How to Run a Successful and Productive Online Co-Working Session

With more and more people working from home, plenty of folks are missing the daily interaction that an office provided them. One thing I’ve been doing with my Patreon community is daily co-working sessions. People have found them productive as well as a chance to socialize briefly without getting too distracted. They started as co-writing sessions, but I have found people use them for all sorts of work, including editing, transcribing, getting social media posts ready, and answering e-mail.

The Format Used by the Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers

My community is primarily speculative fiction writers, editors, and readers, so most of us are writing or editing, but other work has including writing social media posts, journaling, graphic design, and transcribing dictation.

Here’s the format that I use, which employs a paid Zoom account. You certainly could replicate this with a variety of platforms.

I announce the session’s date/time ahead of time and then post the link a few minutes beforehand. I do this privately, and would urge people not to post such links privately. One of the new phenomena of social isolation is a thing called zoombombing, which underscores a constant of online life: some people are jerks.

Once the session starts, we go around and say what we’re working on, then everyone mutes and I set a timer for 30 minutes. At the end of that time, I announce time. Everyone checks in, saying how we did. We repeat this twice, and I add an extra five minutes onto the last session for people who want to take bio-breaks. While I schedule two hours for these, they sometimes run closer to an hour and 45 minutes, depending on how many participants we have and how terse they are (or not) being during checkins.

Tips for Running a Successful Session

We’re going on a month of running these daily, and here are some strategies that have emerged.

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Set expectations clearly. Let people know what you will be doing, and what to do if they log in late, which is to say what they are working on in the chat window and then dive on in. I keep an eye on the session and try to greet they when they log on and let them know how much time there is to go before the next checkin.

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That brings me to my next tip. Have a facilitator and timer. Do not rely on the chaotic forces of group dynamics to make things work. I try to say something quietly and gently at the end of a session because sometimes people have entered a flow state and i don’t want to yank them out of it too rudely. If you are the facilitator, be aware you will get a little less done than some of the other folk. Either resign yourself to that or figure out a rotation for the role.

Possible Issues, and Strategies For Dealing With Them

People who arrive late: If you’ve set expectations clearly, people know what to do when they arrive late. This where having a facilitator is good. In that role I mute people who’ve forgotten they need to as well as greeting them in chat and letting them know how much time is left in the sprint.

Handling disruptions: If someone’s deliberately being disruptive, you can mute/eject them in most platforms. I suggest getting to know whatever technology you’re using well enough to be able to handle this. Perhaps set up a trial session with just a few people in order to explore how to use the controls.

Handling people with bad or wonky technology: All ISPs are not created equal, and if someone sounds like they’re talking from the bottom of a well and/or freezing up periodically, it’s probably a bandwidth issue. Have the person turn off video and just use audio; if the issue persists, they may have to go to chat only. If you’re dealing with folks not used to a particular technology, be prepared to troubleshoot.

Handling people doing embarrassing things: Zoom will let me message someone privately, and I know a few of my participants well enough to text them, but sooner or later someone will absentmindedly do something, particularly if they’re deep in the writing flow or otherwise focused on what they’re doing. Overall, just assume this is life. Do not film things to put up on Youtube or other places. That’s creepy.

World Fantasy and Nebula-nominated speculative fiction writer/editor. I read and write a lot.

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