In any professional setting, people strive to uphold the standards and procedures known as best practices. Best practices are constantly evolving to incorporate inclusion and respect in the workplace, and also to accommodate for the presence of new technology. These new platforms come with new guidelines, which aren’t as inherent as they are in person. It can be difficult to navigate how and when to participate in a virtual meeting, and even harder to correctly facilitate this conversation. These new programs bring a new set of best practices, and sometimes implementing what you know from working in-person just isn’t the same. We must accept that virtual workshops are not the same as in-person, and when this happens we can begin to master the best practices for online collaboration. Below we will outline some best practices for facilitating an effective virtual workshop, and if you are seeking a deeper dive into virtual workshops, read our overarching article here.
Virtual Workshop Best Practices
Our list of best practices starts before your workshop even begins. Before you hop on your call, it is vital you prepare a coherent structure and all relevant material. Preparing thoroughly is critical to facilitating an effective virtual workshop and is something that should be carried over from your in-person practices. It is very important to set clear goals and expectations so all participants are able to begin with a shared understanding which will assist in creating momentum. Establishing expectations and careful preparation both go to incredible lengths in strengthening your workshop.
Creating a solid structure is important, but should not be overwhelming. Just as in any meeting there should always be room for improvisation. This allows for creativity and spontaneity which catalyze people’s ability to collaborate. Having a mix of solid preparation and space for creativity is essential if you are to effectively collaborate during a virtual workshop.
Engage Everyone/Facilitate Participation
Sometimes participating on zoom can feel intimidating or cumbersome, so making an active effort to engage everyone involved should be consistently done. Free-flowing collaboration is not as inherent virtually as it is in-person, so it is important to actively engage people to make sure everyone is involved. Using a visual collaboration tool when applicable is very important to keep people engaged throughout and ensure active participation. Visual collaboration tools are excellent at making participation throughout a team easier and more fluid; they can all use it simultaneously and participate throughout without needing to find a spot to intervene verbally. Another tool at your disposal is something like a slack channel, basically a chat app outside the video call. This allows everyone to communicate via a different medium so they aren’t interrupting each other or can clear up brief confusion.
There are many actions you can take to ensure everyone is consistently engaging, and one smart way is to oblige everyone to keep their cameras on during the workshop. Having people use their video holds them accountable for paying attention, engaging, and creating a social environment for everyone. Keeping everyone’s video on is important to make these workshops more personal, but it can’t replace how people actually communicate in-person. Over video, body language and eye contact is lost in translation, which makes it more important to have a verbal check-in with everyone. This helps clear up any underlying confusion and better connects people on the call. All of these methods help engage people and include them in any conversation being had, which will strengthen your workshop and team’s participation.
Schedule Breaks for Longer Sessions
Scheduling a break is already an accepted practice for most fields during longer workshops, but it has increased value & importance when these workshops are virtual. Participating and following along over video takes a different kind of stamina and focus, and can be exhausting for long periods of time. Scheduling small breaks to get up, stretch, and leave your computer behind can recharge the energy levels in the meeting and give people a stopping point to look forward to. Taking a break can be easily overlooked for groups on a time crunch, but can provide breathing room and added focus when implemented correctly.
Create time for non-work
Virtual workshops have many upsides, but they really struggle when it comes to creating a social environment similar to an office. Organic socialization within the workplace can be critical to stimulate collaboration between teams, so it is important these scenarios are facilitated virtually.
This could come in the form of a separate event like a work happy hour, or you could even budget time at the beginning/end of meetings for people to just chat and catch up. Regardless of your method, creating organic social interactions between coworkers is critical to maintain the cohesion and fluidity of your team.
With so many people working online it is important to be extra flexible for those who may have emergency circumstances or struggle to make their technology work properly. Normally, this is accommodated through people receiving notes/messages from word-of-mouth or note sharing. But with workshops being online, we have a great tool allowing us to record entire meetings. This lets people who miss the meeting or need to briefly run through something mentioned go right back to the source and clear anything up in an instant. Of course, this shouldn’t purely replace participation or focus, but it can be utilized to give people increased flexibility when they are in need.
Define Next Steps
Our last recommendation for optimizing your meetings is to remind people of the results of your meeting and the next steps people will take. Establishing these and sending a reminder of action items is critical to maintaining your vision during and beyond a meeting. With the litany of distractions available, it can be easy to lose focus during virtual meetings, so sometimes people can leave emptyhanded if they aren’t sure where to go next. You can alleviate this concern by creating very clear guidelines about what the next steps are and who is taking charge of them. This also provides a clear map of where to go and gives people a platform to ask any closing questions.
Virtual workshops can be frustrating and confusing, but they can also serve as great teaching and collaborating tools when utilized properly. When ascribing to this set of best practices you can achieve an engaging virtual workshop while also finding ways to socialize your team. As we edge closer to 2021, this list will only keep expanding, and with that, your virtual toolbox will expand as well. If you are looking for more tools stay updated with the Fresco blog and check out our all-inclusive post about virtual workshops.