A Virtual Approach from A to Zoom

Three years ago, I was facilitating a virtual training session on cross-cultural communication. I was using Skype for Business since it was our client’s internal platform. I’ve always enjoyed virtual sessions and connecting with people around the globe (especially for a cross-cultural program), yet my usual enjoyment that day was hampered by tech issues, glitches, and limitations.

I thought, “There must be a smoother path forward. I mean, we’ve got virtual assistants giving us directions and switching our lights on and off with voice commands.” After testing and trying different apps, our team chose Zoom as our go-to platform and I’d like to share that approach we’ve taken to virtual training plus the good and the bad of virtual platforms. 

Our Virtual Approach

With each new year, more and more employees are working remotely: in different offices, in different countries, and at home. With the recent work-from-home expansion in Asia, I hope many companies will see its long-term benefits beyond health and safety. Contrary to myths about remote being less effective, remote work is as productive as in-office work and often even more

productive.  Here are some quick facts from 22North, a virtual communication leader in the UK:

Fact: Remote workers can be more productive than in-office workers, up to a full day more productive each week.

Fact: Virtual teams can focus more on project quality and completion instead of the illusion of being busy by simply being in the office.

Fact: By making check-ins and catch-ups transparent, more people can see what’s happening without being physically in the same location or conference room.

Fact: It's easier for virtual teams to be more diverse, which leads to better performance over non-diverse teams.

Fact: Most importantly, remote work can help strong leaders become stronger by taking control of their own project and deadlines. For example, some people simply work better in the evening at their kitchen table instead in the morning at their office desk. Plus, they aren’t distracted by chatting and passing coworkers.

Remote workers can be more productive than in-office workers, up to a full day more productive each week.

The Association for Talent Development gives even more: faster responses to training needs, less costs (think travel and hotel), and less carbon footprint.

Virtual work, meetings, and training are here to stay for good, and that’s indeed good. Our team leverages these benefits in our global work, and in turn, we deliver virtual learning to stakeholders around the globe by embracing 3 key values:

1. We understand virtual interaction. Our online learning uses interactions, activities, and exercises just like our in-person programs. We prefer Zoom, and we run sessions on our clients’ preferred platforms; we’ve used them all! And yes, we will still happily use Skype for Business because in the end it’s the connection with the people that moves everyone forward.

2. We understand global goals. We’ve run programs across continents for over 5 years ranging from 1-on-1 coaching to hundreds of attendees. Our approach bridges cultures, time differences, and learner experience to make learning as focused and as enjoyable as can be.

3. We train others to do the same thing. We help clients become virtual trainers, leaders, and meeting organizers to maximize their virtual roles and teams. From in-house virtual conferencing to managing shared messaging apps, we love to help those who do good, do better.

What’s Stalling on Skype?

So why the dislike of Skype for Business and other clunkier-than-Zoom apps? First, I have to admit that I enjoy many features of Skype for Business and other platforms: PowerPoint viewing without screenshare (when it works), chat, polls, Q&A, shared whiteboard, and giving participants facilitation control to present their own work. Despite these features, the hiccups that happened in the cross-cultural course 3 years ago still stand out.

Hiccup: Since the session was established on the clients’ end, we had to operate with audio only. It was all pleasant voices with no smiles to see. I wished for the body language on video to increase everyone’s attention and to use as cultural difference examples.

Hiccup: File uploads took longer than expected (and I was on broadband speeds). At the beginning of my Skype for Business sessions I found myself repeating, “Hello, everyone, bear with Skype for a couple of minutes while the PowerPoint loads. How’s the weather in your location today?”

Hiccup: Participant connection problems were extreme that session: A. “My desktop won’t connect so I’m dialing in. What’s on the screen?” B: “The PowerPoint slide isn’t advancing on my end. I’m on slide 2. Why is everyone else able to see slide 5?” C. “What was that? I think I’m getting the audio a few seconds behind everyone else. Can we go back to the last question?” D: “Where is Aria? I think she had to log out and reconnect.” Some of these problems might have been local internet issues, yet over the years, they seemed to happen more with Skype for Business than with other platforms.

