How to Ensure Your Virtual Community of Practice Thrives During Quarantine

A man works with his virtual community of practiceThe world didn’t stop turning when we all went into quarantine. I live in California and we’ve been sheltering in place for several weeks now and I’ve been working for Touro University from home. I’m sure you’d agree that there’s a pressing need for community and the interaction, learning, and problem-solving it can provide in these chaotic times. 

It’s been interesting to watch Communities of Practice (CoPs) spring into existence to meet these new challenges. For example, I’m seeing how educators are seeing the need to remain connected. They are forming CoPs to quickly share strategies on setting up virtual classrooms, reinforce the bonds they established in person, and connect with other teachers who share similar challenges and can provide creative solutions.

The medical field is also seeing the need for Communities of Practice. For instance, the COVID-19 Clinical Council has established 23 multidisciplinary clinical communities of practice across key clinical specialties to support the response to COVID-19. 

Luckily, we’ve acquired technology in the past few years that can help us to move forward, pandemic notwithstanding. If used effectively, there’s no reason why we can’t be just as productive in quarantine as we are in-person. The operative words being if used effectively

It’s difficult enough to have an effective CoP meeting in person, to say nothing of virtual meetings. It’s likely that you’ve had the following experience: Your Zoom meeting begins on a strong note, with everyone glad to see each other again and ready to get to work. However, after a while, the meeting just seems to peter out, as there is no real direction to the conversation.

Here are some tips that I’ve compiled on how we can have better remote CoP meetings. My thought is that these tips will prove to be useful even in a post-coronavirus world. 

Define the problem 

You need to provide a structured opportunity for attendees to engage fully. In order to do that, attendees need to have felt the problem. It’s when your audience engages emotionally with the problem (or opportunity) that they will get involved. You might try to share a shocking statistic, anecdote, or analogy that dramatizes the problem. The group has to realize the importance of what you’re discussing. Because let’s face it, when you are working remotely, it can be all too easy to get distracted. 

Share responsibility 

Due to the nature of virtual meetings, you can become, without thinking, a passive observer rather than an engaged participant. To counteract this effect, create an experience of shared responsibility in your presentation. Give team members tasks in which they can actively take part so there is nowhere to hide. The more members there are in the group, the more important it is that you find specific ways of engaging with everyone. For example, you could break people into groups and give them separate tasks with a fixed time-frame; this way, everyone feels personally responsible for a part of the discussion.

Be prepared and concise 

As I’ve already mentioned, without meaningful interaction, group members will lose focus. To keep everyone engaged, everyone must be prepared. Don’t lose sight of the goal of the meeting, whatever that may be. However, being prepared isn’t the same as being long-winded. The last thing your group needs is an hour-long Powerpoint presentation with only one speaker. Switch it up every five minutes to keep your team engaged; otherwise, your team members will revert back to the role of observers rather than participants, and as we’ve learned, you don’t want that. 

Of course, these principles apply to in-person meetings as well. However, there is a whole new set of challenges when team members are alone and their minds are free to wander. 

Learning doesn’t need to stop during these tough times. In fact, a virtual Community of Practice can help to lift your spirits as you find new ways to help others in your community. I would love to hear about how your involvement in a virtual Community of Practice is making a difference for you and for those you serve. Please contact me or connect with me via LinkedIn.

Louise J Santiago, PhD
Executive Coach and Organizational Consultant

Where Leadership is Intentional Work

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