Connecting during COVID

by Valerie Delaney, Principal, Learning and Development

I listened to the daily briefing from Dr. Bonnie Henry, the Provincial Health Officer of BC, comforted by her calm voice and impressed by her ability to keep things simple – to break it all down for us so that everybody can understand.

She talked about “maintaining the physical distance between people but we also need to come together as a community and to do that virtually…we need to take care of each other right now…we need to be kind and we need everybody to do their part….”

I have been feeling isolated like everyone else.  We moved to BC just four months ago, and left behind the “big family” as we call it – brothers, sisters, spouses, nieces, nephews, and lots of babies! We are so grateful to be near our grown children and grandchildren – even if we can’t visit – but I needed to come together with the community of my loud, funny “big family” back East. So, a couple of days ago, D+A technology rode to the rescue with a conference call with the FAM!!!! (Don’t worry if you don’t have a conference line; most smart phones have an “add call” feature that allows you to add people to a call.)

Three simple things made this work and will make any online meeting work smoothly.

  1. The invitation, and instructions on how to join the conversation, were sent early. No need to also send an agenda and supporting documentation early for our family meeting. We all knew this was about connecting virtually – to hear each other’s voices and get caught up.

An agenda, however, is key to the success of most online meetings. Send it and any required documentation well in advance so people actually have time to read and respond to it. Sending the agenda and/or documentation just before a meeting says, “This is not really important. I had other pressing things to do.” Unless you are a front-line worker right now, you can’t use this excuse. Nothing makes me disengage more than getting an agenda minutes before the meeting. Do the prep and get the results.

  1. The conversation had a moderator. That would be me – oldest sister still carries some weight around here.  I also managed the minutes, which should have been a challenge – because we are all TALKERS – but wasn’t a challenge at all.  The moderator position is part of the process where people can see themselves getting their fair turn.

Don’t overlook the need for a moderator for your online meetings.  Any assumption the discussion will “just happen” or “everybody can take a turn” spells disaster.  Someone must lead the discussion and manage the minutes.

  1. There was a speaking order. Ok, I admit my go-to with the FAM is oldest to youngest, which is some kind of weird age bias on my part.  I was inspired at the last minute to try something new.  I decided the speaking order would be from “first on the call” to “last on the call”.  I asked people if this was ok and got agreement. I kept notes as people joined, so I didn’t mess up or miss anyone. Did I mention this is a BIG family? It worked out great, and funny enough, the first person on the call was the youngest.  Perfect!

A speaking order is important for your meeting too, but don’t leave it to inspiration.  Decide ahead of time.  You might go in geographic or regional order – west to east, or regions to headquarters, for instance. You might go around the group from senior to less senior or vice versa, though either can be risky.  Your understanding of the issue at hand and the group dynamics at play will help you decide. And always, extend the invitation for people simply “to pass”.  Waiting to respond to a question can be agony for the shy person in the group, but the moderator can’t pick up on non-verbal cues as in a face-to-face meeting.  Create a space in the agenda – at the end typically – for concluding thoughts.

I am grateful to Dr. Henry because she has faith that each and every one of us can do our part.  For most of us, that means keeping our physical distance.  It’s going to be easier (not easy) if we work at maintaining our sense of community. Next week:  FAM goes live in our first Go-to Meeting.  It will be a dry run for our Easter “visit”.  Stay tuned and stay healthy, happy and kind.