Return to office is a hot topic—but online meetings aren’t going away, with some meetings even becoming hybrid. Remote work and virtual meetings have become foundational parts of modern corporate culture, yet these online meetings can often feel unproductive, leaving attendees feeling confused and disconnected. By applying effective online facilitation skills, we can confidently overcome this challenge, creating a space for more productive and engaging virtual meetings, workshops, and sessions.

Online facilitation tools are continually evolving and corporate culture shifts over time, making it hard to keep up with the best practices for online facilitation. In this article, we compiled the most up-to-date best practices and tips for preparing for and implementing effective online facilitation in your meetings, workshops, and more.

What Is Online Facilitation?

Online facilitation, also called virtual facilitation, is the process of guiding and supporting a collaborative group of people as they accomplish a goal or work on a project together during a virtual meeting. For a typical business, online facilitation may be done by an internal team member or an outsourced partner, with that facilitator helping to plan, guide, and assist during the session to navigate conflicts and come to a group agreement or work product.

Successful meetings make good use of the attendees’ time, promoting engagement from all team members and delivering a clear action plan that continues beyond the end of the meeting. Achieving this level of efficiency can be particularly daunting for new leaders or inexperienced facilitators, however professional online facilitation best practices can make success more approachable.

Why Quality Online Facilitation Matters

Organizations utilize online facilitation for meetings, webinars, training sessions, online learning, workshops and more. When your online discussions and virtual sessions are led by a skilled virtual facilitator, a more productive outcome can be achieved. 

What Meeting Are We Having?


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Use this template to explore meetings with your team, this will allow you to rename meetings and consider the value they bring.

According to Gallup, 29% of remote-capable jobs are fully remote, and 52% of remote-capable jobs are hybrid. These statistics mean that most businesses will find themselves engaging in some level of online meetings.

Some professionals may ask: Why do we even need online facilitation?

Facilitation supports productive team member collaboration and the most efficacious use of time. A skilled online facilitator can lead structured sessions that bring out engagement from all team members and overcome any potential conflicts.

Without facilitation, online meetings can quickly become ineffective, with common pitfalls including:

  • Unengaged attendees
  • Failure to stick to meeting purpose
  • Unequal participation
  • Going over on time or needing additional meetings
  • Derailment by distractions
  • Lack of commitments going forward 

With the proper planning and a skilled virtual facilitator, your online meetings can be highly successful.

How to Prepare for Online Facilitation Sessions

Much of the work of online facilitation occurs prior to the session. Facilitators must learn the unique needs of their group and the specific goals for the session, so they can then anticipate potential obstacles and prepare accordingly.

1. Choose the Right Online Facilitation Tools

When it comes to successful virtual meetings, the right online tools can make all the difference. This does not just include Zoom or whichever meeting platform you’re using, though, as effective meetings require more than quality video conferencing software.

Prior to your session, ask if you have the interactive tools you need to ensure that the meeting is on everyone’s calendars, plus the tools you would need for an agenda, note-taking, and tasks related to the outcome of the meeting. Some project management platforms can offer most of these elements by integrating with your notes, calendars, and tasks.

During the session, you may want to utilize polls, breakouts, and chat tools. Practice using these tools, and ensure your attendees have a reasonable opportunity to become familiar with them as well. 

2. Have a Plan for Technical Issues

We’ve all been victim to technical issues, and, often, it’s hard to tell the source of those problems. While these problems cannot be totally prevented, facilitators can take steps to ensure that they are well-prepared for potential technical hiccups.

Professional online facilitators should ensure that they have a high-quality, reliable internet connection, with a backup hotspot or other option in case of a provider outage. They should also set an example for attendees by utilizing a quality microphone and webcam, ensuring they are muted when not speaking, and taking the meeting in a private, quiet area. 

Prior to the meeting, share expectations with all attendees and encourage them to reach out with any questions or needs. Identify the primary IT contact who can be available in case of any emergent issues. Share a contingency plan in case an attendee encounters a technical issue, and ensure the meeting is recorded in case that happens. 

3. Establish a Clear Agenda for Your Online Facilitation Session

When considering the best practices for facilitating online discussions, alignment should be kept front of mind. Alignment refers to how similarly the participants view the goal or purpose of their discussion, plus how closely the course of the meeting sticks to that purpose.

One key tool to promote alignment is a clear, easily accessible agenda, which should be shared with all attendees in advance. If not shared ahead of the meeting, the agenda should be shared and discussed at the beginning of the session to help attendees understand the structure of the meeting. 

The agenda should list only the highest level topics to prevent it from being too lengthy and should also point out when any breaks will take place—which is particularly important for long meetings or workshops. A strong agenda can support your focus on the overall purpose.

For more ideas on how to utilize an agenda and beyond, join Facilitation Lab, our weekly virtual meetup where an inclusive community of facilitators ideate and experiment with the latest facilitation activities and methods.

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4. Create an Inclusive, Welcoming Virtual Session

According to Forbes Advisor, 53% of remote workers say it’s harder to feel connected to coworkers. Facilitated virtual discussions can provide a comfortable environment for coworkers to build bonds with one another while collaborating toward a common goal.

In order to increase the likelihood of this positive outcome, an online facilitator can take steps to curate a safe and welcoming virtual environment. To do this, online facilitators should outline etiquette expectations, which can include muting all non-speakers, utilizing the “raise hand” function to prevent interruptions, and setting suggested time limits on responses.

