A year ago, COVID-19 forced me to stop traveling and shift to engaging with clients virtually. I was not excited about it. Now, after a year of engaging virtually and all that we have learned along the way, I’m finding so many benefits to engaging virtually. The benefits have been so significant that, to my surprise, I’m planning on primarily engaging virtually beyond when we have to because of COVID-19. Here are some of what I have been learning.
Virtual tools can be an asset, not an obstacle.
- Zoom helps us all connect.
- Chat helps us simultaneously share examples, resources, questions, key lessons, and more all without being limited by airtime.
- Breakouts help us connect for small group discussions without having to move the tables and lose half the group.
- Polling helps us see what content is really connecting, take the pulse of the group, and do simple assessments.
- Jamboard helps us simultaneously share suggestions and examples and organize and re-organize them visually.
- Google docs help us collectively take notes and share work product in ever evolving drafts by multiple groups at the same time.
- Google forms help gather real time feedback. Some of us remember waiting for our conference evaluations months after the sessions. No more.
- Recordings help us to engage folks both synchronously and asynchronously.
- Multi-media helps us connect in various ways – music can bring in emotion, videos help connect and bring in other perspectives, slides can reinforce the messaging, and analog show and tell can be a refreshing break.
Thank you for your wonderful session with our Northland Foundation Trustees last week. It was one of the most engaging Zoom meetings I’ve been involved in since COVID took hold.
-Shaye Moris, Executive Director, Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank & Trustee, Northland Foundation
Virtual allows for the engagement to be timed to maximize learning and progress.
Deep learning requires time, space, interleaving, and practice. Virtual engagement helps us space things out in the ways that best serves the team, rather than cramming everything in a short time to accommodate travel schedules and costs. Half-day retreats have become month long virtual workshop series and two-day retreats have become four half-day workshops to allow for processing and practicing between sessions. One-day campus visits have been been able to spread out keynotes, workshops, and meetings across a month to best meet the participants’ schedule rather than trying to make it all happen in one day.
Connecting and relationship building can absolutely be done virtually.
If you think you need to be in-person to really connect with other participants, then you have been in some really poorly facilitated virtual engagements. Sharing, connecting, laughter, movement, and personalizing our learning can all be done in virtual contexts with good facilitation and guidance.
We have all become much more comfortable and better at engaging virtually.
I remember some really awkward Zoom conversations when people didn’t know where the camera was, had horrible sound and lighting, would login without a shirt on, and have dirty laundry in the background. It’s been a year now, we all know how to manage that mute button like champs. We have carefully cultivated our background with good lighting, art, books, and plants or are using virtual backgrounds that share our pride in our organization or our passions beyond work. We are familiar with the tools and how to engage differently virtually than we would in-person.
Virtual options can address many accessibility needs better than in-person. Tools like captioning, recording, flexible scheduling, visual options, dietary needs, and utilizing their own computer with their own accommodation tools built in can all make virtual engagements more accessible than in-person.
There will be no return to normal.
Normal wasn’t that good anyway. COVID-19 will fade, not end. Employers and employees will see the value of maintaining flexibility and work from home options. Virtual engagement means folks can connect from the office, from home, or from wherever the world has them for work or life. There will also be state, local, and institutional requirements around verifying testing, vaccination, and more. This might be a manageable hassle for folks who stay in place but it will add a significant costs and time for those traveling and hosting them to get all this set-up for each visit. If you thought getting someone set-up in your payroll system was rough, just wait.
Less travel is better in terms of costs for clients, the environment, me physically, and my family.
- Even though I pride myself on being very low maintenance as a speaker, a typical visit costs my clients about $1,250 just for travel. This includes flights, hotels, meals, parking, Uber, and more. Also, how much was the morning snack, lunch, and afternoon snack for your team of 50 people through campus catering or hotel catering?
- The savings to the environment of limited cars and flights is significant.
- I find that a full-day of virtual facilitating is still physically exhausting, but I’m not compounding that with early morning flights, airport delays, long drives to the nearest airport, bad sleep in unfamiliar hotels, and fewer healthy food options while traveling.
- I’ve spent the past year with my family each and every day. This time with my children has been a gift. Even though it has been challenging and not always easy, this time together is rare and it is clear it will change our relationships for a lifetime. Virtual engagement has allowed me not only to be here but to be present for family breakfast before joining a team in Arizona, to shift the laundry during a breakout room discussion, to check on the math assignments during the lunch break, and get a thumbs up or a hug in between calls. Priceless.