?”

How can you spark reflection, collaboration and learning in virtual teams?

? Have regular retrospectives with the team
As a leader, we need to combat the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ syndrome, meaning that a person stops thinking about something or someone if they do not see that person for a period of time. In the virtual space, taking time to talk with your team members individually and as a team all together is of utmost importance. A retrospective is a meeting with the aim to identify how to improve teamwork by reflecting on what worked, what didn’t, and why. Usually, retrospectives are done within a team every couple of weeks or at the end of a project milestone.
We often have too many team members for a normal team leadership, but still something we need to dedicate time to, and in the end it pays back. Usually, software teams have retrospectives built into their processes. These teams normally do it at least once every one or two weeks and it is amazing how much comes out from each session. Go and learn from your software/IT colleagues and see how retrospectives might fit your own team.

? Give and receive constant feedback
More and more leaders are getting the message: in order to be effective, you must have regular 1:1 meetings with each of your direct reports. Managers and employees rely on those 1:1 meetings to stay on top of the details of every ongoing project, spot small problems before they turn into bigger ones, and create an upward spiral of success that benefits everyone. The problem is that many managers struggle to make their 1:1:s effective. Even if they are taking the time to regularly meet with their people, these leaders are simply not getting the results they need.
Having those 1:1 conversations gives your team members the opportunity to bring up their challenges, drivers, motivations or concerns. The team members will appreciate your interest, and the 1:1 conversations will support you to build a stronger relationship with your team.

? Merit Money as a team motivation game/tool
Using money for motivational purposes is a controversial issue, just think about the effectiveness of extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. Thoug, a great technique that helps to have better teamwork but also a high level of trust between colleagues, is the so-called Merit Money. Every month each team member gets points that they will have to give to other colleagues as they want, for any reason. The only rule is to not keep the points for themselves, and the way you earn points has to be transparent.

For example, throughout the month you can give all the points to someone who is helping you out with a specific task, or split between different colleagues for being nice with you, or simply for making you laugh when you really need it. So every month you would get points from your colleagues and you learn what they like about working with you, and if you didn’t get any points, then it would give you the opportunity to ask if you need to “work out loud” a little bit more. The purpose of this activity is to give people the possibility to show appreciation, give feedback and also have sort of a gamified approach in your team.

“Very often we underestimate leadership. Studies have shown that usually leaders are only spending 20% on leadership because they are so much involved in operational tasks, but it is still our choice to take that time for real leadership tasks”. Barbara Covarrubias

? Plan your meetings efficiently
Many people still send an email to invite you to a meeting, maybe with but sometimes even without all the details needed to connect for you. Though, e-mails are not calendar invites.
In any kind of business whether it’s virtual or not, we have to consider the preparation of the meeting details in advance to avoid unforeseen delays. Having a meeting agenda, assigning a facilitator beforehand and sending out calendar invites are small details that allow the organisation of a group of people to get on time and have a smooth meeting.
Besides, you need to ask yourself at least the first three of these seven questions:

  1. Identify what is the purpose of the meeting and who’s presenting.
  2. Before inviting for a meeting, make sure there is a clear goal in mind for everyone.
  3. Think about what you want to happen during the meeting: Do you need people to come together and brainstorm? Do you need to present important information to the team?
  4. What needs to be discussed and in what order?
  5. How much time do you allocate to each agenda point?

?Interested in all around virtual meetings? Please check out our article about “How can I run better meetings in the virtual space?” or “How to encourage people to actually participate in virtual meetings?”

?Connect with people from the beginning
Every facilitator has a different style and mindset, however as a virtual meeting facilitator or virtual leader, you need to be very much aware of the way you break the ice and open up the meetings. Have your own way to have a small check-in at the beginning of the meeting to check the other people’s mood and make that connection with them from the start, this will allow you to know how to handle the rest of the meeting.
As a facilitator, make sure you are well prepared with an agenda, start with Why are we here, but also Why every person attending is contributing to that meeting, as it is very important that everybody gets a chance to speak.

