We’ve had almost a year of video workshops. The business we’re in is almost one hundred percent conducted with meetings. It’s what we do. Meet with clients, prep, meet with them again, review, workshop and prep again and so on and so on.
We work with clients over weeks, months and sometimes years to achieve their agile transformations.
That requires regular workshops and different teams meeting together on a regular cadence, to change old habits. It’s a lot of hard work, and also a lot of fun and reward.
The result, nearly all of the time, is higher productivity, better engagement and morale, and of course – a better business with higher ROI.
Here’s the obvious – 2020 didn’t change any of that. Except we moved from in-person to on-video.
Now the question we want answered – what impact did this have?
Some of our regions are slowly migrating back into real world meetings, but many of our offices are still working with clients exclusively online. We may very well have a hybrid structure permanently, with many of our clients advocating permanant work-from-home options.
WHAT DID WE LEARN?
So with 2020 being the year of online meetings, what have we learned? And importantly, what have we learned that we will take with us into our post-Covid-19 work lives?
At ADAPTOVATE we were keen to review our practices and experiences in online workshops specifically, and asked our employees about it.
The responses fell into two broad buckets that we want to share with you. It may assist with your own ways of working with your teams and clients.
1. WE ARE HAVING MORE MEETINGS
2. VIDEO IS INTENSE AND DRAINING
“We’ve actually learned a lot that can be transferred back to ‘in-person’ workshopping sessions. Remote working allowed us to rethink some of the habits that we had and improve on many aspects of team sessions.”Slav Koziol – project lead, ADAPTOVATE, EUROPE
WE ARE HAVING MORE MEETINGS
Most clients we talk to say they actually spend more time in meetings in the current remote environment than they used to in pre-pandemic times.
It’s not unusual for people to have back-to-back video conferences during the entire working day. With less direct contact and a lot more distractions available at hand, paying attention in video sessions is really quite challenging.
So with that comes a variety of challenges and opportunities which we will discuss below.
1. WE ARE NOW ALL “THE IT PERSON”
It’s amazing to remember that pre-2020 the video conferences that we attended almost certainly at some point had a tech issue. What 2020 has done, has given us ample opportunity to skill up on an increasingly regular basis the troubleshooting that used to be the domain of “the IT person”.
We are now all “the IT person”.
It’s yet to be seen whether we take our new found skills back into the office – but at least we now have some unexpected knowledge of how it all works.
The defining lesson is the meeting owner now seems to be more organised regarding potential tech issues. As a result we allow those few extra minutes before a meeting to ensure it’s all up and running.
2. BE READY AND PRESENT
“You never know who is going to show up to the meeting first,” says Laura Scott, a project lead in Australia.
Ensure that you are ready and present at the start of the meeting. Prepare yourself with relevant conversation starters. Of course this is also a face to face skill however the pressure of the virtual environment magnifies this.
Use icebreakers or simple exercises
Rachna Verma, a senior consultant in Australia recommends icebreakers. “They really help to get people relaxed and feeling positive. They only need to be a few minutes but have a huge benefit to overall teaming and happiness.“
“I facilitated themed standups a few times per week and it really helped getting to know each other and take the edge off a stressful work week. Laughter really is the best medicine!” Rachna says.
Slav agrees, “Allocate some time for a simple exercise that can make people comfortable with tools. It can also help with expected behaviours that can greatly improve the quality of the meeting.“
“For example, we’ve used a few exercises to make people more comfortable with their webcams on, and get comfortable with remote collaboration software,“ says Slav.
3. IS THE QUIET PERSON SPEAKING UP?
Benny Ko, a consultant in Melbourne found the biggest thing he learnt in 2020 was how to keep people engaged. He learned, “how to make sure everyone has a voice during a video workshop.”
“As a facilitator,” Benny explains, “it’s even more important to monitor everyone’s behaviour during the workshop and act accordingly. (Yes, being agile in the workshop.) We need to make sure the quiet person in the room has a say.”
We can do that by old-school ways, calling people out to speak up, – or now alternatively asking everyone to partake in the room chat with questions.
Some of our team have actually found that some of the quieter team members have felt more comfortable to comment in the chat in a large forum online.
This is an option not often available to an in-person meeting, so that is a question to ask ourselves– how do we bring that alternative discussion forum into physical meetings?
4. KEEP TRACK OF TIMING!
People on video lose track of time more often than expected as it is so much harder to read the ‘zoomroom’.
In person, we all notice if people are getting distracted, bored, etc. In a video meeting, people tend to be very “on” all the time. It’s a very focused environment. (More on that later.)
“People tend to feel more confident in their home environment, so they often speak for longer without realising,” noticed Caitilin Studdert, a principal in Australia. “It’s not always a bad thing, but their delivery is sometimes extended beyond normal workshop scenarios,” she said.
