I was invited to facilitate an online retrospective. I spent some time talking to and emailing with the person who invited me in order to make the best retrospective possible given the circumstances. In most cases, when I facilitate an online retrospective, I do it from my home office, but in this case, I was asked to facilitate from the company’s premises.
When I arrived for the distributed retrospective, three people were in the same room as me, two others were together in another location, and the last two were alone, so we were eight people in four locations. One of them took the meeting from his phone, and, as we discovered later, he was in a coffee shop. Had this been a meeting where the team needed only a one-way flow of information from me, their scrum master, or from their manager, it would probably have been okay. But in a retrospective setting, no one person is more important than any other, and everybody should have an equal chance of both listening and being heard.
The usual thing happened: the people I could not see had also chosen not to see us, so we were only audio to them. The coffee shop participant was mostly invisible and fortunately muted due to coffee bean grinding, and the other was in front of her computer. As a result, when I asked for feedback or stories behind something, I always had to ask them twice. The typical “Oh, please repeat that, as I didn’t get it” or “Ah, you were talking to me; please say it again” were heard.
This is very typical for unprepared distributed retrospectives: you may have set up a document and a virtual meeting, but you have not prepared the people attending for what they need to do in order for everyone to gain from it.
When I am an ordinary participant in a boring online meeting myself, I sometimes play Solitaire when I am just listening. I have learned that it takes the edge off the boredom while still keeping me alert enough to jump in when needed. (I would never do that as the facilitator, naturally.) My husband watches 30-minute-long fractal zoom videos on YouTube during boring meetings. If you try this, remember to mute the sound!