From Face to face to Virtual Training / Workshop Delivery

I have spoken to a number of companies recently with the following issue.  They have delivered training and workshops face to face and now being asked to deliver the materials virtually.  They are under pressure to simply place materials into a virtual delivery platform and get the job done.

I do not recommend this simplistic approach.  The danger is that without considering the delivery medium, and preparing the trainer for virtual delivery, the output will not be robust in quality.  Some suggestions, when converting and delivering:

  1. Break up virtual sessions into meaningful chunks. A typical 9:00-12:00 delivery should become: Session 1: 9:00-10:00 (then have a ten-minute break). Session 2: 10:10-11:00 etc.   If you put yourself in the shoes of the attendee, then they can only remain concentrated for a short period, so break the sessions down.
  2. For each session, plan the materials into the three D’s: Deliver, Discuss, Do.
    1. Deliver: The presenter delivers materials but ensure that this is not monologue delivery. It is hard to do continuously and is not engaging.
    2. Wherever possible, discuss. Engage attendees with discussion points; use Socratic techniques to elicit answers (What do you think is happening here?  What issues could this present?)
    3. Do. Get attendees to work together on some key learning point.  Most virtual platforms have some kind of collaboration zone, where attendees can be broken into groups to work and apply the materials to some issue.  A form of virtual flip-chart.
  3. Start on time and always end on time. Ensure that you do not have too much materials, and only enough for the time selected.  If you go over your time limit, your attendees, will start zoning out.  I use the formula of one slide equates to three minutes of delivery.
  4. Make the materials as visual as you can. Avoid death by bullet point.
  5. To assist in getting the attendee to focus on key learning points, start highlighting key lines, draw concepts using the available annotation tools.
  6. Use Video to deliver alongside any materials. Attendees may or may not use their video but use yours.  You will find this hard, if you are not use to it, but keep looking into the camera and smile.  Encourage attendees to use their video.  Some brave sole may put theirs on, and in turn others may follow.  Now when you want to ensure a learning point has been understood, you can see it in their faces, and not ask them to click unmute and say they do.  Video helps to create better engagement.

For those are delivering, some suggestions:

  1. Make sure your room is very well lit. You may need additional lighting, especially when delivering from home.
  2. Dress appropriately, depending on your audience.
  3. Make sure that the view behind you is “neutral” look to ensure that there are no distractions for the attendee. Microsoft Teams has a great blur feature that focuses on the presenter and not the background.
  4. A good headphone is worthy investment. This will ensure good audio.  Additionally, a good webcam will ensure that the picture is clear.
  5. Test all equipment out before starting. Do not log in ten minutes before.  Test the systems, the materials, the activities well in advance.
  6. Ensure you have plenty of water near to you. Keep hydrated throughout your delivery.
  7. If you are delivering from home, consider all external sounds. If your window open?  What happens when there is a delivery during delivery?
  8. If you normally use wifi, connect your machine to your internet hub using a good ethernet cable.
  9. When you start your session. A good opening is essential.   Tell them what to expect in terms of the materials and the learning points.   This is your hook.  Once hooked, now walk attendees through the system you are using so that they now the basics of how to speak, contribute to chat etc.
  10. Keep your phone on silent and preferably away from you, so that you have no distractions when delivering.

When I initially delivered virtually it was new and challenging.   It is the norm now for me, but has taken time to shape the way I deliver and develop the necessary techniques to create a successful event.

Sustainability Applied to Global Working

I spend a lot of time working with companies that work in a global environment with front offices in one country and back offices in another.  They face day-to-day issues in achieving their tasks, such as: overcoming cultural nuances, time zones, communicating using existing technology and leading dispersed teams when travel budgets have been frozen.

These problems often stem from applying a co-located method of managing and leading a team to the virtual global world.  There are small and large differences and they need to be factored in to achieve agreed outcomes.  The reality is that often team members are communicating by email and in some instances, have no idea what the other team members key skills are, or in some instances what they even look like.

When you ask at a corporate level, why the organization operates globally you often hear the answer cost, as it is cheaper to offshore work to another country where the labor rates are lower than another country.  Global working is still in its infancy as a management science, and organizations are still learning about what works and what does not.  In the pursuit of lower costs, the long terms implications are often not considered and the question I ask, is whether this approach is sustainable?

If the real pursuit is cost, then yes a lower cost per employee, per hour discussion is relevant, and the gap between one country and another can be significant, but what about the long-term impacts?  What happens when a “low cost country” starts developing and the labor force experiences wage inflation?  If the cost savings are no longer viable, then will the maintain presence in that location?