? Combat Zoom Fatigue
If you are facilitating meetings, or if you are simply sending a meeting invite, take more breaks and consider giving people a break too. When booking your meetings, create them for 25 minutes instead of 30, and 45 instead of an hour, and take a break in between all the meetings you have. Nowadays it is possible to have it automatically done in your Microsoft Outlook, where you can change the settings to set default short auto-breaks of 5, 10, or 15 minutes off between your meetings.

  1. Stop multitasking. Multitasking takes much more of your energy than you might think and multitasking is also the number 1 reason for mistakes and errors in our work.
  2. Don’t schedule back-to-back meetings. Each calendar setting can be changed: check out to have your default meetings NOT 1 HOUR LONG AS USUAL; but rather change to shorter meetings, e.g. using 25 minutes meetings as the default. When you go for longer meetings the calendar setting can also be changed in such a way that it is only 50 minutes instead of 60 minutes.
  3. Agree on an end time and stick to it. Some teams establish the mandatory question of soft or hard ending at the beginning of the meeting
  4. Turn off your camera when you don’t need it. We know that being on camera all the time is a cognitive overload.
  5. Use asynchronous communication as default, not synchronous!

“When I interviewed NASA, they told me that they don’t go more than 40 minutes without taking a 5 to 10 minute break. They called it virtual fatigue and it was years ago!” – Lisette Sutherland

?Combine physical and virtual tools
When we switched to the virtual space, we also left all other tools aside that we were always using in our in-presence classroom or training. Here are some examples of how to interact and engage by “going physical” again!
Whether you are doing a keynote, a training or a workshop in the virtual space, using physical and virtual tools at the same time helps engage different parts of the brain. For example, you can ask icebreaker questions where people have to write down what they are thinking on a “real” piece of paper or they need to grasp an object that is related to the topic of the training. Consider using objects/props to communicate with your participants differently, as for example using the Collaboration Superpower Cards.

? Use different facilitation techniques
Play around with different techniques and see which one is right for you – be bold, be creative! Consider checking out Liberating Structures which offer an alternative way to approach and design how people work together. There are thirty-three Liberating Structures to replace or complement conventional practices. Liberating Structures used routinely make it possible to build the kind of organization that everybody wants. They are designed to include everyone in shaping next steps.
One technique we recommend to engage everyone simultaneously in generating questions, ideas, and suggestions is 1-2-4-ALL. This facilitation technique builds on everyone’s idea: you go from a smaller to a larger group and therefore it also brings out the quieter voices in the group so everybody’s ideas get heard. The louder voices will even amplify the quieter ones.

“A great online facilitation is a combination of design infrastructure and learning facilitation skills.” – Lisette Sutherland

?For more ideas about Liberating Structures and facilitation in the virtual space, check out our conversation with Henri Lipmanowicz (creator liberating structures).

Conclusion: 

As leaders of virtual or hybrid teams it is very important to constantly check how your team members are doing, give them the possibility to express their concerns, thoughts and give feedback, but also be present when someone asks for help. Support them with the tools but also give them the time they need for a break, as we want them to be more proactive and not to be overwhelmed. 

? Resources?

Bronwyn Fryer (2003): Storytelling That Moves People, HBR Magazine
Covarrubias Venegas, Barbara (2020): How to use objects/props in your virtual training?
Covarrubias Venegas, Barbara/Keischnigg, Katja (2021): How can we create interaction with breakout rooms in our virtual live sessions?  

?  If you want to rewatch the LinkedIn live, you can find it on our #virtualspacehero YouTube channel ?

?  Listen to this episode on the go ?

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Persuasion is the centerpiece of business, training, teaching and event activities. We want to convince customers to buy our company’s products or services, employees and colleagues to go along with a new strategic plan or reorganization, investors to buy (or not to sell) our stock, and engage our learners in our training. But, too often we get lost in boring presentations with too many PowerPoint slides, dry memos, and hyperbolic missives from the corporate communications department (Fryer 2003).

This blog article summarises the main points from a LinkedIn Live with Charles-Louis de Maere (Explorer at Exploration Labs SRL) and Barbara Covarrubias Venegas (Founder #virtualspacehero).

