Victoria Kroll on Intimate Remote Workshops

Today’s interview is with Victoria Kroll who works at Google during the day and leads #IamRemarkable workshops by night. She has some fascinating insights about how to lead an intimate workshop virtually and much more.

Before we get started, a photo of her setup:

On to the interview!

Tell us about #IamRemarkable

The #IamRemarkable workshop is a Google initiative that empowers women and underrepresented groups to celebrate their achievements in the workplace and beyond. The goals [are] to improve the self-promotion, motivation, and skills of women and underrepresented groups and to challenge the social perception around self-promotion.

The numbers just continue to grow, there's been more than 100,000 participants across 106 countries. And it's interesting because the workshop satisfaction is slightly higher over virtual than it was [in-person].

What’s the transition to remote been like?

 The workshop was built around [the in-person] model. And so everything that they did in the workshop really just assumed that you're in person, and was meant to create this intimate experience, and since the pandemic began the workshops moved to a digital-first format pretty much across the world.

I've facilitated two workshops since then, one was with Google and one was with a non-Google group, and have another one coming. It's been interesting in how I've had to shift in getting the group to connect and open up so that we can mirror what would have been like an in-person, intimate, kind of a cozy setting when you're sitting across the screen from several people you have never met.

So when you're in person you're able to talk with a smaller group and almost everybody can share, everyone's invited and definitely encouraged but they're not required. And so you do have more people sharing somewhat of a longer story and you do feel connected.

To balance what the virtual sessions were lacking I've had to shift to more questions requiring people to show a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down, a verbal yes/no, or a chat [hello]. Doing [this] early on in the session is key so that people feel more connected.

Interesting, so it sounds like there's maybe this critical time at the beginning of a workshop where everyone is trying to figure out well, what are the norms and it sounds like you found that by encouraging everyone to add a little bit to the conversation it sort-of sets this norm of like, “oh, it's okay to do that.”


Okay, so let's say this all this shelter-in-place lasted another year. What would need to change?

I've facilitated sessions on Google Meet, Zoom, Cisco WebEx, and they've all got great features, but they aren't exactly the same. So you choose one platform and then you realize: I'm probably missing out, you know this other feature on this other one.

[One time] someone recommended an application that was an internal tool at Google and participants could basically queue up. So for introductions, instead of trying to figure out who's going to go next or have someone call the next person, you can instead use this tool.

But then it was like, okay. I've got to have my workshop slides up and then I've got my physical notes, and [the queue tool], and quickly it’s a lot of coordination.

It would be awesome to have kind of a combined tool where you could really have what you needed so that people aren't talking over each other, and it's not awkward.

[Second, we need] to just be thinking about people's mental state and their well-being and I think the workshop could be modified to just account a little bit more for the times. Even say the shelter in place is lifted, there's a vaccine, you can test for antibodies, I don't think the world is ever going to be what it was three months ago.

You know, you might not just be thinking like typical like rat race like “I need to make a good living and I need to do a good job, and I've got this review coming up.” People are now probably worried about whole industries going under. There's a lot of other stuff happening right now that I think just telling people to “remember that you’re remarkable” is great, but it's not enough. We can help people kind of fortify [their mental state].

How has your life changed?

Right. So I definitely knew that I was busy before all this with childcare pickups, going to work, being on two nonprofit boards, and then I love doing these workshops. I would make space for things like that because it's what I'm passionate about.

And so now not being in the car as much, having more time to do little projects around the house, I'm realizing my priorities are shifting.

It's like I can just sit down and notice what my kids are doing. It's not always super relaxing or pleasant if they're fighting or something, but it's really really nice to just sit and listen to them and notice what's going on around me. And I feel like I definitely have recognized there are things that bring me joy and one of the reasons why I was so busy is because I was doing all of this outside of my day job. I feel like I now have a shift in mindset where it's like my traditional day job is the side hustle and all of these things in my life are the priority: my kids, cooking more, [my garden]. 

I have a garden and I just realized today everything that I have in it. I had started with tomatoes that sprouted from my last year's garden on their own, and then I planted some Korean corn that my mom really likes, and then I planted some kabocha squash because we love that in stews. Then I added pumpkins, then I got some strawberry plants, and my mom had a blackberry bush. I got a fig tree from my sister's neighbor. I have an avocado sapling. Oh gosh, and then I added yellow and red watermelons and cantaloupe. Oh and then zucchini and cucumbers.

So I realized clearly that's something that I love and like my life has just shifted where I would spend so much time on work or work type tasks. And now I'm spending so much more time on the things that bring me joy and that keep me sane and happy. So I'm in a place now where I'm like I have got a three-year plan. I'm lucky that I've had this kind of awakening and it's been positive. I'm definitely privileged because I don't think I'm facing some of the stresses that other people probably are and I've been able to reflect and kind of recognize some of this stuff.

Wow, quite the story. Two more quick questions. First, what is one thing we can learn about parenting while sheltered-in-place?

Our life is so much easier when I can acknowledge and accept the things that are outside of my control instead of trying to bend them to fit the scenario that I want because they rarely end up fitting exactly how I want.

It's better to just say “no I can't control this. And now what can I do?” So like I'm going to focus on the present and figure out if this isn't going to change, how do I work with this. And at first, you just want to be frustrated by what you can't control, but when you let go it actually really is easier.

[For example], I found there are days where my son really just does not want to focus on any sort of learning. [So I think], how can I actually make this fun and make it work, because that's what I have control over. A big one is experimenting with how I teach without saying it's time for schoolwork because it just makes my son like literally physically writhe.

Instead, I can get my son or my daughter engaged in activities. Like, let's mail a letter (so it’s something like life skills), let's measure ingredients (so it's a little bit of math), let’s write out a scavenger hunt list and then go on a walk (so it's something physical combined with writing and phonics). So I'm just trying to embrace what are they interested in and how can I get them to be learning a little bit but it just feels like fun. It's a little work but it goes so much better and they are so much happier. So yeah, that's great.

And when all over, how many people (who are fortunate to be able to work from home) still choose to work from home?

I think that humans generally adapt very well. So you have a new environment and they figure out how to make it work. And so I think a lot of people who were not maybe previously inclined to work from home are going to realize that they've adapted and they can actually make it work.

And I compare this to how my husband and I used to go to the gym and now we figured out how to do these awesome workouts at home. I am never wasting time driving to the gym and then being there with other people, even if everything gets lifted.

So I feel like there will be people like that who will just continue working from home. I don't know what the exact percentage would be. But I definitely think it's going to be higher than previously.

Thank you Victoria!

That’s all for today, see you next time!