This article was first published on ProAgile’s blog

With good facilitation, one hour is just long enough for a group to both create an agenda and have some interesting conversations on topics they’re concerned about. We at ProAgile have been holding these kinds of meetings regularly both before and after everything went online in 2020. We’ve found it’s a great way to create community in a world of remote work, and make connections with people beyond our usual collaborators. 

Most people can find an hour in their schedule so it’s easier to attend than something longer like a workshop or conference. The trick is to have really good facilitation so you can get a lot of value from a short amount of time together. This post explains our secrets for a successful online one hour open space.

The invitation

When you invite people to your meeting, give the starting time of the hour, but explain that the video call will be open up to 15 minutes before that for casual discussions. Those additional minutes mean anyone who is unsure of their video setup or who doesn’t know you very well can feel comfortable turning up early and getting some help. It’s a chance for the facilitator to greet people and welcome them before the formal part kicks off.

We don’t spread the meeting invitation link on social media, we only send it to the people who have signed up for the meeting. So far we haven’t had a problem with strangers disrupting our meetings with unwanted content.

The Technology

We use Zoom for our meetings because it has the functionality we need for participants to move freely between breakout rooms. We have also previously used QiqoChat before Zoom had that functionality. (QiqoChat can help bring similar functionality to Teams or Google Meet.) We also use Miro as a collaboration tool for creating the agenda and communicating with one another during the meeting.

The Welcome and Introduction

Time: 2 minutes

Be sure to greet everyone warmly when the official meeting time begins. Make it clear everyone is included, and that together we are going to have some great discussions. We know that because everyone will take part in deciding what topics we will talk about. If the agenda doesn’t seem interesting then you can fix that!

Remind people to put the name they want to be called by in their Zoom window, and to keep their camera and microphone switched on as much as possible. Give out the link to the Miro board (paste it into the chat).

In order for other people to find out about future open space meetings, you may want to post about this one on social media. A picture of the current meeting could be a good addition to that post. Before taking a screenshot of the zoom meeting, warn people that you’re about to do that. If they don’t want their own image to appear, tell them to turn their camera off for a minute while you take the screenshot. Be sure to edit the image to blank out the names of people without their cameras on before you post the picture.

The Sponsor Slot

Time: 1-2 minutes

If your meeting has a sponsor, give them 1-2 minutes to explain who they are and advertise what they want to advertise. Make sure they keep it short and to the point. Thank them for their sponsorship.

The Open Space Technology explanation

Time: 2 minutes

It’s always good to be reminded of how Open Space is supposed to work, however many times you’ve taken part before, and of course it’s essential to introduce newcomers in a good way. Keep this part brief and to the point.

Ask people to assume that everyone here is a really interesting person with lots to share about topics you care about. Every individual who comes to your discussion is the right person. Take time to both talk and listen. Keep the conversation flowing and don’t let any one person dominate.

Explain that it is absolutely fine to switch rooms and join a different discussion group at any time. If you find you’re not learning or contributing anything, take a look at the agenda and just move somewhere else. In Open Space-speak, this is called “the law of two feet”. Note that there are some instructions on the miro board about how to switch breakout rooms if you are unsure how to do that.

Often a conversation benefits from having someone take notes on the Miro board. It’s a way to allow others to get an insight into what you talked about, and to help you remember and follow up on what is said. Encourage people to volunteer to be a note-taker for their room. 

The Agenda

Time: 7 minutes

We find the ideas for agenda items really start to flow when you put people in smaller groups and ask them to write sticky notes together. We create random breakout rooms for 2-3 people and give people the instruction to talk about their agenda suggestions for today. You may want to prompt this with questions like: “What’s challenging at work? What’s a great insight you want to share or get feedback on? What’s a great book you’ve read, and learned something from?”

Ask people to write their topics on sticky notes on the shared miro board on the agenda frame.

The breakout rooms are open for only 5 minutes, we set a timer on the miro board. Hopefully a bunch of notes will now appear on the agenda. When everyone is back, encourage them to move the notes around and create the agenda they want to see.

We don’t normally ask everyone to present their topics, we find it’s enough for people to just read what’s on the notes. If any notes are particularly unclear you could ask for a short explanation from the author at this point. 

Sometimes people want to suggest merging the discussion of two topics. That can be a good idea but it can also take longer to decide to merge the topics than is worth it. Don’t cut people off unnecessarily but you need to keep this part short.

Before you send people off to the discussions, again remind them to be friendly and to assume everyone has something interesting to say. Point out if there are too many people in one room for comfortable conversation they could self-organise and split the group across two rooms instead. 

The Discussions

Time: 17 minutes discussion + 3 minutes between sessions + 17 minutes discussion

Open the planned number of breakout rooms with the options “Let participants choose room” and “let participants change room”. Ask everyone to join whichever discussion they want to. Explain you will not close the breakout rooms between the two discussion slots, people can just move on to the new rooms when the timer has pinged and their first discussion draws to a close.

The room numbers for the second discussion are distinct from the first ones. This is so that the second discussions can get going on time and don’t need to wait for the first discussions to end. This means you actually have twice as many breakout rooms open as there are planned discussion slots.

Set a timer on the miro board which will go off when the time is up for the first discussion. 

There is a frame on the miro board where people can share useful information and links to things that come up during the discussions. (You can also use the zoom chat for this but then only people in your breakout room get the link.)

The Takeaways

Time: 7 minutes

At the end of the second discussion slot, close the breakout rooms so everyone comes back to the main room. Take the opportunity to thank everyone for the discussions you’ve had and point out everyone has surely learnt something new or been reminded of something useful today. They probably have ideas they should try out now. Point people at the frame on the miro board for takeaways:

We find people are better at identifying their takeaways when talking in smaller groups, so create new random breakout rooms with 2-3 people in and give people the instruction to talk about what they are taking away from today’s discussions. The priority is to talk – writing a note on the miro board is a bonus for the rest of us and it might also help you remember what you said.

Keep those rooms open for only 5 minutes, set a timer on the miro board. When everyone comes back, thank them again and declare the open space over for today. You might mention if there is another one planned and if so, how to find out about it.

The After Party

Time: up to 15 minutes

Don’t close the zoom meeting immediately, leave it open for perhaps 10-15 minutes in case anyone wants to hang around and ask the organisers or sponsors anything in particular. People might want to exchange contact details and continue their discussions in another forum. You could open some more breakout rooms to allow small groups to “end” a conversation, share contact details, etc.