Charles-Louis de Maere

Charles-Louis de Maere

Explorer at Exploration Labs SRL

Table of contents

What is a story or a fairytale? What essential elements do we need to consider? What makes a good story?

A story is the telling of a true or fictional event, in a way that the listener experiences or learns something just by the fact of hearing the story. A story gives information, experience, attitude or a point of view. And like all stories, fairy tales are meant to entertain. Some of them have a good or an evil character, others use dragons or monsters, but not all the stories follow these patterns. Their main purpose is to give morals in a way the audience will remember.

"Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten."  Neil Gaiman

? Think about the context
When picking stories for a workshop, first consider who you are talking to, and what you want to address with them. Once you have this clear, it is important to choose a story that is related to that topic and that people can associate with.

? It is not necessary to reinvent the wheel
Using existing stories is much easier than creating a new one. There are people that have been writing stories for decades and there's loads of wisdom to be learned in their stories. When choosing the story, make sure it is short enough so you can handle it and the story is clear enough for your participants to work on it.

? Consider Cultural Exchange
In our workshops we might find people joining from different parts of the world, and when picking stories or fairy tales there is a cultural element that we also have to be aware of. Stories have to be carefully selected, some of them could convey stereotypes and misconceptions, and depending on your cultural background stories could even have a different meaning. However, if we take a step back and take a deeper intention, there's a shared understanding that can be very interesting when applied in our training. Interact with your audience around the same story and ask them to go through what the story meant for them. Sharing deep thoughts and then analysing how that relates to someone coming from a completely different culture, can be an impactful experience for your workshop!

 “It's an interesting step into inclusion if we start sharing a story, to see how the story resonates with your participants from different cultural backgrounds, to see what they make out of it”.  Charles-Louis de Maere

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Beyond Cinderella and Arielle, what fairytales can we use in our training?

If we tell you about The Three Little Pigs or Little Red Riding Hood, you probably have already heard of them, and we can trigger some themes behind these stories. It is easier to talk about topics you want to address through stories (e.g. communication, hierarchy, conflicts…) rather than talking about these different themes directly. You can either make your participants extract a learning concept from your story, or propose one. Here are a few suggestions about stories and themes you could use in your virtual training:

?“The Emperor's New Clothes” - Hans Christian Andersen
Themes that can be discussed:
- Why is it hard for people to tell the truth, and why are we afraid of doing so? What role does hierarchy play?
- Why do people lie to make a good impression on others? Why do people tend to repeat rumours even if these are not true?
- What type of mask do you carry, if you know things aren’t true but you don’t dare to say it? 

? “The Three languages” - The Brothers Grimm 
This story could be used to talk about:
- What is useful learning?
- How do we measure the impact of learning? 

? “The Snail and the Rosebush” - Hans Christian Andersen
Could be great to debate about:
- How do people deal with their own situations?
- Are we aware of the impact we can make with our actions?
- Do we give the best of us? What have you done for your inner development?

How can we learn to tell stories and use fairytales?

When working in the virtual space sometimes we are stuck in keeping our learners engaged, and using stories for this particular learning setting is a great way for having our audience involved with the topic we want to discuss. Charles-Louis de Maere has been using stories for loads of virtual workshops with a tremendous engagement from people all over the world. He believes that stories connect one another because we get through stories to emotions, and we cannot agree more!

? Run it in a space that you trust
If it is the first time you include a story in your training you might say “I am not ready for this”, but you can start with a small group to see how you feel with storytelling and how your learners interact with your stories. There's no need to go with a big group at first!

? Take a story you know, an existing one, and a short one.
Pick a story that you can relate to and “easily” match with the topic you want to deal with during the workshop. The most important thing when using storytelling is to use something that people can relate to. For example, you have noticed that the people you are working with do not always tell the truth, and you want to discuss that usually the reason is because they are scared. Therefore, “The Emperor's New Clothes'' story might be a good fit to present this subject.

