Thoughts of an evolving leader — successful remote workshop

Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash

You can read it all over the web. We live in a “new” era of remote work which brings remote, online meetings with it. No matter if it’s MS Teams, Zoom or Slack, it was hard getting around these video conference tools in the past years. Back in the beginning it was all still new and we just had to get used making calls regularly. I feel, now we are at a point where we should think about how to conduct them in the best way instead of still trying to press our learned behaviours into the new medium.

Workshops as well as meetings followed us to our homes and remote offices and changed in the way they were conducted. I could not see meetings changing that much. I still sat on a chair or walked around the room, just with a headset instead of real people in front of me. Workshops however — I really needed some time to get used to conducting them in a proper way remotely. Now that I could say I became pretty good at conducting these online workshops, I would like to share my learnings on the differences to on site workshops and how I am trying to solve them to the delight of my colleagues:

Just by the way video conference tools work, the conceived coworking mode for us participants changed from being part of a group, putting their heads together, to a feeling of presentation each time you are speaking. All the people are “sitting” opposite to you, staring deeply into your soul. This could quickly lead to loosing focus and getting distracted.

Besides the health benefits you will get by standing up, walking around or just repositioning yourself on your chair, this will support others too. I have noticed that I feel much more “cooperative” if the people in front of me act natural. This means some of them looking to the side or the ceiling when thinking, or even closing their eyes. No more lizard people staring at you without blinking with you wondering if the image froze until you see them move. I encourage you to just act the same way you did in on site workshops. It is okay!

Before remote work, I had not that many problems with having an impact in close collaboration. My simple skill to being able to speak was enough to voice my opinion and share my expertise with my colleagues. Now it moved all to being an expert at using the tool and having a steady internet connection in my experience. It is hard to state a point or giving valuable input, when you start out muted or are being cut off by your internet connection. Your input will not have as much of an impact, if only half of it arrives with the others.

This sounds obvious, but I seldomly see people putting effort into actually acquiring expert knowledge about the communication tool they use over 50% in their new work life. I quickly picked up on the shortcuts for muting/unmuting and even being aware of the small little mute signs of others to support them when they speak muted.

Photo by Matt Botsford on Unsplash

In the beginning I accepted MS Teams as a chat and nice communication tool, knowing video calls just from “meeting” formats. But as remote work got more accepted and embraced, so did I embrace the tool. I started reading the update posts regularly, to be able to use new features fresh out of the box. This resulted in a whole other type of creativity than the one I was used to. Now that I have that knowledge, I also love to share it with my colleagues and I encourage you to also start mastering your remote communication tool, if you plan on doing this for a long time!

One big issue I had in bigger group workshops as well as meetings, was that I was loosing value by missing out on slight hints. A big part of human-to-human interaction happens through body language. Sitting together in one room makes it easy to pick up on people showing disagreement or confusion with their posture. Sharing your screen, or staring at only the faces of your coworkers, is making this much, MUCH harder.

Again, when this all started three years ago, I would waltz through “my” passages, sharing content and spreading my messages. I started to feel the difference. People would not interrupt me and I would not stop, because I could not see them having some reaction to my input, as I was sharing my screen. My first measure was to take some breaks and even switch back to the common video group while sharing. But this also did not help that much.

The problem was (as stated above), many people have problems with the tools and especially the mute functionality. I noticed, when I switched back, in the short breaks, faces, hastingly looking around. So I started to add even longer, sometimes unnatural feeling pauses, asking rather twice if there are any different opinions or questions. This had a lot of impact, and sooner or later, the looooong breaks did not feel strange anymore. It just became a tool.

Back then, talking to a group, it was enough to stand in front of the people and watch them to interact with them and react to their interactions. Nowadays having a workshop with multiple people allows to use more channels then ever before. People can, talk, sign in the video, write in chats and most of the time react to messages or notify they want to say something. In addition to that seldomly there are workshops without secondary tools in parallel to the call. So focussing on all this different input quickly became really hard to master.

If you are not an experienced Twitch streamer or a multitasking talent, this skill will be hard to “learn” and can quickly lead to cognitive overload. My best tip here is: If it is not that easy for you, don’t try too hard, be honest about it. Openly share if you stopped speaking because a message came in. You can even start working around it, by openly sharing, that you feel not able to focus on everything at once, so everyone just speak up instead of writing. I never experienced a frowning face, when I was that open about my problems in the beginning.

What if I told you…

there is an even better way, which will take the huge load of new things to learn off the shoulders of the masses? The answer is:

Put dedicated moderators in state for your workshops.

I guess this I even easier than it sounds. Most of the time the person organizing a workshop will most naturally fit into this role. Someone guiding you through the workshop. Instead of taking breaks in working sessions, or actively contributing, this person will now watch the people. Keep an eye on all the channels. Raise questions when they come up in the chats. Mention obvious reaction and taking care, that there are enough breaks for people to think and interrupt.

Personally I could even see this as a job on its own in the future, depending on how often these workshops will happen. I will keep an eye on it. Till then…

Marc out.

Photo by Nina Strehl on Unsplash

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Marc Emmanuel

My thoughts and stories on the leadership world and how I experience them in my current leadership role @virtualidentityag (https://www.virtual-identity.com/)