2020 may go down in history as the year most organizations fully embraced the value of working and meeting virtually. While some companies had already adopted the technology and training to support strong collaboration online, this year, others found themselves suddenly plunged into the virtual workplace unprepared.
Many organizations are making thoughtful decisions about how to succeed in these new working, meeting and training environments. They are bringing their virtual competence to the actions needed to master the virtual world. I call it their V Game.
What follows, in two articles (parts one and two), are recommendations for success based on over a decade of success in the virtual environment. These tips are organized in six categories: people, platforms, processes, programs, preparation and prowess. This article focuses on their first three categories: people, platforms and processes.
At the heart of every decision are your people — the participant audience, the facilitators and trainers, and the meeting leaders. The needs of each group may vary depending on the type of virtual activity, but in this article, the primary focus is on synchronous training, meetings and events, scheduled for live interaction.
Most people attending a virtual event (the participant audience) want it to be easy to access or attend. They want the session to hold their attention, which often requires the ability to interact with one another and engage with the content. They also want to feel connected to their peers and the speakers. Without ease, engagement, interaction and connection, participants are likely to disengage, disconnect or multitask instead of paying attention.
The Facilitators and Trainers
Facilitators and trainers want to bring their V game to this new style of delivery. They want to motivate learners to apply content, they want to educate and inspire, and they want to see the impact of the training on their participants’ performance. In short, they want to feel as comfortable and competent in the virtual classroom as they feel in the physical classroom and confident that they are making a difference.
The Meeting Leaders
Meeting leaders are often managers and supervisors of virtual teams (teams in which one or more members are in different locations, resulting in the reliance on electronic over face-to-face communication). These meeting leaders hope to facilitate productive meetings that support sustained teamwork. They want their people to pay attention and bring their best thinking to the team’s problems or issues. And, they strive for efficient, productive online meetings that people are eager to attend.
The needs of these different constituents should drive the selection of the best meeting and training platforms.
Often, decisions about platforms are driven by factors such as cost, security, contracting parameters and previous vendor relationships. A platform suitable for one particular use may not be the right choice for every virtual situation. For example, an enterprise-wide solution has benefits for certain kinds of team collaboration, but it can be frustrating to hold large, interactive team meetings and ineffective for delivering engaging training on some of these platforms.
As you decide which platforms are best suited for your audiences, consider these points:
- A simple meeting platform for video conferences may have video but limited interaction tools and no breakout room capability. However, it might be perfect for basic team meetings where everyone is on camera.
- An engaging training platform should have a variety of interaction tools, including chat, polling, whiteboards, emoticons (status icons) and breakout rooms. These tools enable you to increase participation and engagement. Make sure that they also allow you to stream your video, play video and audio files, upload participant materials, and record an event for later viewing.
- A platform suitable for broadcasting to audiences of over 1,000 should be easy for the audience to access without technical support, and it should have reliable streaming video and basic interaction tools (such as polling and screen share). A Q&A box is useful with audiences of this size, enabling the producer or host to monitor and manage questions.
Ideally, an organization would capitalize on one platform that does it all well. However, most video conferencing or web conferencing platforms have been designed for specific purposes and audiences. A large webinar event with more than 1,000 participants often requires a different technological solution than a weekly meeting for a small team requires.
A platform comparison tool can help you compare features before you make this important decision. Your organization may also want to partner with a technology broker or adviser to help you select the right platforms and negotiate the best prices.
Large organizations can benefit from thinking through the various uses of its web and video conferencing platforms and defining the processes that might help employees use them successfully. For example, in a more sophisticated platform, designing meeting or training templates can make it simpler for novice users to quickly develop a virtual meeting agenda or build a training program. In addition, defining clear processes for scheduling, launching and recording meetings can demystify the experience for managers and project team leaders who facilitate collaborative team meetings.
Documenting roles and responsibilities helps clarify expectations. Three common roles for large virtual events are speaker, moderator and producer. Identify what each of these roles requires, and communicate these expectations in advance of an event. For example, a moderator’s responsibility might be a well-planned agenda communicated to all participants, and a producer’s responsibility might be to schedule and conduct a rehearsal the week of the event to troubleshoot technical issues, test web cameras and practice passing the baton among speakers. A simple checklist can clear up role confusion, which can lead to panic and finger-pointing during a virtual event.
As your organization moves fully to the virtual workplace, addressing these first three areas of focus — people, platform and processes — can help ensure a successful transition. Look for the next article to explore three additional elements of success: preparation, programs and prowess.