23rd July 2020 by Steve Holyer

Zoom Mobility


Update: April 2021

Zoom added my requested feature for "Zoom Mobility"  some months ago now.  Zoom now allows participants to choose their own break-out rooms. This is a big win for participant choice.

But, Zoom’s implementation leaves some room for improvement which I’ll mention in another update at the end of this article.

Zoom Feature Request

I need Zoom Mobility—an imaginary feature so that people choose their Zoom break-out rooms and move freely between them. This is a vital feature that can drive the life-changing magic of Open Space.

I just requested it from Zoom.

It started on Twitter

Today, Tobbe Gyllebring (@drunkcod) wrote on twitter:

One thing that's definitely worse in this virtual conference age is being forcefully shuffled into breakout rooms to discuss things without any reasonable optout strategy.

I didn't like "interactive sessions" before and now I have no option but to leave leave.

It's one of the tricky problems we need to figure out for good remote presence and facilitation.

The lack of "mobility" is something vital that I miss within remote open space events on Zoom. Open space dies without invitation and mobility.

There are a few attempts to solve this, and more popping up all the time.

I totally agree with Rebecca Wirfs-Brock. She suggested on twitter that "...being forced randomly into breakout rooms is zoom's clumsy attempt at helping automate a complex process. Far better would be for us to browse spaces (somehow) quickly and decide either to join or just hang out where we already are."

Since I’m a big fan of Zoom, I’d like Zoom to enhance their break-out rooms to support more mobility. Zoom Mobility should provide easy feedback to people choosing a room. The room’s topic and the people in the room would be a good start

Zoom is actively asking the user community for suggestions to improve Zoom. So I submitted this feature request here.

Update: April 2021

Zoom added my requested feature for "Zoom Mobility" but there's till room for improvement.

The Zoom mobility feature that let's you choose your own breakout room adds complexity to the call (like other pandemic-era upgrades to Zoom).

One of the Coaching Coctails principles for remote working is "Use video conferencing that works & stays out of the way." The choose your own breakout feature shoves the tool into the foreground so it’s no longer staying out of the way. Activating and explaining the feature creates additional cognitive load for participants as they figure out how to chose their own breakouts.

As more people get used to the feature it becomes part of the background "noise". I’m finding this feature less confusion over time as more people know how to use it.  But the complexity of the feature implementation stll adds to the "noise" of the tool.  While this is a tradeoff we can live with, we also value keeping it simple.

We want to balance our guiding principle "Put the people first. Then interactions, processes, and tools. In that order."

A bigger problem is this feature isn't universally available, It's not implemented in the mobile versions of Zoom which adds more complexity and confusion to the calls.

QiQoChat (a social front-end to Zoom) is an alternative that is one of my favourite "keep it simple" tools for remote working. It solves the mobility issue with less confusion. — but people using QiqoChat from mobile phone deviced may still face an uphill challenge.

Zoom Feature/Enhancement Request

As an introvert and person with options (and free will :)) I need to be able to choose which zoom break-out room I will join so that I can self-organise. I do not always want to be assigned to a break-out room.

As a facilitator and an educator/trainer I need to have space for people in my meetings and training sessions to organise themselves into break-out rooms.

Randomly assigning people to breakout rooms was cool, but it’s like speed dating or musical chairs—it’s fun for some and agony for others.

Also in a classroom, or in a working meeting, we often want to ask people to form their own small groups (break-outs) to talk about their interests (in some cases people call this "birds-of-a-feather").

I’d like a feature that allows all meeting participants to see the list of break-out rooms that are "open". Then the participants can choose their own room to join.

How I Want It

  • I would like the host to have an option to assign names to each break-out room that will be displayed for participants to choose from (default could be boring names like "Room 1", "Room 2", etc.)

    • This is so that participants can chat each other and say 'let’s join "Room 2"', or the host may want to give some indication of what will happen in each room (by name) so that participants can decide which room to join.

    • I would like for the host to able to set a topic for a room (or leave it blank). I’d want a longer entry field. Something like 140-270 characters (twitter size) should be good. This is so that participants would see the topic when choosing the room.

      • Participants in the room should be able to change the topic. (I want to allow participants to decide their own topic to set.) This is so that participants can set their own agendas and invite others to join them (by letting others see what they’ve set).

        Some sample topics might be:

        • "Hardware", "Software", "Architecture", or

        • "A topic about including all voices in the conversation" and "A topic about equity", or

        • "The people in this breakout invite you to join us to discuss X"

        • Things like that.

        (Naturally I think you’d want to allow the host to enable or disable the ability for pax to change their topic.)

  • Participants should ideally be able to see who is already in a room to help them choose rooms.

  • Once participants are in a room they should still be able to see the other rooms' information so they can choose to move rooms.

Some More Options (while we're asking)

  • I want to be able to (optionally) limit the size of breakouts to a max size so that you can show full break outs when max is reached (the host might ask people to form groups of 4 ...  so would set room to max 4). Of course unlimited should be an option.

  • I also want a killer (optional) feature. I want each participant to have the ability to listen "at the door" of a room without joining (to see if they want to join)

    • for security people in the room should be able to enable or disable this

    • for security there should probably be a message on screen to people in the room when someone is listening at the door


There are so many kinda of meetings and classes where people need to mingle and form their own groups (this is also great for networking events).

In a large real room we often say put your chairs in an ad-hoc circle. Or find a table to join. Or we even go to physical breakout rooms and meet us back in an hour. People need to choose their groups, set their topics, and do their work. Usually people can move around when they want. We never shove people into a room and lock them there. (Well, unless it's political or crime and punishment related ...). We usually expect  the freedom tom move on our own. Imagine the free flow of a cocktail party mingle or a bar camp.

This is vital to a Open Space Techology meeting.

This feature—moblitity and self-organsiation—is a major missing component from remote meet-ups—including Zoom.

Zoom gets so many things right in order to create smooth, easy, remote meetups. Break-out rooms were an invaluable start.

This might be the one thing Zoom is still missing that I’d switch to another provider for. 

I’ve also talked to school teachers who would really like this feature for distance learning, too.

What You Can Do Next

  • You might make a similar feature request for Zoom. I’m thinking the more people ask for it, the more like we are to get it. (And we really need this, remote facilitators!) 

  • You’re invited to join us to work on finding ways to do better remote-first self-organisation. Especially, if we’re running an open facilitation dojo.

  • Deepen your practice of holding powerful Open Space using the tools you already have—in the same room or over Zoom. Our Open Space Leadership Workshop helps uncover the life-changing magic of holding space. (We've just added several bonuses to the workshop to go deeper into holding great remote open space leadership.) Hire us to faciltate your next Open Space or Coach Camp. We work remote, or in the same room.

  • The comments on this post are open! (Somewhat moderated.) Tell us what you do for online mobility. What would you change about our Zoom break-outs to promote mobility and self-organisation?

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