Key takeaways from a #virtualspacehero LinkedIn LIVE
29.05.2020 | 14:30 CET
Although virtual space tools and virtual learning, training, and coaching have already been highly used over the past few years and their popularity was growing, the current pandemic situation seems to be speeding up this process. Many institutions, including schools, companies, and different businesses had to shift from in presence work to online spaces. There have been many questions around the good, the bad, and also the differences between in-presence training or coaching and virtual ones. What are the challenges of it?
In this LinkedIn live, Jill Sheldekar, an Intercultural Facilitator and Trainer, born American living and working in India and Brett Parry, Founder of “The Cultural Mentor”, Aussie currently living in the USA, discussed with Barbara Covarrubias, Founder of #virtualspacehero their experiences, perceptions and views on virtual training and cultural observations in virtual space.
🎥 💻 If you want to watch the LinkedIn LIVE recording, here you go
Different cultures show different levels of engagement in virtual spaces
Virtual training and coaching seem to be very popular across Asia. Jill worked and lived for many years in India, a country with many different languages, cultures, and traditions. Some of those cultural groups in India are considered to be high context cultures. Therefore, in those regions in Asia and India, there could be hesitation from business leaders when it comes to virtual space. There is a strong preference for the face to face communication and physical presence. This situation was more or less pre-pandemic. However, the situation changed and businesses and leaders had to shift from in presence to virtual space despite a lot of hesitation at first. Thus, investing in those early stages of connection with people and building trust is really important especially in high-context cultures.
Also, showing people that virtual space is very beneficial is very important. There are amazing tools, creative ways to increase engagement in virtual space, and a lot of other things to do in order to create that energy exchange that we encounter in the face to face meetings. India is a very deep relationship-driven culture, so good words spread very fast. One of Jill’s observations is that virtual space experience is improving and increasing engagement among the people thanks to many tools and functionality available.
Creating interaction in the virtual space
Firstly, be aware that the participants don’t necessarily have the same skill set when it comes to understanding virtual environment and technology. Also, make sure that the tools used are easily accessible. It is harder to engage people in the virtual space and make them comfortable with your communication style, and humor. Therefore, being observant and conscious at all times when interacting is very important.
An example of Jill’s engagement with her participants in the virtual space is using shared documents – similar to a whiteboard – to encourage creativity and engagement among participants instead of or additionally to using popular breakout rooms all the time 😉
“You can draw on it, you can write and add pictures to it – a nice way to work with creativity and create engagement” (Jill Sheldekar)
Size of the virtual group matters
When it comes to engagement, it very much depends on the size of a virtual group. Leading discussions in a virtual group, creating engagement, and at the same time solving technical matters can be challenging. The more participants you have the higher is the need for the co-facilitator or co-moderator, even a silent producer to monitor tech and address participant challenges without disrupting the flow can be a great support. Asking participants directly, involving them in a discussion, having a co-moderator, and getting to know your audience beforehand are some of the key tips on creating engagement in virtual groups. Another useful advice for increasing engagement is to keep the dynamics in the group – every couple of minutes respond in the chat, ask a question or even draw on the whiteboard.
“This is also what makes pretty hard for lecturers and trainers who are not used to work in an online environment: it is just much more stressful! you need to consider technology, chat, participation, manage breakouts, share links, your own presentation etc… When I am in an online setting with a group bigger than 25 people, I usually work with a co-facilitator, or I am the co-facilitator for a colleague.” (Barbara Covarrubias)
Bigger groups are harder to manage in a virtual setting for a single trainer. Participants without camera might inhibit a trustful atmosphere.
What are useful advices for virtual facilitators?
💡 The Check-In / Intro is important! Invest time in the beginning with introductions – especially in high context cultures. Do a bit of live team building activities in a virtual space.
💡 Less is more! Don’t try and include too much content. (Recommendation BarbaraCV “plan around 20-30 % less!)
💡 More patience than ever needed! You do need to be additionally patient. Allow there to be a little bit of time for people to feel comfortable in the virtual space. In this type of communicating virtually – take the amount of silence that could potentially happen in face to face communication and double it in virtual space.
💡 Language challenges? Many tools have closed captions in various languages, although the english captions usually work best. If you can use these features it can create a more inclusive environment.
💡 Be aware of your speed! In the virtual space sound will sometimes travel a bit slower, or someone’s internet connection might be unstable. Make sure speak slower than ever before, to allow a couple of seconds of silence for your participants to catch up and digest what you were saying.
💡 For increased engagement in the virtual space camera and video is helpful. It is well known that a lot of communication is non-verbal. So, if you have good video and decent light and background, a big part of the communication is actually happening through that visual. There is much more preparation needed when it comes to hosting online events and creating a nice virtual space for your clients or participants. And one part of that preparation is making sure that your participants understand the importance of visuals and to turn on their camera.
Do you have a backup plan?
If not, rethink your strategy – you always need to have a backup plan. In a face to face environment, you can give a quick five-minute coffee break and have a lot of other ways to improvise if something is not going according to the plan. However, in the virtual space people can have issues with technology, their internet connection, or problems with access to the virtual event itself, and so on. That’s why you should always be a backup plan ready if something goes wrong.
There was a lot of trial and error initially. For example, the first time I ran it with a large group I learned that only ten people can be in a (shared) google document at one time…But, you play around, and you experiment” (Jill Sheldekar)
E-etiquette in the virtual space
Setting expectations beforehand can be helpful. Since virtual space allows people more freedom, an e-etiquette should be established. Also, situations, when participants have their pets and children around, raises a lot of questions. Therefore, it is very important to clarify beforehand if you are comfortable with your participants having their children on camera with them. This is a rather difficult situation since schools and kindergartens are closed and kids are at home during the day – having clarified that shows understanding and creates a more relaxed and engaging virtual environment.
“I became quite comfortable in clearly stating that upfront. If your children are with you, that is fine. I’m comfortable with it.” (Brett Parry)
The good, the bad and the future of virtual space?
It seems that we were all headed in this direction regardless of the current situation. This pandemic was really a boost and only speeded up a process. And there are so many advantages of using virtual space and technology. One of the good sides of virtual space, virtual classrooms, and remote jobs is inclusivity. For instance, single-mothers or people who are in a wheelchair – now don’t have to deal with the physical stress of traveling to the office every day. Additionally, traffic is extremely reduced in this situation which is particularly important for places like India where traffic is one of the major everyday challenges for people.
“There are so many ways of being creative and having fun in an online environment, but very often we feel limited by technology and the different platforms – it can be different!” (Barbara Covarrubias)
We all experienced to some extent the development from #zoomboom to #zoombombing into a #zoomfatigue. The virtual space can be very tricky since we don’t have a clear line on where and when are our working hours and when we should be offline and do other things. That’s why learning how to take a break and to spend time with your friends and family is very important.
Thanks to the amazing sketch about our conversation by Regina Czurda!
Jill Sheldekar is a certified virtual facilitator and has been conducting online workshops since 2010. Her organization, Ethnosynth Consulting, works with many MNCs to increase engagement in global remote teams and between internal and external stakeholders. She also runs workshops on the topic of increasing collaboration in virtual meetings. An interculturalist at heart and a firm believer in the power of virtual connection – she continues redefine traditional learning spaces.
CEO The Cultural Mentor
Brett is a native of Australia, living in the USA. He possesses a deep faith in the ability of the curious mind to navigate expanding global horizons. He believes the skills to do this can be taught with compassion, action and knowledge, all with an intentional plan to achieve high level personal and professional outcomes. At the Cultural Mentor, he leads a global network of trainers and educators teaching better understanding of cultural gaps and how to bridge them.