5 challenges of online facilitation and how to overcome them

Online facilitation is here to stay, and with that comes a few challenges. Here’s what you can do to overcome them.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has seen an increase in workplace reliance on digital tools and embracing of the remote work model. Some companies have been operating 100% remotely for the past two years, working with teams that are often spread around the globe. With this, online facilitation has been rapidly becoming commonplace in such a digitally reliant environment.

So whether you love the remote work life, or are grateful for the slow comeback of in-person gatherings, there’s no denying that online meetings and workshops won’t be disappearing anytime soon.

Online workshops have the advantages of allowing people to collaborate across borders and time zones. On the other side, when not done right, they can also cause technological anxiety and potentially little to no outcomes, leaving participants and facilitators frustrated.

The good news is that a lot of the challenges faced in online facilitation can be mitigated with the right prep. Keep reading to find out some of the tips and tricks our innovation specialists use when facilitating online, and how they create engaging sessions that deliver results.

1. How to mitigate technology challenges

No matter how prepared you are, you’re likely to run into at least a couple of technical problems during most online workshop sessions. 

From poor audio or video, patchy internet, to background noise in your environment. You can’t control all the elements, but you can take steps to mitigate the impact of the tech issues you face.

Here are 4 steps you can start adopting right now:

  • Tell your participants before the workshop or meeting what’s expected of them so they have all the equipment they need ready to go. This includes a stable internet connection, logins for the platforms that you’ll be using, and a quiet room free of interruptions. 
  • Avoid delays by having your participants create a log-in for the required platforms or learn a tool ahead of time. Setting up can take up to fifteen minutes, and the last thing you want is to find yourself stuck troubleshooting from the get go. Have them set up early so any troubleshooting is tackled early on, and any anxieties around technology eased.
  • Have a backup device (such as another laptop or even a phone), a co-facilitator on standby, or the contact details of everyone from your group so you can contact them on how to regroup if the internet connection goes down.
  • If you have a co-facilitator, ensure they have access to all presentations, slides, collaboration platforms (e.g. Miro) and the video conferencing platform that you’re running your workshop on.

2. Plan for screen fatigue

Remote workers spend on average 13 hours staring at a screen – often going from their work laptop to their phones, when the day is over. On top of that, many remote workers report forgetting to take take mental breaks, which are as simple as the commute to work or going out for a coffee with colleagues.

So how can you account for these challenges? Keep your workshop short and sweet – keep all your online workshops to a max of 2 hours.

To combat screen fatigue, try these steps: 

  • Identify areas of the workshop that can be shortened or removed completely by working asynchronously in Slack or the chat instead. You could also set a brainstorming session for the group to do in their own time before the workshop to get back time from the agenda.
  • Set the expectations of regular breaks and stay true to them so participants can plan for them. This maintain engagement as participants don’t duck out to take a call or get distracted by tasks outside of the workshop. Watch for energy dips and ask the group if they need a break. Encourage them to get up and away from their computer and take a walk. A true break is one you take away from the screen!
  • Have the participants interact every ten minutes. You can do this by breaking up the session with videos, interactive elements such as polls or quizzes to maintain effective engagement. It can even be as simple as asking the participants a question and encouraging them to respond. Make sure to cut down your talking time as a facilitator – no matter how much you love talking!

3. Keep the participants engaged

Engagement can truly make or break a workshop, and it’s not different for an online session. A great facilitator designs engaging processes and delivers workshops that engage every participant. Without any interactive content or a structured process, participants can become distracted and disengaged by emails and their remote working environment. Here’s what you can do:

  • Set the expectations early, agree on some ground rules to keep everyone focused, just as you would do in real life. For example, agree on keeping phone notifications off until the next break.
  • Use interactive content. Asides from the usual polls and quizzes, you can bring in other components such as image hotspots that reveal texts, videos or photos, or a separate forum where participants have the opportunity to engage with each other by sharing ideas, discussions and overcoming any challenges together.
  • Take advantage of the competitiveness of participants by adding gamification to your workshop. Whether it’s through point scoring, leaderboard or badges by using platforms such as EdApp.
  • Remember there’s no one size fits all. An engaging workshop should  be interactive and specifically tailored to the group. Use methods that exercise both creative and critical thinking, just like in an in-person workshop.

4. Set some key online etiquette rules

Online etiquette can be crucial to the success of a workshop. As a facilitator, it’s your responsibility to ensure expectations for behaviour are defined before or at the very beginning of the workshop. Alternatively, they may decide as a group to reach consensus. Some basic online etiquette tips include:

  • Remembering to use the mute option when not speaking
  • Choosing a quiet environment to work from
  • When cameras are on, have your face well lit for visibility. Keep in mind that depending on the internet connection, turning off the camera may help with the call quality for some.
  • Full attention to the online workshop, and not multitasking e.g. answering emails or continuing to do other work.

5. Keep the learnings going after your online session

With a successful workshop, your participants leave inspired and driven, but how can you keep that momentum going? Here are some techniques that your group can put into practice to maximize their workshop learnings:

  • Use collaborative tools such as Slack, Miro or Asana, Teams to track learning materials, share experiences, continue discussions and progress projects further.
  • Schedule short and purpose led catchup meetings that have an agenda and actions that need to be done.

What’s next?

If you want to polish your online facilitation skills or are new to the space, join  us in the Certificate of Online Delivery. In just five 2-hour courses, you’ll master the art of online facilitation- from engagement to handling zoom fatigue. Starting 31 January 2023. Book your spot now.

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