On Location & Time of Day for Online/Hybrid Gatherings

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes, 52 seconds

I’m taking a course with Priya Parker on the Art of Gathering these days. It’s mostly asynchronous videos with reflective exercises.

One of the things she mentions is the importance of location and time of day on gatherings, and it occurs to me, as I was writing last night about the Extended Mind book – that element of being in an online space with others? You cannot control for the physical embodied space they are in. You can only design the online space.

So, look, I have seen people who host online sessions suggest to others to “be somewhere quiet where you can turn your camera on and not have distractions, and have x,y,z at hand”. Those people, while well-intentioned, are unrealistic, I think? As a mother and wife, I know that no matter how important my online meeting is, my husband and daughter are completely capable of interrupting and disrupting. Much as I wish I could train them otherwise, this seems to be a thing they can’t consistently do. I still remember my daughter once walking in during a job interview (she was 6 or 7 at the time) and starting to just play alone in her room, singing, and I think at some point she even came on camera. No one took it against me, I got offered the job 😁 but in my follow up interview I actually made sure my husband and daughter were outside the entire house!

The other thought I have is that we do not at all control timing, right? If people are meeting online, it’s possibly someone’s morning and someone else’s evening. Also, time is relative. 10am is almost midday for me (I wake up at 5 or 6am) but early for others. I also used to be the type of person who can focus fully at 11pm but I am no longer that person. I’m awake, usually, writing/typing/reading, probably, but not fully capable of coherent conversation. I also noticed people on Americas timezones think it is good to meet me at what is their early morning and my afternoon, like 2 or 3. These are actually not good times for me, for many reasons. All I’m saying is, “what time is good” rests on a huge set of assumptions we cannot make. But I do think that as hosts of gatherings we can be conscious of the differences in timing, and how they might impact someone’s energy level or ability to be fully present with us. And rather than ask people to find somewhere private and quiet, instead, if possible, actively WELCOME them to “come as they are”. I often say children and pets welcome. PJs welcome. Snacks and drinks welcome. Cameras optional. Whatever helps you feel comfortable being with us. Quiet room options for breakouts and renaming selves as “listening only” options. These are all ways of meeting people where they are, since we cannot, in an online setting, bring them to where we are.

Something else just occurred to me. When we meet in person, whether or not we make time for it, there is some informal chit-chat and setting of stage as people walk in. You don’t have this online unless you design for it. That warm-up is soooo needed because people didn’t necessarily have to walk or driver over to reach the space you are in. That walk/drive that sort of helps mentally prepare them to join you. They didn’t get to sit next to someone and say hello. This is why it is so important to make time for people to talk in small groups early in a session. I see pairs so often. Never Done Before community call it “turn to your neighbor” but I prefer trios. For many reasons, including just in case someone drops out for some reason, but also, in person, you have at least one person on your right and one on your left, yeah? I mean, unless it is an empty table and you’re sitting on the edge. You know what I mean. Plus meeting more than one person is cool.

Hybrid gatherings are more complex, obviously, in that some people will have some shared location and context while others won’t, but the same considerations for fully online apply. Except that the on-site folks normally wouldn’t have the option to bring pets and kids to work! I’ve done it before, as I am sure many parents and single parents have, but it’s not the norm in the way that kids in online meetings is normal.

What do you think?

Header image of alarm clock on globe by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay, edited by me on Canva

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