In March 2020 I provided my last session face to face and then moved to online delivery. This got me thinking about how the issues and challenges of facilitating health professionals translate into the online environment.
Action learning and coaching demand a safe confidential environment to be effective, especially in healthcare. Quite easy to achieve in a conventional face-to-face setting. Working with online video conferencing systems such as Zoom, or Microsoft teams requires more preparation. To establish confidential live online sessions, make sure that you:
- Password protect sessions to control access.
- Use a waiting room so you can control who enters the session.
- Disable all recording facilities.
- Prevent people from changing their names during the session.
- Assure participants that these mechanisms will be in place before every session.
- Discourage participants from joining sessions in open environments; a person calling from a shared office can be distracting and breaches confidentiality.
On line sessions can be demanding for both facilitator and participants. Not all healthcare professionals will be accessing sessions from desktops or laptops. Many will have to use smartphones or tablet devices. Accessing a session from these is not that easy.
- Ask at the start of the session who is using what to access the session.
- Check in at period intervals to make sure they are able to follow and engage the session appropriately.
- Provide advance notice of break times and durations to help participants plan other activity around these times.
- Reduce the length of time between breaks.
Check your own background, make it as simple as possible and try to use the same background each time, to create a feeling of continuity.
Check your lighting to make sure your face is not in shadow or silhouetted against a window behind you.
If possible use headphones with a combined microphone, provides better sound quality and headphones reduce personal distractions. Also assures participants that conversations cannot be overheard so easily.
Plan ahead if working from home, try to ensure that others in the home are aware of the session. Try to discourage noisy activity and reduce interruptions.
Try different screen layouts, some platforms allow you to place participants in speaker views or gallery views. Work out the best way of seeing the group so that you can maximise interaction.
Coping with interruptions
Many healthcare professionals are in contact with their workplace most of the time at present. They will get calls on mobiles or be bleeped by work. I handle this interruption by asking them to indicate this to me and the group by whatever means works best – some gesticulate, some use icons on the platform others send a message via the platform. If at a critical point in the session then take a break, if not, then continue and retain the pace of the session. Don’t ask them to explain or justify the need for the interruption on their return to the session. It seems best to continue and if necessary provide a quick summary of the points missed.
Some participants will have children, pets, deliveries and home maintenance interrupt at some point. Enable the session to keep going, if facilitating a group then its easier to manage, if one to one coaching then try to ensure the session is planned to be non interrupted ahead of time if at all possible. If not, then use the mute button, stop the video and wait until they are ready to return to the session. I use a short re-cap session when they return to ensure they can re-focus and re-engage with the session. If really necessary then stop the session and plan to start at another time.
Broadband speeds can have a detrimental impact on sessions. With action learning and coaching it is sometimes easier to ask a person to switch to audio only, use a phone or landline.
Keeping track of time
Find a solution to keeping to time. Time is a valuable commodity. I have a phone on with a clock displayed in front of my screen. I also have an outline of the session timings to help. This is starting time, activity, breaks and finish time, a lesson plan of sorts.
Using prompts and artefacts
My style of facilitation and coaching relies at times on using metaphors, pictures and artefacts to stimulate thought and engage both the left and right sides of the brain.