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Here are the 3 key differences in facilitating virtually.

Written by Alain Rabeau

The pandemic has pushed everyone into isolation and forced many of us to work from home.  Virtual collaboration tools from Microsoft Teams to Zoom and everything in between have become the way in which we work with others and stay in touch with friends and family. No doubt many of you have experienced these Internet-Based Video Conferencing (IBVC) services with a mix of amazement and frustration. The amazement of being able to see friends and family as well as being able to work with esteemed colleagues is a true marvel. For me, this awe turns quickly to frustration when the audio becomes a jumble of noise and voices speaking over each other.  Truly – good facilitation is an essential ingredient for those of us using IBVCs.  

The team at the Intersol Group has over 12 years of experience in facilitating in a virtual or blended environment. Over that period, we have developed our own best practices but until now, had not assembled a definitive list.  We understood, early in the pandemic, the need to document and package these best practices intended to educate seasoned facilitators transitioning to a virtual environment. We struck a chord as our “Essentials of Facilitating Online Meetings” quickly sold out.  Now, our latest workshop is about best practices in facilitating virtual meetings. It is not a “how to use [insert IBVC name here]” workshop.  There is an abundance of resources, videos, blogs out there to support that.  

Preparation of this online workshop brought us to the fundamental question: “What’s truly different about facilitating virtually?” Well, in our view, it comes down to three important elements – two of which, that are typically NOT present in a face-to-face environment.     

Element 1 – Design. How a facilitator structures a meeting, typically through the creation of an agenda, is an important consideration to ANY meeting. At the Intersol Group, we use our Strategic Alignment Model© to design along three parameters:  Clarity of Purpose, roadmap for Process and ensuring the inclusion and diversity of People to take part in the meeting.  These three dimensions are important regardless of medium (virtual or physical), however, a virtual environment requires increased preparation – on the part of both the facilitator and participants mostly driven by the technology used. The reality is that technology at times fails or is sub-optimal – and the facilitator must be prepared for many contingencies that are not a concern in a face-to-face environment.  

Element 2 – Participation medium – the Internet-B