Hiccup: File uploading and viewing was limited to MS Office documents and JPEG images. With advanced planning, all files can be converted to MS Office and JPEG. When collaborating on the spot in different programs such as Mac Keynote or TIFF image captures, extra time for conversion was needed for uploading and viewing. What’s also frustrating: Go to the Skype for Business official help pages right now and try to find a list of approved file types.

Fortunately, these hiccups didn’t stop our progress. My years of preventing, troubleshooting, and getting past problems paid off (even if it sometimes meant sending out files via email and circumnavigating Skype for Business altogether).

We prefer Zoom, and we run sessions on our clients’ preferred platforms; we’ve used them all! And yes, we will still happily use Skype for Business because in the end it’s the connection with the people that moves everyone forward.

Zooming over to Zoom

Knowmium ultimately secured Zoom as our preferred training platform and we continually recommend it to others. By 2020, we’ve already seen fellow consultants, clients, non-profits, and friends choose it as their go-to communication platform. The benefits far exceed the rare tech issues. In a recent presentation session on Zoom, my experience included these pros:

Pro: Leveraging video functions of Zoom to see all the participants and zoom in on featured speakers. Body language on video helped us learn by example, give better presentation feedback, keep participant attention, and most of all, include more interactive activities. 

Pro: Participants knew they would need video during our session which led to better preparation. It helped their speech preparation and their readiness for remote communication from camera angle to background appearance.

Pro: Speaking of background arrangement, Zoom’s adjustable backgrounds give participants ease and creativity for what others see (or don’t see) behind them.

Pro: In a team of 6 people, we broke the large team into small groups with Zoom’s breakout room feature. Concurrent small group and pair exercises were easy to arrange. Bringing the full group back to the main session was smooth.

Pro: Some of the participant speeches were recorded using Zoom for personal review and we used them in 1-on-1 coaching sessions later.

Pro: The usual chat feature allowed us to comment and ask questions without disturbing the current speaker.

Pro: Collaborative whiteboarding created more engagement and gave us hands-on things to do.

In short, Zoom is the smoother way forward I wished for 3 years ago. The bugs and hiccups I faced elsewhere are few and far between. Customer support is fast even when I’m in Asia and it’s 3am in North America. 

While writing this article, I reached out to my friend and technical trainer at Zoom, Elyse Warford-Spearman. I asked her, “How do you use Zoom at Zoom? What would you like our clients and connections to know?”

Elyse was quick and happy to reply:

I love the ability to train people all over the world from my remote office here in Atlanta. I host our live public training webinars, and it’s so amazing to know that hundreds of people spanning the globe are joined together for a quick thirty-minute live training about how to use Zoom.

We use our platform to train in the same way that we encourage everyone else to use Zoom – we always have the camera on, and we always host live training. It’s a special service that we offer that sets us apart. In our training sessions, you’ll know that a real person, that you can actually see, is walking you through how to use all of Zoom’s amazing features, addressing your questions, and really cares about your experience using Zoom.

Even within our training team, I’m using Zoom every week to communicate and collaborate in real-time, face-to-face with my colleagues across the United States as well as in Germany and Australia.

I look forward to my next online session using Zoom. It’s a new presentation group next week. I’m not sure if I’ll run the session from my home or from my office, and knowing that it works well from any location, I feel at ease knowing I can run it from a hotel room on the chance that I’m called away for business.

Robert "Bob" Kienzle has over 15 years of business and education training experience on all 7 continents.  After completing his Masters in Communication studies he began his career first in the US training politicians, organisation administrators, & sales representatives in order to refine their rhetoric & persuasive approaches before moving to Asia. If you have any questions on Zoom, virtual training in general, or specific virtual facilitation, we suggest you reach out to him and the team at Knowmium.

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