During the pandemic, many career practitioners have been asked to provide the same services to groups, but online. This has been the new normal for all career professionals and jobseekers, but it has also brought challenges. The biggest struggle is that there are few resources they can take advantage of in order to effectively transition from leading groups in person to online.
Here are 10 basic principles career practitioners should be aware of when transitioning to leading a group online from in-person facilitation to create well-designed and smooth sessions.
1. Be authentic
Leading groups online is not entirely different from facilitating in person. Take a breath, and remind yourself what skills you can bring to the table: compassion, patience, resiliency, sense of humour, mastery of the content. Whether you are familiar with the group nor not, what you know about group dynamics from in-person experiences is still true. There might be tensions within a group or people might have different learning styles and motivations. Just be yourself and try to make a connection with group members as much as possible.
2. Learn and practise the technology
Test whichever technology you are using in advance. The simplest tool should be chosen based on the size of your group. You should offer your help to group members in case of any technical difficulties. As you gain experience, new tools can be added to your toolbox.
3. Mitigate group members’ multitasking
Group members on screens may jump from window to window to search the web, play music or respond to messages. The temptation and likelihood of participants getting distracted or multitasking is significantly higher than when you are in person. Set expectations about minimizing distractions before your session through emails or reminder posts. You can sometimes use the distractions to engage participants, for instance by having group members text answers or giving them time to do online research during a discussion.
4. Engage frequently and in varied ways
Prioritizing engagement is crucial when you lead a group online. The best way to keep people engaged is to ask questions, switch up activities apart from discussions and have people journal. Adding elements of fun may encourage people to focus more. Secondly, group leaders should be mindful of varying how they prompt discussion. For example, don’t always ask yes/no chat questions. For best results, use a variety of engagement types that work for different communication styles and learning styles, and give people options.
5. Manage the energy of group members
The duration of group sessions should be scheduled for not more than two hours. Otherwise, it will be exhausting for both leaders and participants. Break for 10-15 minutes after one hour so people can get fresh air or attend to any pressing needs.
6. Honour people’s emotional state during a crisis time
You may find people in your sessions tired, angry, impatient or stressed over life challenges. Every group member usually brings their emotional state into their sessions. Even if group leaders don’t feel well-equipped to handle strong emotions, they can:
- Create space for people to acknowledge emotions they have
- Create a culture of checking in
- Model grace and patience
- Provide frequent breaks
7. Track participation
A common challenge in leading online is that we end up in a one-way conversation. Reading people online is more challenging than in person but it is not impossible. Thankfully, there are some strategies:
- Include polls or spectrums to gauge responses
- Ask general check-in questions
- Review activity between sections
- Check in with people on the phone before or after sessions (especially for tech difficulties)
8. Let people know you “see” them
The more seen people feel, the more they are likely to engage. They are also more likely to send you clear non-verbal signals when they know that someone is looking back through their screen. Here are a few examples for prompts that can let participants know that you see them:
- “It looks like only about half the group has shared ideas in the chat box. If anyone is having trouble with the chat, let us know, or you can share out loud.”
- “I see a lot of heads down on the web cameras, so I’m going to give you a little more time to journal.”
- “Everyone has shared except [name] and [name], who are joining by phone. Would you like to share, too?”
9. Be aware of technology challenges
Marginalized groups often tend to participate less frequently. This can become compounded by technology. Technological challenges may hamper their confidence. They may be afraid of being shamed by other groups members or revealing a lack of knowledge or resources. Group leaders should make sure all people – no matter their technological difficulty – can participate fully. Facilitators should try to always provide alternative options for participation to help group members engage in the session.
10. Release yourself and your group from the standard of perfection
Group leaders should be wary of the challenges of leading group online. They should prepare themselves for bumps on the road. The most important thing is to be calm and do your best when faced with challenges. The second-most important thing is to stay connected with group members in a sincere and compassionate way. Let’s model patience and caring with wisdom and intention.
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