Offsites are more vital now than ever. Move your meeting online by following these guidelines.
Are ‘offsites’ off for the foreseeable future? Not necessarily. Despite social distancing and travel restrictions, you can run an effective offsite online. Writing for Harvard Business Review, Bob Frisch, Cary Greene and Dan Prager set out some guidelines for doing just that.
HOW TO PREPARE FOR YOUR VIRTUAL OFFSITE
As with any offsite, success hinges on preparation:
1) Provide attendees with the tools they’ll need. Whether detailed in the pre-read, or in a brief pre-meeting session, instruct everyone on exactly how to install and set up the software and video technology needed to participate.
2) Ensure everyone knows how to use the technology. Provide opportunities to practise using all the features to be used during the offsite. In Zoom, you can set up a test ‘lobby’ so attendees can familiarise themselves with how to ‘raise hands’ or use chat.
3) Carefully design the offsite’s flow and conduct a dry run. For each section of the meeting, start with what you want to achieve, then consider what’s possible with the software. Keep the activities simple, and practice every module.
5) Assign clear roles. Be clear on who should do what. Who facilitates each conversation? Who handles the technology, including screen sharing and monitoring chat?
6) When in doubt, limit the size of the group. In a virtual setting it’s easy to send a link to expand the invite list and, before you know it, you’re having a town meeting rather than a conversation.
HOW TO CONDUCT YOUR VIRTUAL OFFSITE
Great offsites require everyone’s full engagement and participation. Follow these guidelines to make yours a success:
1) Display a welcome screen when people join the meeting. As attendees sign on, welcome them with specific instructions or reminders on the screen to ensure they are set up for the session.
2) Make it interactive from the start. Use an activity or ice breaker at the beginning to connect participants and make them comfortable with the virtual setting.
3) Set clear ground rules. Ground rules you use for in-person offsites still apply – return from breaks on time, be candid and honest, etc. Others will be specific to virtual meetings – such as ‘raise hand’.
4) Take more frequent breaks. Because people are sitting in front of a screen for the duration, 15-minute breaks every 90 minutes give people time to reset and deal with business or home issues.
5) Minimise presentations, maximise discussion. Long presentations can destroy a meeting’s momentum. Background information should be well edited and provided in advance.
6) Use technology to maximise participation, engagement and interactivity. Use the features included in video conferencing software, such as breakouts, voting, ‘stamping’ and chat.
7) Gather session feedback. Solicit attendees’ feedback while the experience is fresh in their minds. What could be improved? What went well? What should be repeated? What did you like?
Some of the topics often reserved for an offsite need to be discussed now more than ever. So we need to learn how to do offsites virtually – just as we’re doing with every other vital work process.