For many years, we have facilitated in-person workshops, retreats, and meetings. We have assisted groups in building relationships and teams across the country, and supported collaboration through conference calls and remote screensharing and co-creation processes. But now, with this pandemic, remote work and remote group collaboration has become the norm.

While this has caused the cancellation of so, so many events, it has also opened the door to participation that wasn’t possible before. This is transformational for organizations large and small:

  • I had been considering attending a conference in March 2020 in Salzburg, Austria. Having traveled to Salzburg last August, that sounded fantastic. However, considering work schedules and the high cost of airfare, I passed. With the pandemic, the conference shifted to online and I attended.
  • I joined the Germanic Genealogy Society in Minnesota to receive their excellent journal, but knew that I would not be able to participate in their many in-person meetings. But wow, with the shift to virtual meetings, I can participate.
  • With associations and churches moving to virtual meetings, people who have moved to assisted living and other cities are able to participate.

Going virtual requires more planning and support. Our group of facilitators is working hard to stay abreast of the rapidly evolving tool environment (e.g., Zoom updates, Mural vs. Miro debates, Slack channel discussions, etc.). In our experience:

  • Technical issues must be anticipated, and any additional needs must be addressed well in advance. For example, if people need to learn a tool or download software, this does take time from the workshop. We strive to keep things as simple as possible, tailoring the tools to the team and their experience.
  • Individual webcams are best, but designing ways to include people who only have phone access can be done. One device per person helps people contribute and see material clearly.
  • More frequent breaks for participants are good, and can dovetail with providing time for facilitators to set up the next round of breakout groups.
  • Planning fun and variation into the workshop gives the group a lift and keeps the meeting from becoming a drag. Fun icebreakers are even more important when virtual. Online polling can work well.
  • Co-facilitators / moderators are helpful in resolving technology issues and monitoring chat. • The care we take in designing in-person meetings is still required for virtual ones, with the addition of the virtual considerations. More time is required to set up and test.

We facilitators are energized by the transformational opportunities.

For example, the J and Beyond 2020 conference in May shifted from multiple tracks in-person during the day in Lisbon, Portugal to one track virtual for a solid 24 hours around the clock. Facilitation hand-offs were made across time zones across the globe, and participants around the world were able to attend and engage with presenters. Sessions were also recorded for those who chose to sleep during some hours!

The coronavirus does not have to result in cancellations. Open the virtual door and think out of the box. Enable more global collaboration. Set the home-bound people free!