Often companies will invest in training and developing their workforce, but the end result is that trained individuals, will leave and seek other opportunities, so the parent company suffers from significant churn rates, that means more time spent hiring people and training them.  This is certainly not sustainable, and works so long as there is a constant stream of eager applicants for jobs, but what happens if this runs out?  What are the options?  Focus on existing staff, or move to another country and start all over again.

As more and more companies offshore work, they are basically doing what others in their industry are currently doing.  All in the pursuit of reducing and controlling costs but what are the strategic implications of doing this?  If all organizations strategic intent is too offshore to reduce costs and increase profitability then this is not long-term sustainable and we are back to square one.

I encourage companies to consider the viability of their offshore models and think about the impacts from not just a short-term perspective, but a long-term sustainable solution that provides profit, growth and an environment that allows employees, regardless of where they are located to contribute and work seamlessly as a team.

Making Virtual Meetings Work

I had a rare type of day recently.  I spent the entire day today in meetings today. Something I rarely do, but was able to meet people from across not only the UK but across Europe and all from the comfort of my office.  These meetings were using SKYPE and we had video on, which always helps.

We have all had conference calls where they often seem to be a waste of time, eloquently captured in:

In one organization I worked in, they created an app.  When the virtual meeting started they punched in the internal hour rate of each participant and as the meeting rolled on, it showed to all, the cost to the company of that meeting, and the meeting host would ask at the end of the meeting if the meeting had been productive.  How many meetings in your company would you class as being productive?

The reason why so many meetings do not work regardless of them being face-to-face or virtual is a lack of ground rules.  We have ground rules for all other aspects of our work, so why not for running meetings?  I came across a good quote along the lines of, “to buy a stapler we need all sorts of approvals and justifications, before purchase, yet anyone can call a meeting with no accountability, and waste a lot of company money”.  We need meeting ground rules.

There are two types of meeting that should be considered:

  1. The collaboration meeting:
    • The assumption being that everyone is going to contribute.
  2. The for information meeting:
    • The assumption being that we are there to listen, and may or may not be expected to contribution.

Let me focus on 1. the collaboration meeting and consider some ground rules.  There are many blogs and articles on managing meetings, but let me focus on a few key items:

  • Meeting duration. I always try to arrange a maximum meeting time of one hour. There will be times when longer is required, so be sensible and deliver one hour, have a small break then continue.
  • Number of attendees. If everyone is there to contribute then limit the number of attendees.  Say no more than seven.
  • Agenda.  We all know we need an Agenda and that it should be circulated ahead of time, but often I find issues:
    • Over ambition; too many points to consider and if anyone has a point to discuss it messes with the Agenda items
    • Not sticking to the Agenda.  We set out to talk about the following…., but end up talking about something completely different.
    • If the meeting length is an hour and we have a maximum of seven participants then stick to a maximum of four agenda items.
    • A great technique to use when someone goes “rogue” on the Agenda is to park the issue.  Acknowledge that it is of importance, but the meeting leader, should set the item aside to discuss at a later date.  Since the other participants came to discuss the agreed Agenda, then let’s not waste their time.
  • Time. Start and end the meeting on time.  Waiting for late arrivals is always counter productive.  If we always accommodate them, then either we master the art of speaking quicker within the remaining meeting time, or simply drop an agenda item!
  • Using tools.  More and more meetings are becoming virtual and tools over and beyond the telephone are available.  Become familiar with the technology and use the capabilities. For example, you could use a desktop conferencing tool such as Webex, SKYPE for business etc.  In this domain, we could:
    • Use the video capability – people will pay more attention to the meeting
    • Share desktops.  You could share the Agenda and then type the meeting minutes as you proceed.  This creates a visually more interactive mode of communications for participants.
    • Use the chat feature, it will add more opportunities to capture thoughts and ideas. It’s also a great way of reminding everyone to mute their mic when not talking.
    • Enhance the experience and consider using the poll features or the like / dislike option.
  • Make ground rules the norm. Telling individuals to follow rules does not work.  You need to continually tell them!
    • Share your ground rules in the meeting joining instructions.
    • When participants join the meeting show your ground rules at the start and walk them through them.
    • Stick to the ground rules.  They will make meetings more effective, if you stick to them.

Make virtual meetings work for you!



Leading Teleworkers

I have worked with many organization’s to assist its leaders to manage the rise of teleworkers – those that are able to work at home and in the office.  For many of us, this would appear as the norm expectation for what we perceive as being “work” nowadays. But this is not universal.

I travel to many countries and visit many different types of organizations and observe many companies that do not want to do this and choose to have their employees all working in one location.

