At the beginning of the pandemic, everyone from administrative assistants to CEO’s needed to learn new technology to thrive. With such a dramatic shift, even the most confident among us surely felt at least a bit anxious hosting their first virtual webinars, meetings, and events. We can all relate to the looming spectre of technical difficulties and other blunders haunting us. 

The Schlegel-UW Research Institute for Aging (RIA) has no shortage of confident people. They enhance the quality of care and living for residents across the province through education, training for the current and future LTC workforce, applied research while innovating best practices, and connecting the right people. 

Those intangible moments, gestures, and feel one gets from face-to-face engagement and connection, are at the core of their success.   

“Like many others, RIA had to pivot work to the virtual setting during the COVID pandemic to support our many initiatives,” said Audra Thompson-Haile, Interim Director of Strategic Projects at RIA. 

“We were working in a new space and needed to learn new ways to be effective in the work we do without being able to engage with people in person. We asked Overlap to help us with this.” 

Overlap’s Capacity Building team and RIA participants are birds of a feather. Both specialize in facilitation and coaching but like many of us at the time RIA needed a boot camp on tools needed to be successful in a remote digital setting. This unique mix shaped an unexpectedly dynamic learning environment for not only the RIA, but the team from Overlap as well. 

“They had very high expectations for the training. They wanted to stand out in a crowd,” said Nicole Francoeur, a senior designer, and expert on capacity building leading the team from Overlap. 

RIA’s training happened at the beginning of the pandemic and while Overlap had done countless virtual sessions prior to COVID-19, actually showing folks how to do it — the nuts and bolts — was a challenge in itself.

Agility and customization

“We had to think about how to introduce people to new technologies, and it was the first time we consolidated all of our virtual training in one place,” said Nicole. 

Overlap created three two-hour modules — broken up as to not contribute to even more Zoom fatigue.

Module #1
The first module laid a solid foundation. This included establishing a definition of facilitation and understanding participant needs and introducing concepts such as the Golden Circle theory explaining how the most successful organizations think, act and communicate. Participants also learned how to spot unconscious bias, how to lead an accessible session and how to apply a diversity, equity and inclusion lens.

Module #2
Next, they determined ways for the participants to generate ideas and collaborate creatively.

Module #3
Finally, a, “hands-on,” tactical workshop helping CLRI translate the principles and approaches to real-world situations, with an emphasis on online facilitation.

Strategically Overlap’s plan was well received, but when the sessions began it became clear pretty quickly exactly what the participants wanted. 

“What we kept hearing was they wanted us to show them exactly how we were using digital platforms. Almost from the get-go we had to adapt,” said Francoeur. 

Overlap taught us about new technologies that we could use to make meetings and workshops more effective when working remotely.

Audra Thompson-Haile, Interim Director of Strategic Projects at RIA

Meeting people where they are at with technology

“They wanted a look behind the curtain, so we tailored the training for that,” said Nicole. “Overlap does things in an experiential way and we shared our screens so they could see everything from launching video software to adjusting settings and how to make the most of collaboration platforms like Miro.” 

The RIA participants were eager to learn and kept the questions and comments coming in at a steady pace. Some were technical, but others included how to make a great first impression and keep an audience engaged.  

“Overlap taught us about new technologies that we could use to make meetings and workshops more effective when working remotely,” said Thompson-Haile. “Often, Overlap used these technologies during our meetings so we could see how to use them as facilitators and integrate them into the work we do.”

Gaining confidence through experience

Overlap recognizes feedback as a valuable way to continually improve its program design, and developed multiple feedback channels — email, chat, direct messaging — to let the participants ask questions in a way that was accessible, and comfortable. 

”It was helpful in making sure that the training was relevant,” said Thompson-Haile.

Those participant questions in-turn shaped how the training progressed in a generative way. With each modification the needs of the participants gradually came more and more into focus. 

“The quality of the questions improved as the sessions went on and they definitely wanted things more and more practical,” said Francoeur. “For instance, we’d do 20 minutes of group activities, then 10 minutes of solo work. By the end we mostly stepped back as and watched as they used the technology and figured out issues on their own.”

Lasting impact

As the multi-day training went on, participants’ expertise blossomed. “These methods were fairly new to our team, but I can say that some have become common practice within the team,”  says Thompson-Haile.

Video chatting, virtual project management, and remote project management may seem second nature to us now. Remembering back to those chaotic early pandemic days might not be something we want to do, but both Overlap and RIA walked away from the experience with fond memories. 

“While they are watching me behaving the way they were supposed to behave was strange at first,” said Francoeur. “But they were one of the most lovely groups, and it was deeply satisfying. These are important skills people need and I get to democratize them in the world. It’s really satisfying — just intrinsically motivating.”

Overlap’s Online Facilitation Training

This training experience has formed the basis of our Online Facilitation training, now offered to groups and individuals through our capacity-building team. By co-designing this training with the team from the RIA,, Overlap has been able to share these learnings with other teams and help them build their confidence and experience facilitating groups online. Learn more about our Online Facilitation training.