By Megan Evans and Miriam O Donoghue

Since the beginning of lockdown a large proportion of people across the world have switched from office working to working solely online from home. It has spelled the end of lengthy commutes, meant more time to spend with the family and of course, a reduced risk of catching the virus. Yet, along with these benefits, many of us have begun to notice the more negative effects of spending all day online; without those spontaneous chats around the coffee machine, popping out for lunch, or even just the pressure of sitting in meeting room (where you have no option to switch your camera off) we can become easily disengaged and de-energized.

“Don’t fall into the trap of thinking the virtual world is simply the same as the ‘real’ one!”

In this new environment, many team leaders, managers and even experienced facilitators have begun to realise that the tools they used to combat disengagement face to face, do not work nearly as well, if at all, online. It is essential to recognise that this different world needs different techniques – don’t fall into the trap of thinking the virtual world is simply the same as the ‘real’ one! Yet, if we spend a little more time planning and researching, it can yield big rewards in terms of productivity, creativity and engagement levels in online meetings and events.

Here are just 10 ideas, gleaned from our experience as online facilitators to help you and your team stay focused online:

10 Ideas for Facilitators

  1. Make sure your team has the right equipment – Before you start make sure everyone has access to decent headphones with a microphone, a good screen, a comfortable chair and a good internet connection. If people are bent awkwardly over a computer all day, with the connection cutting out every few seconds and unable to hear anyone properly, they are going to become irritable very quickly. If your team is comfortable they will be able to sit and focus for longer periods.
  1. Keep to the meeting time – Don’t let meetings run on endlessly or keep people waiting around for the host to start on time. That way people aren’t left wondering when they will get their lunch or when the host will eventually decide to appear. Whether at home or at work people’s time is valuable and should be respected. Start and end on time – simple as.
  1. Build in breaks – Factor in more breaks. The amount of time we can concentrate online is significantly less than we can in person. You should build in a short break every 30-45 minutes so people can move and refresh. You can even use an on screen timer so people don’t lose track of time. However, do encourage microphones to be muted if they are leaving the room, so you don’t hear 20 people brewing the kettle at the same time!
  1. Have a clear agenda  – Be clear why you are meeting and what actions you want to have accomplished by the end – then make sure you get them done. This way your team will leave feeling the meeting was worthwhile and not be reluctant to attend the next one! 
  1. Make sure everyone can clearly see and hear each other – Take 5 minutes at the beginning to make sure everyone is able to see and hear one another well. 80% of what we say is in our body language and facial expressions and 15% is in our tone – these factors are already difficult to pick up on online as it is. You will find it makes a huge difference to be able to see and hear everyone’s faces and voices clearly – people don’t want to look up your nose for an hour or just look at the top of your head!
  1. Run at least one quick quiz, poll or energiser – To keep engagement levels up we recommend adding a little variety into your meetings. You can do this in different ways. For example you can invite people to comment a word, observation or question into the chat, or even run a quick poll on the video software itself. You can inviting people to add their comments to a google document or mentimetre (, or add in a quick energiser activity. There is literally no end to what you can do.
  1. Don’t spend too much time on chit chat – Whilst it is great to catch up and build bonds with colleagues don’t let it chit-chat go on endlessly. You wouldn’t spend much time on social chat in face to face meetings, so don’t do it in virtual ones. The problem is that scheduled Zoom meetings are the only time we get to speak to each other, as we are not catching up in the office or on lunch breaks. Instead suggest people can carry on afterwards with an “after meeting coffee” or encourage people to check in with each other once a week. You can even create an open space on Zoom where your team can log on and work with each other in the background like a virtual office.
  1. Ensure someone facilitates the meeting/event – Just as a face to face meeting usually has a chair or facilitator, make sure someone is in charge of actually facilitating the group. This can often get forgotten in virtual meetings and it is essential for their success. Don’t make it a free for all, with everyone interrupting each other.
  1. Use breakout rooms – If your platform has the capacity (check it out online) try using break out rooms. If you’ve never heard of them before, breakout rooms essentially allow you to go from working in plenary to working in smaller groups without leaving the zoom room. Sometimes people feel more confident and able to express their ideas in smaller groups rather than presenting them to the whole team at once.
  1. Have shorter meetings – Where possible you should aim for meetings to last no longer than 2 hours. If you have a lot to discuss, try breaking it down into shorter, more regular meetings. This ensures that everyone stays as productive as they can be and don’t get fatigued by spending all day in the same meeting.

In short, if you keep the meeting to the point, add in variety with quick energisers and ensure everyone is well equipped, you can really thrive in the virtual world of work. Online video conferencing platforms have been the saviour recently of both our work and personal lives, yet as time goes on, it is becoming clear that the virtual environment is here to stay. So, remember with a little planning and thought you can still have all the benefits of the online world whilst remaining connected, engaged and focused…(well almost, we can’t stop the cat walking over your keyboard – we’ll have to leave that one up to you!)

How can we help ?

Sign up for our 2 hour Energising Online Groups workshop on 28th September, 4th November and 24th November with Miriam O’Donoghue and Megan Evans. This active two hour course will introduce you to a toolkit of energiser activities that will give your group a boost and help manage their concentration, mood and engagement online. All of our energiser activities require minimal or no prior set up and can be used as and when needed during online sessions.

Or why not join our longer, more intensive 3 week Facilitating Virtual Events online course, if you really want to delve into the world of online facilitation. Run great online meetings, workshops and events by learning and practicing ways to make online events participatory, engaging and productive with our online expert, Orla Cronin.

Ask us for help! Wanting to facilitate your own virtual meeting and looking for some guidance and support? Contact us to discuss how we can help- talking through the design, offering tips and hints, mentoring your development, or even asking us to co-facilitate or produce for you.