? Plan how to work around with the story
Once you have the story chosen, you can then either ask them to read it ahead of the workshop (if the story is long), read it yourself to the group or you can organise a reading session, e.g. in breakout rooms. This depends on how long the story is and what your objectives are.

? Prepare questions and exercises
We want the group to be engaged and participative during the session, and having questions and exercises prepared in advance will help you to interact with them and relate better to the story.

? Ask the right questions. Sometimes as trainers and facilitators, we ask too complex questions. Ask questions where your participants need to take a different perspective than their own. If you are using “The Emperor's New Clothes” for example, some questions you could ask are: “Which character do you feel the closest to?”, “Do you feel you are like the Emperor? Do you consider that you are more like the child of the story, that is always calling out the truth? Or do you relate more to the Minister, who got into a situation where he could not escape?”.

? Make your participants work together. Another good exercise where the learners can connect with each other is to ask them to find the moment of the story where they see the tipping point. You can then propose to them to work out another ending, or a different way of handling that situation.

If you have an online workshop, consider moving attendees into small groups in breakout rooms, or working on a reflection activity by themselves to then pick it up in a debriefing session to relate it to the context. Learn How can we create interaction with breakout rooms in our virtual live sessions?  in this #virtualspacehero blog post.

Why is persuasion so difficult, and what can you do to set people on fire?

Persuasion is about making your argument successful in a confident and knowledgeable way, and this could be difficult when the person you are trying to persuade does not agree with the logic you are using to convince them. If you need to make an argument about a topic about which you feel very passionate about, don’t use rhetoric. Tell a story instead. Sometimes people are using stories only because it is en vogue. However if the story does not share elements with the context and is not related to the topic to be addressed, then there´s no point in using a story. We want our participants to remember both the story and the context! Here are a few suggestions:

? Read more fairy tales
You usually read fairy tales for your enjoyment but you can also  reflect on them. After reading these stories, people usually empathize with them and continue thinking about it for a longer while, which could be a great exercise for you to also discover the topics you want to address in your training.

“Those that are in the learning and development space and are reading for children, for another adult, or are reading simply for their own joy, we see these stories from a totally different angle. There is another light on the fairytales we read.” Barbara Covarrubias Venegas.

? Stories can be inclusive and engaging
The simplicity goes back to the stories. Stories allow us to talk about complex matters, using a simple structure that everyone understands. Once we start using complex words, we all have different understandings of it, but if we put it in a narrative it can create a common understanding. 

? Use your creativity
When we switched to the virtual space, many left behind all the things we were using in a normal training in presence context. Use the whole virtual space that you have: Think about playing with the visuals including objects, pictures, drawings and even sound effects on our virtual training sessions. Read here more about How to use objects/props in your virtual training?

? Let the others discover it on their own
If you tell a story and then tell your audience immediately what the learning points are, what's the point of it? Invite others to put their thoughts and their perspectives and then you can work from there to have a very powerful session.

 “The one who does the talking, does the learning”  Jen York-Barr

? Be open and learn from your sessions
As facilitators and learning designers, it is an advantage to be curious and have the courage of not knowing what is going to happen in your workshops. It is a good opportunity to learn from the discussions, as they can go in a completely different direction than you might have thought. 

? Understand that it can go wrong
Even if you selected a story carefully, it could still not work out, and it is all right as long as we have that conversation and we use that opportunity to discuss it. Stories have been written in a certain different historical context that is not the one we have today, there were some other truths. If you see something is not working, you can always try something else!

 

WE ARE CURIOUS! What was your favourite fairy tale
Share with us what was your favorite story when you were child or now as an adult! We would love to hear which stories you are thinking of including in your next workshop or training.

? Resources?

Bronwyn Fryer (2003): Storytelling That Moves People, HBR Magazine
Covarrubias Venegas, Barbara (2020): How to use objects/props in your virtual training?
Covarrubias Venegas, Barbara/Keischnigg, Katja (2021): How can we create interaction with breakout rooms in our virtual live sessions? 

?  If you want to rewatch the LinkedIn live, you can find it on our #virtualspacehero YouTube channel ?

?  Listen to our Podcast on the go ?

