Over the last couple of months, I have hosted three online retreats for groups of my mentees/coachees and other ‘associates’! In total, thirty folks have engaged, and all the feedback has been positive. The theme for these virtual gatherings has been ‘Under the Bonnet’ because one of my mentees commented a little while ago that he felt mentoring sessions are a bit like lifting the bonnet on life and having a look what’s going on out of sight! I quite like that analogy. My wife, Jane, and I have also scheduled three further similar events for the next month, but this time we have invited individuals and couples who have a vision to use their own homes in the ministry of hospitality. Again, about ten folks will take part in each retreat. On Tuesday evening this coming week, I am speaking at an online mentoring training evening that is being hosted by St Paul’s Church, Jersey. I also chair the board of governors at a local high school, and we have conducted all our meetings online since the lockdown began. They have all been very positive and productive. I thank God for all these opportunities and for the ways in which my work and ministry is being made virtually possible.
I have been using online platforms for my ministry for several years, and I’m now quite used to it, whether on Skype, FaceTime, WhatsApp video, Microsoft Teams or Zoom. These are my favoured options. Indeed, in the mentoring and coaching training that I do, I normally suggest that three out of four sessions could be conducted online. It seems to me that we do actually need to meet ‘in the flesh’ sometimes!
As an erstwhile technophobe, however, it has not come easily to me to work like this because first and foremost, I am a highly relational guy (and love coffee shops!). But having been able to ‘get over myself’ a bit, I’m now able to embrace the tremendous opportunities that technology brings and use them to my advantage. I do recognise, however, that it is still very new for many of us and we need to cheer each other on; hence this blog!
Here are a few of my personal reflections, in no particular order:
- Ensure you have the latest version downloaded of the platform you are using
- Check security (Zoom and What’s App are now encrypted so seem to be the best)
- Be as close to your router as possible!
- Practise with a friend to ensure you are actually looking at the camera and that your head and shoulders can be seen as opposed to huge expanses of ceiling! (some packages also allow you to ‘test’ your camera and microphone beforehand to check this yourself!)
- Check lighting, i.e. it needs to be facing you and not behind you
- Have a glass of water handy
- You might need to put a ‘Do Not Disturb’ post it on the door!
- Consider the ‘background’ that will be on view
- In any pre-meeting communication, encourage your mentee/coachee to be somewhere they will not be disturbed
- Consider using headphones to ensure confidentiality
- Go to the loo before you start!
- In group discussions, have everyone on mute and ask them to raise a hand when they want to contribute
- Bear in mind that online work is much more intense and tiring, so don’t overdo it. As a general rule, I wouldn’t have more than three meetings in a day
- As mentor/coach, take responsibility for managing the time and the online environment. In particular, set up the meeting, send the necessary link etc.
- Being comfortable with pauses and silences, a key part of our work, can be challenging online, but I encourage you to flag this up in your opening comments and pray that God will give the ease and grace needed
- Keep meetings to an hour and be boundaried.
- Keep the time well and structure the conversation so that it has a beginning, middle and end.
- Give a 5-minute warning to allow time to pray and fix your next appointment
- Body language, including facial expressions, eye contact and hand gestures are so much more pronounced, on both sides!
I could go on, and I don’t pretend that this is an exhaustive list. I’m still learning myself, but I trust these thoughts might be helpful. Feel free to add any of your own pearls of wisdom in the comments below.