Set clear expectations for behavior and etiquette, and have a plan for addressing any conflict or unacceptable behavior.

5. Assign Asynchronous Tasks Before the Meeting

One of the biggest challenges in online facilitation is getting participants to be engaged and active during the session. In order to spark critical thinking ahead of the meeting, assign asynchronous tasks to be completed prior to the event, such as brainstorming or answering some pre-session questions. 

Asynchronous tasks like brainstorming can save valuable time while empowering attendees to complete tasks on their own schedule. These async tasks will also bring attendees to the meeting prepared and thinking about what they will discuss, increasing the likelihood of their active participation.

5 Best Practices for Online Facilitation – During the Session

Whether you’re leading a virtual workshop, online training session, or remote meeting, there are several best practices for online facilitation you can follow for a successful event.

1. Set the Tone Right Away

The first few moments of a remote meeting set the tone, often deciding if attendees will be dialed in or zoned out. Focus on introducing the safe environment, overall expectations, and session goals in a positive and enthusiastic manner. 

Take a moment to highlight any shared spaces, like a virtual chat or other interactive tool, to increase the likelihood of participant use. Go over the agenda succinctly, and be sure to highlight any breaks for longer workshops and events.

Be mindful of the fact that some attendees may be dealing with Zoom fatigue, which is the very real exhaustion that can come from prolonged remote meetings on video chat platforms. While there is no easy fix for Zoom fatigue, there are ways to limit its impact, like by encouraging attendees to turn off the self-view of their camera and to not use the full-screen mode for their video chat platform.

2. Incorporate Interactive Elements and Visual Aids

Visual aids break up the monotony of remote meetings and encourage your participants to keep their eyes from wandering to other screens. For example, a thoughtfully-prepared slide deck can remind your participants of your current topic and share key information that may be better conveyed through a graphic or chart.

Traditional visual aids are a great tool for conveying meaning, but additional interactive tools can be used to bring about more engagement from attendees. Set aside time to show participants how to use these tools if they are new or not a regular part of meetings.

Popular interactive elements for remote meetings and online sessions include:

  • Presentation software, like Mentimeter
  • Collaboration and meeting platforms, like Butter
  • Virtual whiteboards, like MiroMural

If you’re not ready to use a dedicated online facilitation tool, like those listed above, you can use Google Docs to collaborate in a shared space. You can easily share editing access to a Google Docs file, plus share your screen while facilitating, providing a simple way for everyone to get into the same space and begin to visualize.

3. Plan Your Meeting with Timeboxing

It can be easy to lose track of time, particularly if you’re having a great session with active participants. Even with a clear agenda, it can be challenging to envision how long each topic will take to cover.

One of the best practices for online facilitation, particularly when it comes to time management, is timeboxing. Timeboxing is the planning of dedicated, specific blocks of time for each agenda item. These clear time limits will ensure you get to every topic, and you can add a contingency time block to fill with any topics that need additional discussion.

Keep in mind your meeting’s purpose, though, and stay true to that above all. If this means making on the fly adjustments to your agenda or how you use your time, feel empowered to do so.

4. Encourage Critical Thinking and Effective Communication

One of the best practices for online facilitation is to make the attendees a part of the program by engaging directly with them, rather than presenting to them nonstop. Dedicate time to ask open-ended questions, share discussion prompts, and curate exercises, thus encouraging participants to activate their critical thinking skills and make discussion contributions. 

Utilize breakout sessions to give more introverted participants a chance to engage in the discussion. In order to increase the likelihood of success in these breakout rooms, consider selecting session captains ahead of time to encourage active discussions in each breakout session.

Disagreements are a regular part of bringing together a diverse group of people, but that conflict does not need to result in negative experiences. Expectations for conflict resolution should be shared up front as part of the overall remote session etiquette.

5. Spark Long-Term Engagement and Reflection

Just as the first few moments of your remote meeting are very important, the last moments are equally meaningful. It’s possible your attendees will depart and not give further thought to what you discussed, but you can increase the likelihood of making a long-term impact with a few key practices.

If your session has clear next steps, like assigned tasks for a project, be sure to share those in a timely manner and with transparency, so all team members know what’s going on. For remote learning, online workshops, or virtual training sessions, consider assigning asynchronous follow-up tasks that require contemplation beyond what was already discussed.

Share the event recording as well as any notes compiled to give participants quick reference materials for the future. Finally, send a feedback survey to explore potential areas of improvement.

Embracing Best Practices for Online Facilitation in 2023

The best online facilitation creates a welcoming atmosphere where ideas can be freely shared while participants work toward a common purpose. In a world of remote work, with attendees scattered in different cities, environments, and time zones, good online facilitation can lead to beneficial virtual sessions and greater business success.

The digital space continues to evolve, so a successful leader should stay curious and open to new tools, expectations, and practices in online facilitation. When you stay nimble, you can better anticipate and handle the changing landscape.

At Voltage Control, we continually challenge expectations for online facilitation and maintain the very best practices. We help leaders and teams harness the power of facilitation through our courses, workshops, certifications, and beyond. Voltage Control also hosts Facilitation Lab, a weekly virtual meetup of the facilitator community. Facilitation Lab provides a great place to engage in free and paid events that deepen learning and exposure to new techniques and tools.

Contact Voltage Control to learn how great online facilitation can benefit your organization.