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Here are a series of icebreakers and activities that you can do (or adapt, depending on the collaboration tools you use) to help build true interaction between remote teams. And not kill them with PowerPoint.
1. “On the face of it”
Using a group editing tool or whiteboard, have each participant copy an image of a famous person or character that they think represents them. Then, in audio or text chat, everyone has to guess who chose what image to represent themselves.
2. Games like Pictionary and Name That Tune
Use the real-time whiteboard or shared multi-user document tool or link sharing to play a game of name that tune or to play Pictionary.
3. Giomage — Group Interactive Images
I tried to coin this term — but it didn’t stick. The idea is sound though! A giomage is a group interactive image. Basically, set a topic, and ask everyone on the team to copy and paste an image of this topic to the whiteboard. You’ll end up with a really cool and unique collage. In this example, the topic was famous locations in your hometown.
4. Webcam manipulatives
Rather than pointing your webcam (or other camera) at your face, use it to show something in your office. Or a view out your window. Or give a tour of your house so people can see where you live or work. Or take the laptop or mobile device out on the street and bring a remote team to lunch at your favorite cafe!
5. Kill the slides, and draw!
Use your tablet, pen-computing device, or interactive whiteboard to draw your ideas in real time. TRICK: Keep the “final” version of what you want to draw off-camera to the side, then “copy” it by hand on to your device or whiteboard.
This will help you become a bit less nervous that you’ll forget what you were going to draw. Of course, be prepared for input and ideas, because you aren’t showing slides and people will be a lot more willing (and awake!) to jump in and collaborate as compared with simply being asked to watch slides.
6. “Call” on somebody
This suggestion takes a bit more bravery, because it will call out those who use “webinars” as an excuse to put another window on top of the session and do something else. Or worse, walk out of the room completely.
So, instead of presenting something for 20 minutes, have a conversation and ask people questions! “Bob, what do you think of that?” “Trish — Can you hop in and elaborate on Bob’s idea?” Do what you would do in a face-to-face meeting!
And, if you have the right tools and want to get very formal about it, you can find out who has a window “on top” of the webconferencing session (for example, this is an option in Zoom) and gently, after the session, remind the person not paying attention that they should probably try to pay attention and participate.
6a. As a corollary, use video as often as possible
Using multi-point video as often as possible, and when possible, allows each team member to see who is really interacting (like in a real room) and makes #6 not necessary. But the most important part is that you can see when people are engaged, confused, understand, or want to join in.
7. In-session chat is your friend
Encourage people to have a running text chat in the meeting. To take notes. To re-enforce points. To ask questions. There is an amazing power to people being able to ask both public and private questions in text chat in the virtual room as the discussion unfolds live
- If someone asks a public question, others will see that they are not alone and possibly be more willing to agree that they too had that question.
- In sessions where some participants are very shy or don’t natively speak the main language of the session, those people can privately text chat to a leader and ask a question that is not asked in front of everyone. And yet they can still have the question addressed in real time.
Adapt and expand as needed
Your webconferencing tool may not support each of these approaches. They may have technology that allows additional approaches. Adapt and expand as you see fit.
But keep in mind that merely providing “Death by PowerPoint” as the sole communication modality is not enhancing the ability for you teams to optimally collaborate, communicate, and produce when they are remote.
What are your ideas to better make real-time remote collaboration more effective?
Note: Some of these ideas were suggested or developed by people, including me, at Elluminate over 9(!) years ago. I have collected them and publicly presented (and honed) them at various conferences and trainings. Elluminate is now a part of Blackboard.