While, at the time of this writing, we are just over a year into moving most of our training and employee development online, too many trainers, managers, and business leaders are still struggling with how best to engage remote employees.
At the beginning of the pandemic, many of the questions I received from clients were about the unprecedented challenges of training, speaking with, and managing employees who had unstable internet or were overseeing families (and schooling) while working. Now, a year into this unplanned work-from-home experiment, the questions are more nuanced.
How can I enliven synchronous virtual training so participants are better able to connect with each other and with the trainer/facilitator?
What do I do to elicit more engagement from employees during virtual team meetings?
On video, how do I establish safety and trust when giving feedback or engaging in high-stakes conversations?
The top reason so many HR, business leaders, and professionals are struggling with online engagement is because they are unconsciously creating a dichotomy between in-person and virtual experiences.
Fortunately, many of our individual and collective virtual engagement mistakes can be solved from a simple paradigm shift. Rather than approaching virtual meetings, training, conversations, and feedback differently than face-to-face experiences, instead, we can (and must!) ask:
How can I show up with the same intentions and expectations for myself and my people online – and use technology to solve the problems I’m experiencing?
When we make this subtle and significant shift, it’s much easier to eliminate dry, didactic online communication and delivery and find solutions to the remaining engagement problems that exist.
For example, if in person you would open a training with an evocative story and then invite participants to work in pairs to do a related activity, open your virtual training by telling the same story. Afterward, explain the activity to the group, and then break participants up and send them off into breakout rooms to discuss.
If you require people to be off devices and fully present during in-person experiences, make it a non-negotiable for those working from home to be on camera – even if they have to mute themselves or step away periodically to attend to family members they are caring for at home.
Now, to be sure, it’s easier for people who are face-to-face in a room together to move around and chit-chat. So, in order to increase connection and engagement during virtual training, here are five strategies you can apply.
- Open virtual presentations and meetings with an ice breaker or team-building activity.
- Resist the temptation to overuse polling, videos, or other technology that prevent people from speaking to and with one another. Instead, ask lots of open-ended questions, direct people to respond in their chat boxes, and invite a few people to share more extensive responses on video.
- Break large groups up into groups of 3-4 in breakout rooms so everybody can speak aloud.
- Integrate Q & A (and, if leading a training, coaching hot seats) throughout a call rather than reserving participant interaction for the end.
- Incorporate praise and recognition, from you and from fellow participants, so people feel seen and appreciated.
In closing, there are certainly differences between in-person and virtual conversations, meetings, and training. We’ve all experienced them. Yet, we do ourselves and our people a disservice when we overemphasize them. The more consistent we are with how we show up, and what we say and do when moving from face-to-face to online, the easier it is for us to sustain engagement and enjoy the unique opportunities virtual platforms provide us.
This guest post is written by Alexia Vernon, Founder and President of Step into Your Moxie, and comes from the webinar, Improv for Employee Development: Simple Activities to Increase Virtual and Face-to-Face Learning and Engagement.