Remote Team Off-Sites: How Can Virtual Off-Sites Take Place in Times of Corona?
25/05/2020 |

Remote Team Off-Sites: How Can Virtual Off-Sites Take Place in Times of Corona?

Meeting with several colleagues for Team Off-Sites, Work Togethers or
Team Work Days are not possible these days. Nevertheless, such activities
can be successfully arranged virtually. You just have to know how.

A problem that everyone who manages a distributed team has is answering the question, “How can cohesion, communication and understanding within the team be promoted when everyone is spread out and there is no big budget for travelling?” So far, however, this challenge has affected far fewer companies, teams or department heads than it does now that contact has been reduced by Corona.
Nevertheless, ways have to be found to arrange meetings, like off-sites, because they are important for successfully working teams.

What is clear is that communication between people who are in the same room is certainly easier. About 55% of communication consists of facial expressions and other body language. If you talk with “miniatures” on a screen, this is not really comparable.

Right now, it is especially important that team members not only harmonize about facts and tasks, but also get closer to each other personally. But how do you achieve this? There are a lot of challenges that need to be overcome if virtual get togethers are to be successful and effective in the long term.

What Are the Challenges and How Can We Meet Them?

Increased Need for Preparation:

  • Think about the structure and content of the meeting at an early stage, and make a plan for the entire duration of the meeting.
  • Ensure that the off-site is moderated.
  • Familiarize yourself with the technical equipment to be used. Make a Plan B in case something does not work from a technical point of view.
  • Plan for breaks and lunch.
  • Ensure that social activities are prepared.
  • Send out physical items, sweets or a nice invitation, in advance.

Different Time Zones:

  • Plan the most important topics at a time when everyone can attend.
  • Share opportunities to give feedback and ask questions with those who cannot attend. Use an online whiteboard or Trello.
  • Record the meetings and make them available to those who could not attend.
  • Run regional offsites with the appropriate part of the team.

Ensure Attention:

  • If possible, always use video transmission.
  • Make meetings interactive.
  • Plan enough time and space for informal discussions, socializing and breaks.
  • Define rules for the virtual meeting and share them.
Make room for socializing within your agenda, e.g. with a short small talk session after lunch or a small talk breakfast.

Build Team Spirit:

  • Plan and carry out social activities.
  • Involve the whole team and ask for opinions or have activities organized.
  • Make room for socializing within your agenda, e.g. with a short small talk session after lunch or a small talk breakfast.
  • Talk about the social aspect and this particular situation we are in at the moment to promote understanding and motivate colleagues.

Perhaps you have already been able to do something with the one of these tips and already have concrete ideas about how to successfully deal with the new situation when it comes to planning your team off-sites. That would be perfect. However, if you still need suggestions, we will take a closer look at how to implement them, and provide you with useful tools.

Implementation and Useful Tools

The Tool

Tools for video conferencing are becoming more and more important in these times. For some time now, programs have offered all the functions that actually make real meetings – especially across national borders – superfluous.
The choice of tools is large. GoToMeeting, Google, Slack, Zoom or Cisco, BlueJeans, clickmeeting, FastViewer, JitsiMeet, Skype for Business or Microsoft Teams are just some of them.

In order to find the tool that suits you best, you should compare the services offered individually.  Due to the current situation around COVID-19 several providers even offer some of their chat, video conferencing and other collaboration services for free. This may also play an important role in the decision.

Virtual Meeting Rules

Rules can help to avoid uncertainty about how to behave in certain situations and what participants need to do. These are probably more often needed in virtual meetings.

How to create the rules?

  • They can be collected and defined as the first task within the group.
  • They can be defined in advance and presented at the beginning of the meeting.

What is to be considered?

  • The groups could agree on a special hand signal to inform others about connection problems/echos/background noise.
  • The moderator should observe and give advice when rules are not followed.

Sample collection of useful rules:

  • Activate the camera all the times.
  • Set it to mute when you are not speaking.
  • Let the other person speak.
  • Interrupt someone who cannot be understood due to problems with the Internet connection/echos/background noise immediately.
  • Use the chat for questions.
  • Raise your hand as a sign if you have questions or comments.
  • The moderator will call you when it is your turn.
  • Be concentrated and do not work on other things while in the meeting.
  • This is an interactive off-site: Get actively involved, be interested, be open & ask questions!

Moderation

The moderation of virtual off-sites can help to give structure, add orientation and increase efficiency.

  • The moderator should take care of organizational tasks, such as the meeting duration, breaks, upcoming challenges/requirements and dealing with questions.
  • Immediately capture all agreed-upon tasks in a shared remote work tool like OTRS.
  • The facilitator should know the tool to be used very well and always have a Plan B prepared.

Structure and content

Virtual off-sites may require more preparation, especially since we are not used to them. A clear structure and defined agenda are useful in advance.

  • Collect requests for topics in advance.
  • Define a main theme for each day. Divide this into shorter (interactive) sessions.
  • Assign meeting topics to team members, and let them become topic experts. Each could prepare and chair a meeting independently.
  • Interactivity arouses interest and attention.
  • Encourage small talk at the beginning of the day.
  • Create an agenda/topic list for each day and communicate it in advance. Also, share your expectations and what is needed from participants for preparation.
  • Use a kanban board to structure the off-site to let others easily know what is coming up, what the current topic is, and what is to be done. Trello is an example of this.

The sessions

What to consider?

  • Do short sessions (Max. of one to one and a half hours) followed by a break because long sessions require a lot of concentration. The longer a session, the fewer people will be active and interested.
  • Overall, sessions should not exceed five hours per day.
  • Record sessions to make them available to colleagues who are in another time zone.
  • Try an online whiteboard, such as Miro.
  • Vary the format. Work together or in smaller teams to find solutions to challenges. Follow this by a presentation.

Assign tasks.

  • Assign roles, such as moderator, timekeeper, or minute taker.
  • Be creative and invent new possible roles.
Virtual workshops are more strenuous and require more concentration. In addition, problems with audio/video transmissions can be nerve-wracking. Therefore, it is advisable that you plan for more breaks.

Breaks and Lunch

Virtual workshops are more strenuous and require more concentration. In addition, problems with audio/video transmissions can be nerve-wracking. Therefore, it is advisable that you plan for more breaks.

  • Take more frequent short breaks of at least 15 minutes.
  • Plan fixed lunch breaks of at least an hour to an hour and a half.
  • Before a break, summarize what you have discussed and what is planned next.
  • After a break, give a brief overview of what is to follow.

Gimmicks

Especially in these times, or in any new still-unfamiliar situation, it is important to give employees the feeling that they are being cared for and that they are important.

But how?

  • Send an invitation to the off-site with team photos/off-site pictures from the last time.
  • Send out candy or chips in advance.
  • Send a motivating email, thanking them for their work and wishing them fun.

Socializing

Within a virtual organization, socialization is one of the most important factors in creating team spirit and providing space for informal exchange.

But how?

  • Ask the team members to bring in ideas for personal interaction in advance.
  • Assign the team the task of brainstorming and agreeing on three activities for socializing.
  • Carefully organize the activities in advance.

So, now it’s up to you. Take advantage of the opportunities provided by the current situation. The insights you gain will help you in the future once normality has returned. It’s in your hands, and we hope you have a wonderful virtual off-site.

Text:
Photos: Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

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