Virtual Collaboration: How to design your sessions for impact

12 weeks ago, it could never have been imagined the level of virtual interactions that are now our day to day norm.

Businesses have moved from asking the question ‘when will we go back to the office?’ to ‘should we go back to the office?’ (Or in the case of companies like Twitter we are not going back to the office!)

This new reality has brought what was the future of work, firmly into the now and presented exciting (and in some cases daunting) implications on how we collaborate, share progress, connect with our teammates and understand the meaning of work. This is may have left some of you wondering –

  • How do I bring my team together to make decisions and for a result?
  • What is the best technology to do this?
  • How do I transition my project meetings online?
  • And how do I do all of this without completely draining people (and maybe even enjoy the process?!)

So, here’s how we have been tackling these questions…

We found that for any given challenge of collaboration, there are critical elements to consider at planning stage that allow for an enhanced experience. We have used these with our clients for a number of years (after being introduced to them by @John Hibble) when designing for any high-stakes collaboration experience including team sessions, conferences, product design workshops and have found them to be even more critical in virtual sessions.

Ultimately, it’s a journey that you are taking your team on, so it is important to consider the following:


1.    The Destination: (aka the purpose)

Start with thinking about the context in which a particular collaborative session has to take place, identifying the objectives of the session and what are the outputs required early on.

Sharing this with your stakeholders lets them know that you will make efficient use of their time and will get them invested in getting to the destination.

2.    The Route (aka the process)

Now that you have thought about the ‘why’ of bringing people together, it’s time to think about the details of the ‘how’.

This is often the tricky part, but thinking from a high level first of the moments where you would need people to do silent solo brainstorming vs discuss to make decisions in a virtual session is a great starting point.

Don’t just paste your in-person meetings to a virtual setting, but design the session with the new constraints and opportunities of the virtual world!


3.    The Itinerary (aka the content)

In order to fulfil the purpose of your session and walk away with the outputs that you desire, consider the following –

  • What is the factual content that you need to share in the session? This could be market research, project progress details, team reports, etc.
  • Is there any inspirational content that you should share? A great opportunity for lightening demos!
  • How will you structure the presentation of this content? 

4.    The Travellers (aka your participants)

Sometimes the hard decision isn’t who to invite to a meeting, but who we should keep out. This is especially true in virtual sessions where bringing too many people in can become distracting and extend those exhausting Zoom calls.

Instead consider:

  • Who are the subject matter experts and decision makers that you need in the session?
  • How is the mix of your chosen participants supporting the outcomes of the session?

Remember, we are looking for guides not passengers.

5.    The Vehicle (aka the tools)

Technology is a critical element to consider when it comes to virtual collaboration, but it’s also important to remember that it’s simply a means to an end. You don’t necessarily need the best collaboration software to be embedded in your organisation for virtual collaboration to work. Often the best tools and technology to use is what the organisation already has. This helps overcome the resistance and the headache of technical troubleshooting.

We use Zoom and Mural for our virtual collaboration sessions (and we love them!), but that might not be the default tools for your organisation. If you are bringing people into a new environment for the first time, carefully consider the onboarding and the technical trouble shooting process. Remember that as a facilitator it’s important to generate confidence in your participants, competence follows.

Ready to give it a try? 

Use the 5 steps when designing your next virtual collaboration.

Not quite ready to go it alone?

Good news – In our ‘How to Collaborate Virtually’ workshop by Naked Ambition– you can go deeper on this technique, including using our virtual collaboration strategy to create your own virtual session, guided by experienced facilitators.

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