Remote Timeout -preparing for a remote dialogue

A remote discussion, or a Remote Timeout, can be an engrossing and deeply engaging experience for both the participant and the facilitator. It also provides other benefits, such as eliminating the need for time-consuming commutes; you can participate from a comfortable spot, such as your living room couch; and you can be sure that your coffee, soda, or tea is exactly to your tastes.

For the organiser of the discussion, a Remote Timeout offers the opportunity to bring together people from around Finland and the world. At the same time, it also improves accessibility, and for many people, a Remote Timeout can be a safer and more functional way to participate in a discussion.

The platforms used vary from organiser to organiser: some use Teams, others favour Meet, and many swear by Zoom. And more options exist. Make use of your previous expertise in a platform and its functions when organising your Remote Timeout. Most platforms are updated regularly with new features, which is why this guide does not include any platform-specific instructions.

However, we have included a lot of other handy tips and tricks for you to use!

Tips for organisers

  • Decide on the topic of your Remote Timeout. What topic deserves more awareness and why? Who should be invited?
  • Decide on the duration of the Remote Timeout. How much time is available? Even a remote dialogue can last for several hours, which is why you need to plan for decently sized breaks. Depending on the situation and target group, a Remote Timeout can last for 1–4 hours. We recommend reserving at least 2 hours, if possible.
  • We also recommend organising your conversation either entirely remotely or as a non-remote event. You can still opt for a hybrid session, but only at your own risk and with considerable expertise!
  • Think about how many facilitators you will need, and how many are available. An external facilitator may be the better choice in a dialogue that involves people from the same community.
  • Think about how many participants you want to involve. A good number of people for a Remote Timeout is 3–8 participants, and depending on the time available, you can consider inviting even more people.
  • You should reserve 5–15 minutes at the start of the discussion to allow the discussion’s facilitators to make sure that everyone is present and that their network connections, cameras, and microphones are functioning correctly.
  • Depending on the number of facilitators, you can divide your participants into several smaller groups. Check in advance how these groups will be formed. Will the entire group reconvene at the end of the discussion?
  • Do you need someone to handle any practical arrangements? This person can act as a bouncer, as the person who decides who goes into which small group, or as the discussion’s technical support.
  • Familiarise yourself with the platform you intend to use. Think about what could potentially go wrong. If necessary, you can arrange a trial session for your participants to test whether your platform and network connection are working as expected.
  • Think about what kind of introduction will be given at the beginning of the discussion. Should it be a speech, a slide show, a video, or something else? Can it be shared on the discussion platform, or will the presentation material be linked to your participants in advance or in the platform’s chat window at the beginning of the discussion?
  • Think in advance about what will happen after the discussion. How will you thank your participants and ask for their feedback? Should the discussion be recorded in some way? Is the Remote Timeout part of a process, and how will you communicate this fact to your participants? How will the organiser utilise the understanding they have gained? Who will handle the necessary communications? Where and how?

The invitation process

  • It is important to send personal invitations to your participants, and you must reserve enough time for the process. Invite different types of people. Think about when during the day the Remote Timeout will be arranged, and how this will affect who can attend your discussion.
  • It is a good idea to ensure that your invitees know, for example, what platform you will use and what this will require of them. Never overestimate the digital skills of your younger participants – or underestimate the know-how of any older participants.
  • Inform your invitees of what is required of them during the Remote Timeout. For example, you can tell them about the Timeout method, how they should set up their camera and microphone, and how they can participate in your chat. This way, your participants will be able to inform you in advance of any camera-related issues.
  • Tell your invitees that you expect them to participate in the dialogue throughout its duration, and that they need to be present and focused.
  • You must specify in your invitation, or in the advance message to your participants at the latest, that the discussion is confidential. Explain how this applies to a remote session. It is important to ensure that no other people are present, and if someone cannot participate privately, they must wear headphones to prevent others from listening in to the conversation, as it can include private details.
  • In your message to your participants, inform them whether they can or should participate using an alias, such as their first name, or anonymously.
  • Let your participants know if the discussion will be recorded and why.
  • Remember to send a more detailed schedule of the event to your participants well in advance.

Tips for facilitators

  • The participants of a Remote Timeout will be more aware of the passing of time. Write a script for yourself and schedule the main points of the discussion. Remember to also schedule enough breaks.
  • Consider and prepare in advance the elements that you will use to generate discussion and break the ice. Is there a need for small groups? Should you make use of the organic chit-chat between pairs in a remote session? Or should you focus on supporting the personal reflections of each participant to gather ideas and stimulate discussion?
  • Think about how you will present the Timeout method and the Ground Rules for a Constructive Discussion, as well as your participants’ personal introductions. Be realistic when reserving the time for this part of the discussion process.
  • Will there be time for some initial banter and testing everyone’s devices before the discussion, or a post-discussion after the discussion itself? Remember to also script these moments, even if they are more free-form in nature.
  • Instruct your participants in advance that their cameras should remain on throughout the dialogue, as it enhances trust and encourages interaction.
  • Allowing people to write chat messages saves time, supports equal participation, and can be helpful to those who, for some reason or another, find it difficult to talk about their experiences out loud. Think in advance of the parts of the discussion during which you will allow your participants to use chat messages when necessary.
  • How will people ask for their turn to speak? How will you divide your participants into pairs? How can you share your slides? Learn the operating principles of your chosen platform before the dialogue.
  • Load the discussion’s script, the facilitator’s discussion cards, and the Ground Rules for a Constructive Discussion in different tabs.
  • Consider whether you will write your notes on your computer or on paper.

The Remote Timeout tools were developed with the support of Timeout instructors and facilitators. The development work utilised the feedback provided by organisers and facilitators on the Lockdown Dialogues and the Timeout Week. Thank you to all those who participated in the process!

Read more:

Stages and objectives of the discussion – start here

Acting as a participant and listener in a discussion

Inviting participants

Preparing for a dialogue and compiling your own toolbox

Author: The Timeout Foundation

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