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Jenny Baker
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Using Technology to Engage Remote Members in Your Local I-O Group

Anna Erickson, Donna Sylvan, Naz Tadjbakhsh, and Ginger Whelan

What do the local I-O groups in Kansas City, Los Angeles, Washington, DC, and Atlanta have in common?

We thought you’d never ask!

Each of these groups are exploring ways to use technology to make their meetings more appealing, especially for participants who must attend remotely. Whether it’s due to traffic, meeting times that aren’t ideal, or last-minute family or client demands, we’ve learned that one challenge for keeping a local I-O group viable is finding ways to make it easy for members to attend remotely. In today’s TIP article, we explore the unique ways in which a few different local groups are addressing this issue.

KCAP, Kansas City, Missouri: Testing technology in a smaller market. Kansas City Applied Psychology Society (KCAP) supports a smaller I-O market, which places a demand for addressing the needs of every member. There’s no easy answer according to Kenton Kloster (current KCAP president) and Deb Mitchell (former KCAP president). They have explored a number of options in order to facilitate participation and networking including:

  • Website with basic information about the group and contact
  • Utilizing LinkedIn private groups and Facebook to create discussions among members
  • Email for announcements and job sharing
  • Skype meetings to host board meetings
  • Google docs to share organization documents with board members

Current KCAP President Kenton Kloster added, “I would like to emphasize that I think technology has been helpful for us as a board. It seems we have received more engagement since moving to virtual meetings (with Skype). Additionally, we are able to maintain our records with Google docs, and these can be easily handed down to future boards.”

But the group is beginning to explore using technology to host virtual member meetings, which could boost attendance for this small group. Kloster continued, “After next week we will have tested two virtual presentations for our members. The first had about seven attendees. I think this may work for our group going forward.” However, each platform they’ve tried has its own advantages as well as challenges.

Kloster offers the following considerations when selecting technology to support remote member meetings:

  • Free is better. Many people are familiar with Google Hangouts.
  • Easy to set up. If it takes more than 2 minutes to set up or requires creating an account, it tends to have a major chilling effect.
  • Reliable and accessible. Ensure that everyone has tested the software before the meeting.
  • Internet speed. Internet speeds are critical, especially for video conferencing.

The Practitioner Lab, Los Angeles, CA: More high touch than high tech. One might assume a big city like LA would embrace technology at the outset. The leadership group for The Practitioner Lab, a local I-O group in Los Angeles, has pondered this issue several times since it first commenced its meetings in fall 2016. At the time, there were many different paths to explore when it came to integrating technology into a local I-O group’s events. 

Because The Practitioner Lab was a new group, cofounders Naz Tadjbakhsh and Melissa Steach decided to double down on building the grassroots community with high-touch, high-impact meetings in person, and then would reconsider the use of technology later down the line once they had established stronger membership and if there were enough requests from members. Although there were a few requests about utilizing technology to host virtual meetings, the overwhelming majority of members preferred that they continue to be focused on building the community in person.

Therefore, for The Practitioner Lab, leadership has continued to focus on incorporating feedback that is most prominent across members. Nevertheless, the group has experimented with social media such as utilizing Facebook and Instagram Live. Exploring virtual meetings is something that might need to be addressed in the future but is not a priority right now. It is evident that each local I-O group will need to evaluate and make decisions that most closely align with its priorities and the needs of its members.

PTCMW, Washington, DC: Technology as part of the annual planning process. Local groups like the Personnel Testing Counsel of Metropolitan Washington (PTCMW) have been using tools like WebEx and other technology to include remote access to members. President of PTCMW Lorin Mueller now includes technology as part of their strategic planning process. He says, “Investing in technologies that allow our members to interact with us remotely is an increasingly important focus of our budget and strategic planning. This year we replaced all of our webcasting equipment—we were lucky to be in a financial position to do that, but we’ll be planning for it in the future so it doesn’t impede our ability to devote resources to other initiatives. We’re also careful to consider the extent to which possible event venues support webcasting. We’ve hit some key milestones. We recently had our first event where remote participation exceeded in-person participation, and we’re hoping to record our fall event on video. I don’t think I can offer any specifics on which technologies we prefer, only that a dual-laptop system seems to work best for us: one to drive the presentation and one to run the webcast.”

