How is your remote work going?  

Are you missing those things you can’t plan for? Are you not having those “spontaneous, fun, informal collisions where a few people pitch and laugh about a crazy idea and then walk up to a whiteboard when they realize they have something really cool?”

Virtual Facilitation

Are You, Too, Longing for the Magic of Human Interaction?

The question that came to me recently is “How do you facilitate for unexpected and unplanned magic?”

Virtual work can be better suited for those planning types of collaboration – setting the goal, tracking the progress, talking about risks, prioritizing the work. 

Online tools (like Mural, Miro, etc) make that kind of planning work even more productive online than in person when you have to huddle around a white board. 

What happens though, is that you can become so efficient and focused on the task that you end up factoring out the human connections and the random creativity.

It’s Not About Productivity, It’s About Connections

What we miss online is the personal connections and the ‘water cooler conversations’. 

We can also miss the *sighs* and *laughs* during meetings, especially if everyone is being polite and taking turns speaking, muting while others are talking, and turning off video.

Trust building is different in remote work than in face to face. 

There are three types of trust:

  • Swift Trust is built quickly when people first meet, but it is the more fragile type
  • Cognitive Trust is built as people demonstrate they are reliable and competent and is stronger than swift trust
  • Affective Trust is built gradually and replaces cognitive trust as people get to know one another. It’s the strongest and longest-lasting form of trust.

In face to face work, 

  • swift trust is based on benevolence and is built in informal interactions
  • cognitive trust is built by seeing the work of your team members 
  • affective trust is built by socializing with team members over time. 

In remote work, 

  • swift trust is based on qualifications (who are you and why are you on this team?)
  • cognitive trust is based on reliability (can I depend on you to do what you said you would do?)
  •  affective trust is based on benevolence and is built when there is social content built into task-based communications and there is space created for informal and interpersonal reactions.

Bringing Affective Trust to Online Meetings

If your team has the swift trust and cognitive trust but is missing aspects of the affective trust, here are some ways to bring more of that into online meetings.

Make a request that everyone be off mute (as much as possible – use common sense to balance background noise) and on video. We want to hear the sighs, laughter and interruptions! This is what we’re often missing the most with the mute button. That and waiting for someone to unmute so they can speak. 

Normalize ‘collisions’ – 2 or more people talking at one time. They will happen! When it does say your name and sort out who speaks first.

Start with a check-in – ask everyone to speak and share something personal. You can make it fun or edgy and you might build the practice over time. (I very seldom start any meeting, regardless of the topic, without a check-in anymore. I find it totally shifts the space when people can share some personal, even if it’s that they had a great morning and they are ready to get started with the day.)

Create space and an activity where you welcome the ‘crazy ideas’. You might save 15 min at the end of a planning meeting  – divide people up and send them into pair breakouts where they can chat about some idea or inspiration that is based on the conversation they just heard in the large group. Ask them to share the ideas on a board or back in the large group.

Bringing Affective Trust Into Your Remote Workspace

Taking It one step further, you can bring affective trust into your remote workspace! Here is how.

  • Create a random channel in Slack for sharing personal stories or what happened over the weekend
  • Introduce off topic collaborations
  • Brainstorm crazy ideas and schedule impromptu opportunities to hear about them

Ways to Create Space of Unplanned Magic

Unplanned magic takes a bit of… planning, for the facilitator, that is! 

IDEA: Hold a ‘crazy idea’ day. Plan an informal gathering, and bring your favorite beverage! Then everyone gets 10 minutes to pitch their ‘crazy’ idea. 

In principle, you’re looking to build in *space*, slack time in current meetings – or create a new gathering – so you can bring the personal chit chat and connections into the conversations. 

Leaders and facilitators will need to create the space and go first, especially if any of this is new to others. You might also need to help others understand why you’re creating the connection time.

To learn more about Virtual Team Facilitation, read this

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