In these challenging and unprecedented times many of us are turning (even more) to virtual working. Whether this is as a coach, consultant, supervisor, team leader or CEO, we may have different experiences of doing this. Some of us may be experienced and feel relaxed; for others, this new way of working may seem daunting. But we all share a desire for connection, bringing people together and doing so in the best and most effective way.
We have produced a 12-point plan for remote conference hosts, to help you get the most out of your meetings and feel at ease. If in doubt, try to imagine this is a face-to-face meeting as far as possible, to guide how you facilitate/host.
- Where possible, start a team-coaching relationship face to face, prior to transferring to a digital and virtual mode. Where this is not possible, potentially meet each team member virtually 1-2-1 before the first event.
- Establish Virtual Team Protocols including staying fully present throughout – one example could be starting each day with a short team meeting to maintain connection and to enhance the sense of team.
- Make sure you have a good internet conferencing platform which is secure.
- There are often technical problems for someone on the call, so be prepared and then you (and others) will avoid getting flustered. It is rare that a large call has no issues.
- Consider what people will see behind you – is it appropriate? Is it what you want to say about you? Many people need to work from their lounge or dining room and if you normally store alcohol on the mantelpiece behind you that may need a slight rearrangement!
- Be conscious about how you could maximize non-verbal communication.
- Arrange screens at the best angle so you are as visible as possible – you need to be as high up in the frame as possible so there is not a big gap between you and your ceiling. And ideally people will be able to see you gesturing with your hands. We also need to consider how natural light falls at different times of day, so we are not too bright or too dark.
- Make a contract around recording sessions: you may need to, and then you can agree at the start of the call, noting that breakout rooms (see below) are never recorded, only the main meeting room.
- Learn how to use shared screen and other facilities such as breakout rooms and whiteboard. With Zoom, remind people about speaker and gallery views, about private and public chat, mute/unmute, and how to save the chat box.
- Start meetings with personal and social bonding time; we may not be in the same room, but it is important we act as if we are and allow people to have personal bits of conversation. We also need to ensure comfort breaks and time to get a drink. While people can do longer sessions successfully, a maximum of two hours is a good rule of thumb with one refreshment break, but starting at least 15 minutes early so that people can bond.
- Then use an outcome-based check-in to establish people’s aims and so everyone’s voice is heard early on. End with an agreement about what people are doing next.
- As team leader/facilitator, scan the team and ensure that everyone has a chance to contribute equally.
- Many teams working in isolation are finding a short start-of-the-day meeting helps keep connected, aligned and focused.
This short guidance draws on sections on virtual working in:
Hawkins P. (2017) Leadership Team Coaching London: Kogan Page
Hawkins, P. and McMahon, A. (2020) Supervision in the Helping Professions. (5th edition) Maidenhead UK: McGraw Hill.
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