One Remote All Remote
During the global pandemic working remotely from the office became the norm for most. Virtual meetings came to dominate, and then some interesting things emerged. One unintended consequence was that meetings became more inclusive for participants who had always worked remotely. Instead of being the distant, ignored or even forgotten person, they found they now had a voice equal to everyone else in their team.
New habits formed, teams created working agreements or social contracts to hold each other to account around acceptable online behaviour, most importantly around how to treat each other during virtual meetings. Studies show that people can be just as productive working remotely as when working in the office, often more so in fact.
Leaders and managers have come to trust that people work hard when at home, often in a more focused way with better outcomes. So, people have become comfortable with being seen on camera, and meeting facilitators have learned new skills to keep people engaged and focused in a virtual setting.
Even before the pandemic, some teams had learned that the most effective way to collectively communicate with remotely based participants was for everyone to behave as if they too were remote. ‘One remote, all remote’ creates true inclusion and equality of voice for all team members. And now that most people are at least partially back in the office, this is proving to be the best way to run a meeting for the ‘hybrid’ working that is increasingly looking like it’s here to stay.
Maintaining Inclusion While Hybrid
The idea behind ‘one remote, all remote’ is essentially simple and to illustrate the concept think about a remotely working 9-person team. They all regularly meet, with 6 gathering in an office-based room with conference facilities while the other 3 dial in from remote locations.
The sketch shows one way to set up the technology to create the inclusive environment to optimise the impact of ‘one remote, all remote’.
The 6 people in the office each has a laptop open with the organisations preferred conference call system set to gallery view/mode, where all 9 people can be seen on the screen. But they use the in-room phone system to dial into the meeting. This provides a single audio microphone and speaker for all the people in the room, and they mute their individual audio and the sound, so each laptop is just being used for video.
The 3 people who are remote also join the meeting in gallery view and will see all the faces of the 6 people in the room as well as the other remote participants. This creates a significantly better experience than the traditional meeting room camera which shows a group of people sat at a distant table.
When seeing each teammate in gallery view, every participant can engage with each person’s emotions and feelings through observation of their micro behaviours . This is essential for empathy and to understand the nuance in what people mean, but it is impossible to achieve with the traditional distant camera set up.
Virtual Facilitation Skills
With this tech set up established the prospect arises of new facilitation skills to engage the group and to help the meeting or workshop move towards its desired outcome.
Firstly, a team working agreement or social contract can be created. The team brainstorms the barriers to open and productive communication in a hybrid setting. Using digital tools such as a virtual MS teams whiteboard or tools like https://miro.com/ or https://www.mural.co/ everyone in the team has a ‘voice’ or opinion. This stops more confident people dominating the exchange of ideas and increases the likelihood of an open discussion approach.
Having brainstormed the barriers, participants then write down how they want to be treated and how people should behave. All responses can then be grouped into themes, with a ‘heading’ or ‘title’ for each theme. Having collaborated to this point, now individuals are allowed three individual votes to select the themes they personally value the most. The most popular themes become the social contract.
It’s quick and easy to use techniques such as Fist of Fives or Roman Voting so that people can show how much they agree to commit to the social contract. And remember, to keep the social contract alive a person should observe a meeting and ‘play back’ to the team how well they lived the social contract during the session.
Once in a meeting or workshop, using hand signals is a great way to keep people engaged. Asking them to put their actual thumb up to the camera to show agreement or understanding is very effective, as is agreeing in advance the use of other specific hand signals for things like a bad internet connection or when someone is speaking on mute.
Also, don’t forget that the old school facilitation skills of explaining concepts on flipchart paper can be re-created – check out an example in this video, and learn to be a visual facilitator to create an impact in the virtual or physical meeting room.
Turning The Cameras On
Despite all the practise recently, too many of us tend to keep the camera off during an online meeting. There could be a good reason for this, and a facilitator should not assume a blank screen means a person is not engaging, it may just be a bad habit and common in that particular team or workplace, or it might be a good reason due to circumstances personal to them on that day.
In a workshop I like to introduce the topic like this…
‘If you have a technical, health, cultural or political reason that means you cannot switch on your camera please let me know. Otherwise, I expect to see your smiling face!’
This has proven to work extremely well and it’s no coincidence that agreeing to keep cameras on is typically a winner in the voting for the agreed social contract. Because people do seem to want to see and be seen in meetings, but only if everybody has their camera on.
To illustrate the barrier to communication created by that blank screen, here’s what I’ve resorted to on a few occasions!
Making The Best of Hybrid
These are just a few tips on how to be a great ‘virtual’ facilitator, and they’re particularly valuable in meeting the challenge of hybrid sessions. It takes planning, skill and hard work to maintain full participation from everyone in a hybrid meeting and the best laid plans can be derailed by a physically present and dominant personality. But that risk is limited if everyone in the meeting, wherever they may be in the real world, is confident their voice will be heard and their views understood by everyone watching, seeing and listening.
Check out my article ‘Creating Psychological Safety for Inclusion and Innovation’ to learn more about navigating this challenge.
Want to learn more about facilitation?
The Scrum Alliance has released a new globally recognised 2-day training course called ‘Agile Coach Skills, Certified Facilitator’.
Here is what you will learn:
Discover what a facilitator is and what they do.
Practice the mindset of a neutral facilitator.
Learn how to facilitate teams through conflict.
Understand the needs of different teams.
Apply the skillset before, during, and after a facilitation event.
Be more self-aware as how you show up as a facilitator.
Practice visual facilitation skills to engage and make an impact.
Learn through doing with our real facilitation scenarios.
The training will be delivered live online within an immersive, facilitation environment, but the learner gains the knowledge to facilitate both in a face-to-face context and in a virtual setting. Find out more about RedAgile’s virtual Certified course here.