What’s Important to us about Facilitating Virtually

CONTRACT virtual – Still Personal Progressive

“Some things are different, but many things stay the same”

In my opinion, this sentence summarises the comparison between face to face and virtual workshop offerings. For us, our focus with online workshops is also the human being: “Coming into contact with each other” and “getting in tune with each other” remain core elements of impactful people development.

What has changed significantly in recent weeks, however, is the ratio between face to face and virtual offerings. During the time of COVID-19, we have converted almost our entire training offering to virtual solutions. Our motto “personal progressive” remains in focus for our virtual offerings as well.

This basic idea also determines the way we design our virtual formats. Here, too, we work with small groups of usually a maximum of 14 participants. The focus remains on interaction, practice and joint discussion of learning content. Self-reflection and peer coaching also remain important elements of our online training courses.

We implement this by not designing “one-lecturing-to-many” webinars, but by working in digital learning environments in which time for individual reflection is planned, group work takes place in subchannels and the results are then discussed together in the plenary. A good “contracting” at the beginning of the online seminar has proven to be a success factor for us. Clear rules regarding the type of (virtual) cooperation provide structure and help participants to navigate themselves in the virtual learning environment, which is sometimes new for them.

Challenges with virtual workshops

We experience the reduced perception channels as a challenge in our virtual work. As trainers, it is important for us to get a sense of the group, to take in non- and paraverbal messages and reflect them back to our participants.

In the context of online-supported interaction, however, these channels of perception are clearly limited, the mood and needs in the group are more difficult to grasp. This makes it all the more important for us to enter into metacommunication with each other and provide opportunities for feedback.

Digital tools we use for this purpose are polls which allows us to continuously collect feedback from the participants. In addition, where possible, we use two facilitators so that we can split the group facilitation and the presentation of the content between two people. Furthermore, our experience is that the attention span in the digital context is lower than in the face to face setting. Therefore, we divide our workshops into shorter blocks, between which we leave enough breaks for “refocusing” or for urgent daily operational tasks.

Advantages that virtual workshops offer

In addition to the challenges described above, online workshops also offer a number of advantages over traditional face to face training. In recent weeks for example, we have tried out new formats that are even more closely linked to customer needs. One example is a newly established leadership development that extends over a total of 9 weeks with one session per week. This supports an even stronger learning on the job and we have the opportunity to be with the participants over a longer period of time and to evaluate successes and difficulties in the implementation of new behaviour patterns in our joint sessions.

COVID-19 as an opportunity for more virtual collaboration

As a result of COVID-19, organisations have had some challenges in collaboration but certainly also many positive experiences with home office work, virtual meetings and perhaps virtual training. We are confident that based on these experiences, virtual forms of collaboration will continue to play an important role in the world of work after Corona. This is not only good for the environment and all commuters plagued by traffic jams, but also enables greater flexibility and new opportunities in work-life blending. With regards to our further training offers, we can say that virtual solutions cannot replace personal encounters in all their facets, but (even after the crisis) will continue to be an important addition to analogue formats. AND – successful virtual communication and collaboration also needs to be practiced – and what’s better than practicing this in a virtual training context?

Julian Wonner – Consultant, CONTRACT Germany

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