11 Tips to Effectively Conducting a Virtual Risk Assessment Workshop

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic just over a year ago sent companies scrambling to shift their operations to remote work as much as possible. Although working from home has been a growing trend for many years, the pandemic undoubtedly accelerated it dramatically.

Response has been positive with significant numbers of both employers (83%) and employees (71%) considering this shift to have been a success according to a survey by PwC.

While it appears the pandemic may be easing and things are returning to normal depending on where you live, survey data from both executives and employees seem to indicate that remote work is here to stay in one form or another. A recent study from Harvard Business School estimates that at least 16% of workers in the U.S. will continue working from home after the pandemic is over, while PwC’s survey shows that close to 75% of employees would prefer to work from home at least 2 days per week.

Executives in PwC’s survey seem to be leaning toward a hybrid approach since only 13% of respondents want their workforce to be totally remote while just under 20% want them to be back in the office full-time.

With these numbers in mind, it’s quite possible that at least some of your co-workers will continue working remotely and therefore will participate in meetings via Zoom, Webex, GoToMeeting, Teams, or another video conferencing platform. This means that you will have to or are already poised to adjust your approach to conducting a risk assessment workshop. You and I both know that in-person risk assessment conversations do not easily convert to online, so there are some changes you will have to make.

But before jumping into talking about risk assessment workshops specifically, I want to quickly review some general tips by executive coach Briar Goldberg for ensuring effective virtual meetings…

1.   Keep your eyes on the camera and not the screen. While this can seem unnatural at first, focusing on your camera maintains eye contact and engagement with meeting participants. Goldberg’s general rule is to look at the camera 90% of the time and your screen the other 10% of the time to ensure your audience in engaged.

2.   Ensure you maintain variety in your voice, especially if you are reading notes. Since your audience will not be able to easily see facial expressions and hand gestures as they would in an in-person meeting, the risk of vocal monotony is high, which is why you should practice and rehearse your notes before any meetings. (Carol’s note: don’t practice so much that you sound like a robot saying it from memory. Sound like you are having a regular conversation with the group, not a speech.)

3.   Make sure your background is not too close to your bookshelf or some other distraction since maintaining focus and engagement is even more important in virtual meetings. You can always consider a virtual background if you don’t have a good space.

4.   Make sure you have a light source like a window or lamp behind your camera to ensure you have the right amount of light on your face. You can also consider different custom lighting options out there if your budget allows.

Similar to ERM presentations, much of the general tips and tricks for Zoom (and other video conferencing tools) will also apply to risk assessment workshops. However, there are a few extra considerations, the chief among them being…

You need to come away from any risk assessment workshops with certain information, so you can then determine next steps.

In order to properly assess risks and their impact to the organization, you need to first gather data and information from executives, business unit managers, and other general subject matter experts (SMEs). As I explain in Enterprise Risk Assessment – Transforming Risk Information into Action (written before COVID), this is usually done through one-on-one interviews and small to medium group workshops and meetings. Those interviews can still happen, but just be prepared for them to be held virtually.

As the facilitator of these meetings, it’s your responsibility to understand beforehand what information you need to gather and actions to take to accomplish the desired end result.

A quote from Chinese philosopher Confucius teaches us the most important rule when it comes to accomplishing this result when he said:

Keep it simple and focus on what matters. Don’t let yourself be overwhelmed.

This is doubly true when it comes to risk assessment workshops over Zoom. The first question to ask is if a meeting is even needed. If you have a user-friendly ERM software tool for example, could your SMEs just enter any data and information needed to assess the risks?

But if you aren’t able to gather information this way because it’s too complex or you are still trying to perfect your process, you will need to hold a workshop. If it has to occur over Zoom, some considerations for ensuring a smooth, productive meeting include:

5.   Make sure SMEs are not all from the same hierarchy since they will be hesitant to challenge superiors.

6.   If there’s anything for participants to read, send it ahead of time if possible as “pre-read materials.”

7.    Identify any information or data beforehand SMEs and other participants need to bring to the workshop.

8.    Try to keep calls to 60-90 minutes if possible. Really long meetings can be even harder over Zoom than in-person, with people losing focus and attention. If a longer meeting is needed, be sure to take a couple of short (5-7 minutes) breaks.

9.    Keep conversations on point and away from traps common to risk conversations – no rabbit holes or diversionary topics!

10.   The chat feature is a great way for participants to share extra insights without distracting or taking extra time. Also, people who don’t feel comfortable speaking up verbally can always share their thoughts through the chat. Encourage its use! And when someone adds a comment that needs to be discussed, read it for the group.

And last but not least…

11.   Avoid multi-tasking. Facilitating the workshop and capturing relevant information can be difficult and even lead to things getting missed. Having someone on the call to help you is important, especially on Zoom.

There are general principles to adhere to for any meeting and considerations for Zoom meetings. When it comes to risk assessment workshops though there are yet even more things for ensuring the right outcome.

Have you been a facilitator or participant of any Zoom or virtual-based risk assessment workshops in the last year? What went well? What would you change?

If you have any special insights or experiences, please share them in the comments below or join the conversation on LinkedIn.

And if you are struggling to develop effective processes for assessing risks, especially in a completely remote work environment, please feel free to reach out to me to discuss potential options today.

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Meet Carol Williams, SDS Founder & Lead Strategist

To our readers:

This blog was launched to provide strategy and risk practitioners with a go-to resource to better guide their efforts within their companies. Thank you for bringing me and my team along to be part of your journey towards better risk management, strategic planning and execution, and overall decision-making. Happy reading!

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