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  • Richard Gledhill

Workshops without the office?

What is the real impact of workshops and meetings held outside the office? Can you carry on business as usual?


We’ve all got video chat tools, be it Skype, Teams, Slack, Zoom, Hangouts or any number of other great products, on our machines. Some of us are unfortunate enough to have to have most of them installed.


For the most part we have used them reluctantly, for that quick one on one, for connecting with the one guy who needs to be invited into the meeting from another country or happens to be home working as the company is ‘progressive’ and lets a few people do that.


However, we’ve always preferred to get people in the room. Especially for workshops, steering committees, sales and of course education! Now, we’re being forced to go against our best nature and do all these things online.


The big problem is that a large percentage of people don’t know how to use the tools they have.


An even larger percentage think about them in the context of a Jetsons’ style video phone. Which is fair, because that’s how they’ve been sold to us!


Now it’s time to take off the training wheels and start to use these tools in different ways.


Irrespective of the tools that you have, and using the good advice that so many are offering about the common sense things you need to consider when someone can see you. How do you go about changing the way of working to make video a valuable tool?


How should you plan your meetings / workshops?


I would argue that you should plan any meeting or workshop so these are not just tips for online meetings:


  • Define the Purpose, Objective, Outputs and Outcomes that you want from the session, structure your session to be sure you get all that you need out of it.

  • Provide pre-reads: Contain information about decisions that need to be made and focus the discussion

  • Do what you can to reduce the need to be stuck on a video call for hours at a time

  • Consider contingency, what happens if you can’t get everyone in the call?

  • If it’s a workshop, then try to have everyone remote or no-one remote, it’s far easier to run exercises when the baseline is the same for all participants.

  • Think about mixing up online and offline sessions and using different sized groups, plan for engagement!


Don't forget to ponder where you're going to put the input and output material from the sessions so that everyone can find it! If you've just shared important documents in your video tool's chat, the chances of finding that information again may be lower than you think.


Remember that working away from the office needs a holistic view to provide all the information and services you have when you're there.


How should you deal with time in your calls?


Video calls are more effort than face to face meetings, home chairs are less ergonomic than those in the office and participants are often working on their laptop with a much smaller screen than normal.


  • Run a five-minute rule: If someone doesn’t make it into the call within 5 minutes of the start of the meeting then start the meeting anyway. If the organizer doesn’t make it in, then the meeting is cancelled and needs to be rescheduled.

  • Start with some social: We’re social creatures and some friendly chat before the meeting is fine, we should encourage it! We just built a five-minute rule in, let’s use that time!

  • Plan breaks: Certainly at least a 10 minute break every hour. Don’t forget a lunch break!

  • Think about breaking workshops and long meetings up into sections: Can you have sessions to talk and pieces of work that people carry out for themselves? Can you split a large meeting into shorter sessions over more days?


What about exercises?


The video connection is not the only tool you can use! Whilst many of us struggle to find the 'share screen' button we are mostly just happy to share our PowerPoint or our Excel sheet. When you’re planning a large meeting or a workshop you can (and should) go beyond this. The internet is full of great, low cost cloud based solutions which you can consider, just be sure to check with your IT team that they’re compliant!


  • Check out the facilities of your conferencing tool, it may have polls, whiteboards, notes etc.

  • Consider other tools such as Stormboard, Klaxoon or Mind Meister, to collaboratively work with sticky notes, mind mapping and other virtual replacements.

  • Make sessions more interactive with tools such as Mentimeter, be creative with decision making.

  • Find ways to keep your delegates engaged, mix exercises into the discussion. This stops them answering emails and working on something else whilst they’re in the call! In a workshop we’d take their laptop away, but we can’t do that online so let’s find was to keep attention instead!



Don't just point your camera at a whiteboard or hold up your phone or bits of paper and hope everyone will be able to get the message.


Remember, whilst there are people who only seem to work when they're in meetings, the vast majority of us will appreciate the ability to contribute more or review findings after the conference ends.


What about the conference tool itself?


The best advice here is to play with the tools you have, run some test conferences before you run your big meeting.


  • Check your software and environment out before you start, make sure you have the latest version to reduce the chance of an update just before the meeting

  • Know how to share your screen, a specific window and how to get PowerPoint to show the slides not the presenter view to the rest of the audience

  • Know what controls you have as a session owner and how to use them

  • Check your camera and microphone Be able to explain to people how to un-mute themselves!

Recording and transcribing


With the consent of the participants, it’s often a good idea to record workshops. It helps when writing up your minutes! If you’re lucky enough to have an environment like Kaltura then you can also easily store, transcribe and translate these which makes documentation a whole lot easier and gives you a searchable record.


Be social

In these difficult times, consider allowing employees to use services out of business hours. At the moment we’re happy to sponsor an online yoga session and as of next week, our first online antenatal class! What can you do for your community?



Summary


In summary, don’t think about video tools as phone. Think of it as a part of the space you work in, it can be a very creative space indeed, not just business as usual, but different and possibly even better.


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