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  • Writer's pictureMerrill B. Lamont III

Remote Facilitation Tactics because Coronavirus has you WFH

Fear of the Coronavirus got you working from home? Congrats on having a job where you have this luxury. And tech infrastructure to pull this off. Now let's make the most of it.

Shaking hands isn't even an option when your visual channel with the world is a circle above a rectangle. Not even foot taps. You could do an elbow bump, Instead, I recommend the following. Note the theme of this blog post: connecting will take a little more effort.

Before You Even Begin

Web conferencing is an unnatural experience. Let's work through the, "Can you hear me now?" and the "Can you see me OK?"

  • be an expert in the web conferencing software: This is your job now. This is how you interact with your fellow co-workers. If you are a Scrum Master, or facilitator, or host, or whoever's running this meeting, this is especially true. Take the time. Then be a good human and educate others. Know the software well enough so you can help others live.

  • share all connection info: Beforehand, yes, share the link, but also any phone options, so folks can dial in. I get better audio quality from phoning in. Plus, if there's an issue with the network, the video can go down, but we can keep talking. Don't forget to share non-US phone numbers.

  • arrive early: Get the technical difficulties out of the way. Maybe you need to tweak your audio settings... or tweak your video settings... or restart the program... or switch browsers... or re-download & re-install the program... or restart your computer... or the network is slow.

  • turn on video: Web conferencing has a lower communication bandwidth than in-person meetings, so use all the tools at your disposal to facilitate communication. My original draft of this post has me employing swear words to emphasize this point... it's a no-brainer... if you have video, use it. DO. IT. Get at least a shirt on. Your hair is fine. That stubble is a good look. This is work, not the red carpet. Also, what's behind you isn't a distraction - it's a gift. That window out to Rt. 60 is a window into your life, one you are sharing with us with ease, a conversation starter, and possibly historic.

  • hosts have a different experience: The buttons are likely different on your screen, as host, than the screens of everybody else. Know the experience of both sides. As host, you likely have powers. Know these powers. Know how to use them. This can include muting everybody, or muting individuals, or turning off an individual's video, or taking over screen sharing, or making someone else a host, or enabling polls. Some of these powers may need to be enabled. Know how to enable powers.

Now That You've Begun

As host, you set the tone and model the behaviours. This is your responsibility. You are shepherding people through an unnatural experience.

  • smile: Ever watch a master puppeteer? They deliberately insert tiny motions into their puppet to make it appear more real, like it is breathing. Similarly, deliberately (and repeatedly) insert tiny behaviours so the interactions are more human, like smiling, acknowledging people individually, and nodding.

  • greet: I give an awkward high-five to the camera, slowly starting it while narrating it so folks can join in.

  • exaggerate visual cues: If you have a knee-jerk reaction, or a slight visual response you're contemplating, and either are tasteful, then do it without interrupting the person talking. Visually. And exaggerate it. Give a hearty thumbs-up. Or down. Clearly nod your head 'yes'. Or 'no'. Cross your arms and shift your stance a little sideways as if to say, "I need more convincing." Express an encouraging nod while miming a palm-inward one-handed gathering motion as if to say, "keep it coming." In this way, you're helping the speaker "get a read of the room", and you're helping the room get a read of itself.

  • look at the camera: Imagine if we held a conversation looking at each other's throats. This is what happens when we look at the images of ourselves. So that the other person perceives us looking at them, we have to look at the camera, which means not looking at an image of a person (a natural thing), and instead staring at a circle above a rectangle as we're talking (an unnatural thing). If you're far away from the camera, then the difference is imperceptible, but if you're at your laptop, there's a difference. As a Scrum Master, remember you're a servant leader, so it's less about you. It sucks.

You are either connecting with a person for your benefit (by looking at the person's image), or connecting with a person for their benefit (by looking 'at' the person via the camera).

  • encourage some etiquette: Set the tone, explicitly at the beginning of the meeting, then uphold it in your actions. Turn on your video. Mute yourself when not talking. Exaggerate visual cues. Whatever behaviours you'd like to see, don't be afraid to state them, and restate them. You are the captain now.

  • actively read the room: This goes for In-Real-Life (IRL), too, but will require more mouse clicks.

  • have lower expectations: When you're in a big conference room, it's easy to tell if somebody's looking at their laptop instead of the speaker, or instead of the big shared content at the front. When you're web conferencing, it's harder to tell if they're browsing Reddit or checking email (or working!) instead of paying full attention to you, with "good behaviour" definitely harder to enforce. So don't try. This comes with the territory. Have good faith, maybe express this at the beginning, too, and sally forth. They're probably checking the CDC website for when the world is safe enough to stop hoarding toilet paper.

Now End It

So close... let's wrap up this unnatural experience in style.

  • respect time boxes: Again, this also goes for IRL. Replace the travel between conference rooms with dialing into the next meeting. You're switching one time sink for another. Also, be a mensch and leave people time to use the bathroom.

  • wave good-bye: I give a "sign of the horns" as if I'm a heavy metal music fan, but it's my cute way of saying, "party on". Others do the peace sign. Others act out their surfer alter egos and effectively tell me to hang ten. Nobody does the Usain Bolt. I'd like to see that. Nobody dabs. I'm glad I don't see that.

  • be the last to leave: Folks may not be the best with the web conferencing software, so stick around to help them out, specifically helping them leave. Think of it as being a good host.

Have other remote facilitation tactics you find key to web conferencing success? Don't hoard those like water bottles :) .

And good luck out there! Let us still bring all our humanity to the web conferencing experience, as unnatural as it is, and as less connective as it can feel. We can make a difference, though, in how that meeting goes.

Connecting will take a little more effort.

We just have to try.

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