More and more meetings are now and will continue to be conducted without the benefit of being in the same room together. People are working from home or the other side of the planet, and it’s important to make these virtual meetings effective.
Virtual meetings, which I define as anytime we discuss something with two or more people outside of the same room, can be done over the phone or on the web. And though there are many advantages to meeting with people in this way, there are also obstacles to making them work well.
For example, it is more difficult to fully understand each other because even the use of video can hide a great deal of non-verbal communication. We also interact differently when we’re not in close proximity to one another. Distractions abound and can easily be hidden from others. And the ability to build trust and camaraderie are especially difficult.
As I discussed in a previous post, effective virtual teamwork requires great communication, respect, trust and camaraderie. These are important for any team to be effective, but may be even more important when interacting face-to-face is not an option.
When conducting a virtual meeting, I believe you should be especially vigilante at following rules for any effective meeting and then include additional ones as well.
All Meetings Should Include:
- Agenda. Nothing frustrates people more than attending a meeting where there is no clear reason for it and no logical progression of topics to be discussed.
- Check–in time. Take five minutes or so in the beginning for everyone to say something about what’s going on with them—professionally or personally. This gets everyone talking right away and helps facilitate camaraderie.
- Schedule. Start and end the meeting on time, and keep the agenda moving forward. Don’t meet any longer than necessary. If the meeting is scheduled to be an hour and you’ve finished everything on the agenda after 40 minutes, end the meeting.
- Focus. Remember that the meeting is taking people away from tasks they would otherwise attend to and respect their time. Recognize early when certain discussions should be taken offline between fewer participants.
- No multi-tasking. Nothing keeps a meeting from staying on track and remaining effective when individuals are reading and sending text messages or emails while trying to stay engaged. Even though technology enables it, we can’t be nearly as effective when doing more than one thing at a time.
Virtual Meetings Should Also:
- Engage everyone. At the beginning of the meeting ask everyone to remove themselves from distractions. Keep each member involved in the discussion and call on those who are quiet to get them talking. Give each person a task such as timekeeper, minutes recorder, “parking lot” manager, and rotate these every meeting.
- Avoid using mute button. The mute prohibits spontaneous contributions to discussions and often encourage multi-tasking as people can hide out. There are exceptions, for example, when someone is in an especially noisy environment that would only distract everyone.
- Use video whenever possible. Video conferencing can definitely aid communication and make people more accountable for staying engaged. These web conferencing products are easily available and affordable so there should be no reason not to use them now.
- Build trust and camaraderie. Check in before, during and after meetings to get to know each other better. This is especially important when you are unable to connect face-to-face with members of your team. It can be as simple as a short call or email to ask how it’s going.
- Check in with the group. During meetings, check in with the entire group to ensure the meetings are an effective use of their time. It’s harder to read cues as to whether people are tuning out when you’re not in the same room together. Ask what could be done differently to make them more effective.
The reality of more virtual meetings means we need to find ways to make them work as effectively as possible. Following these rules can help.