Teleworking if great if you want to do this.  But again this not universal.  Some find that working out at home is not entirely beneficial…

  • The lack of office gossip
  • No access to the coffee moments
  • No office meetings to break up the work conveyor belt
  • The blurring of lines between where is work and home life (especially for those that are working during school vacation time)

Others, of course, relish the benefits of working at home, and balancing the needs of work and home life and cutting out the wasted commute time.

Say you are a leader in an organization how do you lead a team of individuals who may be at home or in the office?  I am now coming across organizations where managers never have the luxury of getting the team together in one place at the same time.  How do you manage in these constructs?  Here is some advice to consider:

  • list-1030596_1280Set the ground rules.  We have them (implicit and explicit) when we are in the office so these should also exist when we are away from the office.
  • Touch base with the team, both individually and collectively often.  When a team is remote (operating at a distance using communications tools) then generally we need more not less communication.  From a leader’s perspective, has this been built-in?  If you do not make time, then it may not happen.
  • Be proactive in your use of communication tools.  Consider the message and then select the appropriate tool.  Often we pick a tool that is often closest to hand.  We have great tools but do we all know they exist and more importantly, are we even trained in using the tools?  I worked recently with a company where they all used social media tools (Twitter, Snapchat, Whatsapp etc) – but crucially they used these tools outside of the office and not inside the working environment.
    • I am also finding that training in using the communication tools is not offered by either the IT or the HR section, so it falls between the cracks.  If individuals are not trained in using a tool, they will not use it.
  • Make sure you trust your employees. Strange as it sounds, if there is no trust when the employee(s) and the manager are in the office, then it is unlikely to occur when the team members are separated from one another.
  • Build in the small talk.  It is part of life when we work together so it does not disappear when we are apart.
  • Working from home may not suit everyone, so keep in touch to find out how they are getting on, what issues they face and whether they may need to come back to the office (I am meeting more and more individuals who would rather go to an office then work from home).
  • Focus on building relationships and then maintaining these relationships, not just between the manager and the employee, but also between each team member.  We work well with others when we have built this foundation.



The Impact Of Social Spaces On Working

I am currently writing this entry on a plane in the cramped coach class, where frankly using a laptop is hard work and being creative is a challenge  in such limited space.  It got me thinking about offices and how they go about using their social spaces.  If an office provides a social space (water cooler, coffee-making area, lunch space) what is the function and purpose of the space?  Of course, people need places to simply congregate, talk about their weekends and social transactions, but perhaps we could use them for other purposes…

We have two forms of knowledge: explicit (knowledge that can be codified and tacit (knowledge that can not); knowledge that sits inside of our heads.  Examples of tacit knowledge include (knowing how to tie up your shoe laces, making a great sale, creating your favourite dish).  We need to create opportunities and work spaces in which tacit knowledge can be transferred between colleagues and this is where office social spaces can help.

I visited one company in the UK where they had a fabulous coffee area.  It was large with a great espresso coffee maker; the back wall had a plasma screen with rolling news coverage.  The seats were comfortable and came in all sorts of bright colours.  All in all a great place to sit back, relax, share knowledge but – this was for a space for customers only.  The coffee area for the employees was a bleak area, cramped with a solitary sink and racks of mugs.  This certainly was not a place for hanging out, sharing knowledge.  It was a grab and go back to your desk, kind of place.  I did think that this was an opportunity missed.  In contrast, I went to an engineering office in Sweden where they had a large red comfortable sofa by the lunch area, with wifi and hot-desk facilities.  I made by hosts aware of my astonishment of the facilities, quietly wondering if anyone want back to their desks and do any work.  They responded that they wanted employees to sit together either individually or as teams and share knowledge in a comfortable space. 

We live in a world full of tacit knowledge.  We need to adopt strategies that allow this tacit knowledge to be shared amongst colleagues.  Rather than providing dreary coffee and lunch areas, make them into extensions of the work environment, rather than adjuncts.

Virtual Management

Management is a well-studied art in a co-located environment, but what about in a virtual and remote setting? 

Imagine you are work in London with a team of five, two of which are in Bratislava and the rest in Mumbai.  How do you ensure that the team operates effectively?

Face the issues: time zones, culture, distance – balancing work and home life.  Are you prepared to get up early, work weekends, be a slave to your mobile device so that you get the tasks completed?

What training have you been given for this?  How well prepared are you?  How has your organization prepared you for?  Your technical skills are not being questioned but ask yourself what additional skills do you need to operate successfully in a virtual setting.   

I can not find a lot of formal academic resources on this subject but there are plenty of organizations operating this way.  Blogs and personal insights provide a good insight.  I do like leadingvirtually for good insights into virtual working.