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Working with remote stakeholders and customers

Some practical guidance on how to run working sessions with stakeholders, customers, executives, external clients, teams and partners.  We’ll talk about tools in a separate article.

Business continuity is possible. 

 

Context:

Since the COVID-19 global outbreak, there have been many helpful articles on remote general working with colleagues, or within a company, and products like Zoom, Teams, Office365, GSuite and others are booming.  But what do you do when you need to have working sessions remotely with your customers, executives, stakeholders or external teams? This briefing offers some tips and best practices when you need to do more than touch base with a few co-workers or collaborate on a document with your team. 

Let’s say you’re working remotely – for weeks – due to COVID-19 restrictions.  It’s going pretty well – your home office is all set, your video conferencing capabilities are solid, you’re successfully collaborating on documents, and your online tools are working just as well at home as in the office. You’ve also aligned with your team and management on rules of the working-remotely-road.  So far so good.

But what happens when you have a larger, riskier and more complex scenario:

  • Provide training to 400 associates on new payment guidelines?
  • Meet with a key account on a proposal?
  • Kick off a global project initiative for 100 inter-company collaborators including workflow ideation?
  • Discuss a clinical concern with one or two prescribing HCPs?
  • Run a medical trial review with 20 Doctors who are already swamped due to overload?
  • Present payment access information to 2,000 potential patients for life saving treatment?
  • Conduct a global leadership summit for 40 executives in which new strategies are developed.   And then you have to help communicate those changes to 1,000 of their staff?
  • Replace a National Sales Meeting and training for 900 people with an online program?
  • Negotiate a complex agreement with 5 lawyers, 7 executives, and 9 operating staff?  

 

Business can’t just “wait until things get better”, you need to execute successfully. And reduce reputational risk.

When working with customers, stakeholders, executives, external clients, partners or teams, the level of risk to you or your company or your team’s reputation goes up significantly. And when working with teams or individuals not fully aligned with your tools, workflow or technology, the level of complexity also goes up dramatically.   

And consider the most obvious facts that that working-session participants tend to run 5+ min late to meetings and that 5-10% of participants in a meeting have some kind of technical or logistical issue that derails the meeting for everyone else. Not a great starting point.

What can you do to reduce those risks?  Simple: plan your pre-, in- and post- session activities and get appropriate support.  Here are the tips – and note – doing these takes time that may feel like a waste – but you’re not commuting so you have the time.   

And also – there may be terms or concepts below that need further clarification – if so – just reach out; we’re happy to go through them. 

Assess who will be in the sessions, what they need and contribute and disinvite everyone not essential:

For any given working session, you’ll have a blend of the members below, and each have different needs, roles and expectations.  Consider them carefully, write down what you know and what you don’t know and prep your session around their participation.

  1. Presenters and facilitators
  2. Attendees
  3. Administrative support staff
  4. Production support staff 

Don’t wing it, fully design your session – for conversation and outcomes

While prepping a meeting in a face-to-face setting is important, prepping for a virtual working session is critical. Add twice as much planning time for your meeting. Shorten full working-session days to ½ days, and extend out.  And consider the following guidelines:  

  1. Disallow presentation and plan for conversation and collaboration. Use engagement best practices to ensure all participants contribute and feel heard
  2. Build a session run-sheet and, if a larger program build a program show-flow
  3. Collaborate with a session designer to improve outcomes and encourage engagement

Don’t wait until meeting time – prep your facilitators, attendees and support staff

The temptation to “just hop on a call” is real but don’t do it.  Use a virtual platform and prepare.  

  1. Include interaction and usage guidance in all outbound communications
  2. Ensure your meeting environment is set up and matches the runsheet
  3. Rehearse with facilitators, presenters and production support
  4. Run “techxpectation” checks with attendees
  5. Communicate goals, behaviors and needs to all involved 

Start early, end on time, keep everyone focused and drive a tight session

You’ll have to command the situation, be ready to cut people off, be ready to shift the focus.  Use all the conversation skills you have to lead through the meeting. It’s much harder than in person, practice, practice – and rely on your support staff for help.

  1. Get to your meeting 30-60 minutes before it starts.  Make sure presenters and support staff join you. Do a quick run through with them
  2. Begin friendly, rapport building discussion with early participants to give the room a lived-in feel
  3. Start 5 minutes late, to let everyone join and get settled. Let your support staff handle technical issues to the side so the session doesn’t get derailed
  4. Stick to the runsheet – focus on the outcomes and pay attention to time.  Rely on your support staff for room management so you can focus on discussion
  5. End on time – it may feel less formal since you’re at home, but sticking to session times is critical – particularly online, where sensitivity to time is high

Ensure continuity with clear post-session communication

Often sessions fall into the one-off sea of another-virtual-meeting.  Don’t let that be you.  

  1. Communicate who attended and all outcomes from the session
  2. Assign action items and activities post-session
  3. Communicate next steps, including timing for follow on sessions
  4. Start at the top and plan, plan plan. 

 

Get design and production help

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Whomever you use – just get some help. 

How we can help

Comprehensive virtual planning and support:

Design

Rehearsal

Meeting platform provisioning

Tech checks

Event delivery

 

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