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Whether it’s an online meeting, a presentation via webinar, or live online training, engagement is the main question on everyone’s mind. Will it be worth my time to attend or will it be an opportunity to check email instead? Interaction is the answer to successful engagement and using the features of the platform is the answer to interaction. However, the features alone do not engage the participants. It is what you choose to do with those features that will make the difference in your next virtual training, webinar, or meeting.

This blog article sums up the main points from a LinkedIn Live talk about interaction and engagement Kassy LaBorie (Virtual Classroom Master Trainer | Blog Virtual Hero Trainer Tips) and Barbara Covarrubias Venegas (Founder #virtualspacehero). 

Kassy LaBorie

Kassy LaBorie

Virtual Classroom Master Trainer

Table of contents

What elements should be considered when you plan your virtual training sessions?

Way too often in the virtual space, the focus lies on the task hand, rather than on the people that have to complete it and their surroundings. Some of the aspects that are often forgotten about or ignored but can make a huge difference in the quality of your virtual training will be listed and explained below.

? Have a clear objective. The used activities and interactions should help the participants reach an objective set at the beginning of the planning process. Of course, this objective is different for every session. It might be better teamwork or better knowledge about a certain software or process. Once the objective is set, the activities that will ensure that it will be reached can be chosen.
? Allow the training to be about the participants. Virtual training sessions are about so much more than smiling on camera or sharing your screen and nice slides. They are about getting the participants engaged and helping them to learn what they need to learn. Truly getting people engaged in a virtual training will only work by involving them as much as possible, letting them work by themselves, and asking them questions.? Set expectations about how to be in the virtual space. Many have been thrown into the cold water during the pandemic when it comes to working virtually. Meaning that many have not learned the proper “etiquette” of the virtual space yet.

“The way we were thrown into the virtual space because of the pandemic certainly did not bring out our best behavior. For example, we are used to being muted all the time, and if participants are asked to unmute themselves, you sometimes  can even see them taking calls or talking to someone in the background.” (Barbara Covarrubias Venegas)

Therefore, it is important to communicate certain expectations to the participants before the virtual training. Specifically, the following points should be included:

  • How are the participants expected to set up their environment? 
  • In what way will the communication with the group take place? e.g. verbally (headphones and a working microphone might be needed), or in a written form
  • Technology set-up: e.g. proper audio settings and internet connections, so other participants are not disturbed, etc.
  • General behavior expectations: e.g. no phone calls are to be taken, etc., participants are invited to be active via chat or audio etc..



For example, before the first session of a #virtualspacehero events our participants receive the following mail with instructions. Besides, we often attach a short video explaining the platform so that all participants feel onboarded from a technological point of view.

***************

In #virtualspacehero events you will be engaging in live conversations with real human beings. Expect to be heard and seen throughout. As with any remote meeting, each participant brings part of the meeting space with them. Please help yourself and others by ensuring you:

? Participate from a quiet place.
? Have a stable broadband internet connection. Optimum bandwidth, i.e. internet speed on your side will be at least 10 Mbps download / upload. You can measure it using speedtest.net.
? Use a headset.
? Turn your video camera on (if possible!).

To optimise your set-up, follow these suggestions on how to have a great video conferencing setup.  Join on a laptop or desktop. The workshops are immersive and experiential; you will have a better experience if you can interact with a variety of tools easily.

What else do we need? ONLY your positive ENERGY ? and positive vibes ?, which is the most important!

***************



? Let the (adult) participants work and give them enough time to do so. Particularly, when working with adults, there is no need to spell out absolutely everything for them. They will have their opinions, stories, and experiences about most topics, and including them in the training will make it way more interactive and memorable. Also, when working with a new software the participants should actually work with it and not just read instructions from a PowerPoint presentation. Training is there, so what needs to be done in the daily work-life once the training is over can be practiced.  However, this approach takes much longer than the frontal presentation, which needs to be considered when designing the time frame for the training.
? Keep it simple. There are so many great interactive tools that can bring a lot of fun and effectiveness into the training. Despite the vast offer, it has to be remembered that including too many different platforms or tools can just be very overwhelming for participants that are not used to it. Ultimately it might even get in the way of the process or the final goal of the training. The goal is the learning and not the tool!