GAIOP, Atlanta, GA: Never underestimate the value of a good website. The Georgia Association for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (GAIOP) has found that the website enables it to connect with its members, nonmembers, and the general public. The website provides information about the organization itself (e.g., board of directors, annual reports, bylaws), GAIOP professional-development programs and social events, non-GAIOP events that may be of interest to its audience, and jobs and internship opportunities. Individuals can use the website to apply for membership and register for programs and events. Individuals and organizations in the metro-Atlanta area have used GAIOP to link to local I-O psychologists.

GAIOP explores technology for college students in remote locations. Psychology students at Valdosta State University (VSU) have consistently expressed interest in participating in GAIOP programs. A barrier has been distance because VSU is over 200 miles from Atlanta where GAIOP programs are held. GAIOP and VSU students are currently exploring ways to use technology to overcome that barrier. Initial plans are to record a 2019 GAIOP workshop and share it with the VSU students. Interactive workshops or other professional-development programs will be developed for 2020.

Tips to Engage Remote Participants

As we increase our use of technology to allow remote access, we are learning how to better prepare and host these virtual meetings. Following are a few suggestions to help you manage technology for your meetings. Many of these ideas were inspired by Steven Rogelberg’s book, The Surprising Science of Meetings: How You Can Lead Your Team to Peak Performance (2019).

Premeeting suggestions.

  • Assign a “remote access liaison.” Assigning a person to act as the “remote access liaison” can help ensure a smoother use of technology, especially for novice users. The liaison can connect with remote members before the meeting, ensure they have the proper software, and be a point of contact during the meeting.
  • Send out the agenda in advance. Send out the agenda 2 to 3 days in advance. Include: (a) any links or instructions required to participate remotely, (b) how questions will be addressed (e.g., chat, instant messaging), (c) let them know who to contact for technology support (i.e., remote access liaison), and (d) inform them the time they will be connected to the meeting.
  • Test access. Check the room software to ensure it works at least 30 minutes before the meeting. Ask remote members to test their connection at least 15 minutes prior to the meeting to ensure they have the proper software. Although this may add a little prep time, it’s better to do so before the meeting than to make everyone ask “can you hear me now?” during the meeting.

Meeting suggestions and tips.

  • Set a positive stage. Create clear expectations and set a positive, relaxed setting at the beginning of the meeting such as (a) briefly review the agenda, (b) describe how questions will be handled so remote members can be included (e.g., chat or instant messaging, periodic check ins), and (c) take 1 or 2 minutes to describe something positive, such as a recognition, celebration, or appreciation.
  • Ground rules. Briefly describe expectations for the meeting, such as (a) ask participants to please silence personal devices; (b) make it a practice to state one’s name before speaking; (c) remind speakers to talk at a slower, more measured pace to make it easier for remote members, who can’t see the speaker, to follow; and (d) request remote members place audio? on mute if they anticipate background noises.
  • Introduce participants. Ask everyone to state their name and give a brief description of who they are at the beginning of the meeting. If there are too many people to do that within 5 minutes, announce how many people are in the room and how many are participating remotely. If feasible, ask remote members to state their name so everyone can hear their voices and feel included.
  • Check ins. A facilitator who provides planned check ins can keep remote members engaged by occasionally asking if anyone has a question or wishes to make a comment.
  • Chat/instant messaging. Using technology with a chat feature allows remote members to make a comment or ask a question without interrupting the flow of the presentation.
  • Use the full functionality of technology (Zoom, WebEx). Use the screen-sharing features to keep everyone on the same page and to stay focused on the presenter. Thoughtful or fun check-in quizzes or tallies can keep all participants engaged.

Postmeeting suggestions.

  • Seek input. Ask for input regarding successes as well as ways to improve the meeting and review the use of any technology.

These are just a few of the ideas that some local I-O groups have explored in order to address the needs of their members. Remember to include the needs of your local group and available resources when evaluating the use of technology.

 

Reference

Rogelberg, S. G. (2019). The surprising science of meetings: How you can lead your team to peak performance. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

 

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