Top Tips for Effective Remote Education and Business Support
In the last six months the whole world has had to adapt its work, businesses and services, in response to the impact of the global coronavirus outbreak. For many, including the Education team at ELBA and business support team at ELBP, this has meant embracing new and remote ways of working and delivering our work to our partners, volunteers, beneficiaries, and clients.
Although we have always explored technology and remote support as part of our offer – never has it been so central to the way we design and deliver our programmes and opportunities. It has been a steep learning curve. Initially our challenge was internal – learning how to work apart from one another and connect and communicate effectively over new platforms. Our second challenge was rapidly adapting our delivery, so that all our volunteer, student participants and businesses could continue to benefit from our ongoing and uninterrupted programmes of support, at a time when robust encouragement had never been needed more.
In these intense last few months of reconceptualising everything from the ground up, writing new guidelines, protocols and best practice and trialling how to make virtual delivery as compelling and cogent as possible, the team have learnt a lot.
ELBA will take this learning into the new academic year – a year where we know we will deliver all our autumn term time activity virtually and remotely, if not throughout the academic year beyond. ELBP will also continue to grow and adapt to support our local SME businesses through tough times. We will resume face-to-face delivery as soon as it is safe and logistically feasible to do so, factoring in all variables and hurdles.
The adaptation has affected the menu of opportunities we offer – it has not been possible to be face-to-face for mentoring sessions and active workshops, but we are building on video and telephone-based alternatives such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams.
As a team we have attended webinars, workshops and collaboration calls with our company partners and organisations in our networks and we’ve taken a great deal of learning from this too. No doubt we will continue to master the world of remote and online delivery, but in the spirit of sharing and the enormous value we have found in learning from others, we wanted to set out our key approaches for effective remote education and business delivery at ELBA and ELBP:
Virtual sessions take longer to prepare and more staff to facilitate. The preparation time required is calculated as double the session duration time. There should ideally be two facilitators managing the session; which includes overseeing presentation of the slides, any additional tools used, managing waiting rooms and chat facilities and supervising break out rooms. Practicing the session before delivering it live is also essential.
2. Managing engagement:
One key challenge with virtual video sessions is how to engage participants and retain energy. Sharing documents before the sessions that can be pre-read will make presentations more succinct. We have learnt that video sessions benefit from being shorter, including breaks, moving along at a punchier pace and utilising visual and interactive tools like websites, videos and icebreaker games – which all help to avoid digital fatigue. For longer running programmes we will develop as much supervised group video touch-points as possible.
3. Adapting methods and resources:
We adapted our Mentoring programme from face-to-face to telephone and Zoom sessions; which required thought around engagement, as well as delivery method and resources. Telephone mentoring can be effective if managed well. We hit upon the simple “flex method”, as some term it, which informed the design and delivery of our resources. The method has 3 steps – find a topic, learn about it on your own and explore it together on the phone call. The team was quick to create new resources around the programme’s key content, which were regularly shared to fully support mentors.
Whilst ELBA’s education team and ELBP’s business support team already had robust policies, protocols and practices in place, safeguarding in a virtual or remote environment requires some additional thought and implementation. It is imperative for us to keep young and vulnerable people safe online and ELBA have continued their policy of no unsupervised video communications between students and volunteers. Any video interaction will be supervised by Enhanced DBS cleared members of staff and adequate numbers of facilitators will be on the call-in order to oversee any breakout rooms.
5. Reflection and evaluation:
We know that we will continue to learn and improve in the coming months and up skill the team’s knowledge of tools and methods. We will be surveying our participants to see if we are delivering as effectively as we can and feed that back into our activities.
For the team there is another significant benefit to all our new digital work. We know that online and remote connectivity is here to stay, and recent statistics have been staggering; a leading video conference platform reported having over 300 million meeting participants per day in 2020 and remote work is set to increase by 77% from 2019-2022.
Author Bio: Siân Lewis,
Mentoring Works Programme Manager, ELBA/BIG Alliance
Sian Lewis is a Programme Manager from ELBP’s partner organisation East London Business Alliance (ELBA). She oversees all aspects of the Mentoring Works programme across ELBA and the BIG Alliance.
Sian has been part of the Mentoring Works team for over 10 years and believes passionately in the positive impact of mentoring and its power to aid social mobility and improve life chances for young people.