? Want to know more about how to create Spectacular Live Online Training?

What features are essential to give a trainer the best chance of connecting and creating connections?

“I do not think that it is difficult to connect in the virtual space. I think that people are making it difficult by not paying attention to more than just a lecture and smiling at the camera. The bar in terms of behavior was way too low for way too long. My mission is to raise this bar and have people do better.”  (Kassy LaBorie)

Very often, everybody is expected to be “muted” when they enter a virtual meeting room. Because of that, it is often overseen what a powerful way of creating engagement and connection the mute/unmute button can be. 

? Creating a more participant-centered training approach also means granting them the power to decide for themselves when it is appropriate for them to be muted or unmuted. This, of course, also depends on the size of the group. A group with 200 participants cannot have all microphones on at all times. In a small group, however, this is possible and can contribute to a successful outcome, as people learn while contributing. And inherently people are less active in joining the conversation if they have to be on mute.

Another easy and fun way of creating connections with and between participants are so-called ice-breakers at the beginning of the training or during a break. Three ideas can be found here:

?️ Prepare a slide with 3-5 different pictures (e.g. different animals or flowers) and ask the participants which one of the images describes them or their current situation best and why. Then have everyone turn on their camera and microphone and one after the other answers. In that manner, everyone can get to know each other a little without any performance pressure.

? The above-mentioned exercise also works with asking the participants to take an object from anywhere close to them at that moment. This can also be used to debrief at the end of a session: look for an object and describe how that object relates to one learning/key takeaway.

? Even theoretical knowledge about a website or software can be acquired in a fun way! Prepare theoretical questions that relate to the knowledge that needs to be acquired, as well as some fun ones in between. Then let the participants go to the website or browse the software and find the answers themselves.  They can either do that alone or in small groups. Dividing them into groups can increase the fun and teamwork even more as the “treasure hunt” can be turned into a little competition between the different groups.

? Want to know “How you can create interaction with breakout rooms?"

What techniques can we use to drive engagement, interaction, and learning in our virtual sessions?

There is one simple golden rule in regards to driving engagement: TRANSFORM your in-presence activities to best fit for the virtual space. Conversion is not enough! Here are some starting points that you should consider during your planning process and the facilitation:

? Listen to the participants
? Ask relevant questions
? Participants should be able to feel good on camera (at the beginning or before the meeting give them some tips about camera settings, positioning themselves, etc.)
? Give the participants opportunities to actively participate
? Use all available features as much as possible without overwhelming the participants (e.g. chat, annotation tool, raised hand/green tick function,.....)
? Encourage people to speak and answer instead of you as a trainer saying everything first

“The person doing the talking is often the person doing the learning.” Jen York-Barr

Sometimes it seems like we have already accepted that the same level of interaction and engagement as in real-life training sessions cannot be reached in the virtual space. That is by no means true! Become a #virtualspacehero and learn how to make your virtual training sessions as interactive as possible. ??

? Want to know “How to shape meaningful interactions?"

? Resources?

Covarrubias Venegas, Barbara (2020): How to use objects/props in your virtual training?
Covarrubias Venegas, Barbara/Keischnigg, Katja (2021): How can we create interaction with breakout rooms in our virtual live sessions? 
Abril Canale & Barbara Covarrubias Venegas (2021): How to design online courses to bring learning journeys alive?
Abril Canale & Barbara Covarrubias Venegas (2021): How can we use stories and fairytales in our training

?  If you want to rewatch the LinkedIn live, you can find it on our #virtualspacehero YouTube channel ?

?  Listen to this episode on the go ?

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Continue reading our articles

How to master hybrid meetings?

How to master hybrid meetings?

The day will come when we will again be able to decide freely how and where to hold a meeting. But one thing is already clear: in presence meetings will be much less frequent. Instead, we will get used to mixtures of remote and face-to-face. Read here how to master hybrid meetings.

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