Therefore ensuring there are timekeepers or stopwatches going, that can help with this scenario is crucial. The facilitator can set up that meeting norm at the beginning of the session.
In contrast to losing track of time, we can easily get video fatigue. Steven Walton, a principal in Australia says, “Just as black holes warp space and time, video conferencing accelerates time for participants. What I mean by this is that 20 minutes on Zoom or Teams feels, more like an hour.”
Is this a bad thing? Does this mean any attempt at remote working is doomed? The good news is that the experience of 2020 has shown we are not doomed. However remote working is not the same as face to face.
Steve explains, “This focus is leading to us having more direct discussions, we get to the point faster, meaning that what would have taken us an hour face to face is done in 20 minutes.”
VIDEO IS INTENSE AND DRAINING
As mentioned earlier, the heightened focus of our video meetings, requires our concentration to be ‘on’ far more often than usual.
As our concentration intensifies when meeting via video, our attention doesn’t get the opportunity to wander as we look around the room in the same way or take in people’s full body language.
We focus fully on face and voice, it can feel intense and draining.
So in the next section we want to spend time discussing this new 2020 fatigue and what we have learned are the best ways to reduce it.
5. SHORTER, SHARPER MEETINGS
Previously, running a workshop in person may result in a full day or more being scheduled for the workshop.
This hasn’t been feasible remotely due to Zoom fatigue and keeping the team focused for more than 2-3hrs while on video.
Chelsea Bates, our Managing Director and principal in Victoria Australia spoke with us about this.
“I have started to break a full day down into shorter, more focused sessions (no longer than 3 hrs and ideally no longer than 2 hrs),” Chelsea says.
“An example may be instead of one 8hr session, having two 2-3hr sessions over one or two days. This has resulted in the team having time to step away. They can reflect on each session afterwards and then bring their reflections to the next session, which we don’t always allow for in full day sessions,” she explains.
Laura agrees, “Sharp workshops with really clear messaging are important. At one client, virtual showcases are proving more successful from an engagement perspective than their face to face showcases.”
Rachna explains why the meetings are working for her in shorter bursts, “Meetings are a lot more targeted and efficient and can finish ahead of time because there is no side chatter like you would have face-to-face.”
As we migrate back into hybrid work situations, we will be experimenting with breaking up our physical/video meetings into shorter, sharper sessions.
5. DESIGN FOR VIDEO
Slav learned that the remote sessions work best when they are actually designed for video rather than when they copy currently well-known habits from physical in-person meetings.
“Designing the session in a smart way will not require the audience to pay full attention at all times. Such sessions are less fatiguing, more productive and more enjoyable,” he explains.
The critical thing is designing shorter, more concise topic blocks and more frequent short breaks.
The topic blocks should vary, e.g. a section requiring full attention and engagement (interactive exercises, live polls etc.), could be followed by a section with some team discussion. Which in turn could be followed by a section where one of the participants presents a topic to the others.
“Being presented to for a block requires lower levels of attention,” says Slav. “This allows participants to temporarily mute and switch off their webcams to stretch, grab a coffee or a snack and still be able to listen and participate,” he explains.
Set those team norms.
That moderation of required level of attention is important to reduce fatigue and maintain productivity over the entire working day.
Maintaining this healthy rhythm is relatively easier for smaller independent teams.
With larger organisations some team norms or recommendations can help coordinate between teams and structure the working day in an optimal way.
6. THE RIGHT TOOLS
A key for engagement is making it comfortable for people to actively contribute with the right tools (for interactive exercises, quizzes, polls etc.) or the right behaviours.
As mentioned earlier some of the quieter participants, now have options for engaging in the meeting comfortably, be it by chat or polls.
The right tools make it easy for people to engage with the group, sometimes even meaningfully contribute while staying anonymous. Such tools, like for example Menti, can easily be also introduced to ‘in-person’ sessions.
We intend to bring in more participation tools for physical meetings, now recognising that the quieter participants want to contribute, but not always in obvious ways.
We’ve had a peek behind the curtain of our clients’ and colleagues’ home lives.
We didn’t want to finish this article without acknowledging the privilege we’ve all had of glimpsing into our clients’ and co-workers’ ‘real lives’.
It’s brought with it a new found empathy for individuals’ circumstances we may not have had prior.
We now have more understanding and tolerance for everyone. It’s something that we all believe will help when we move back into more a physical presence.
“In a strange way, remote working brought us closer together across teams and across geographies. That’s something that we should carry with pride into the post-Covid world.”Slav Koziol, project lead, ADAPTOVATE Europe.
ADAPTOVATE thanks all the contributors to this article.