Virtual meetings don’t have to be seen as a waste of time. In fact, they can be more valuable than traditional face-to-face meetings. Beyond the fact that they’re inexpensive ways to get people together – think: no travel costs and readily available technology – they’re also great opportunities to build engagement, trust and candor among teams.
Several years ago, my company’s Research Institute embarked on an exploration of the “New People Rules in a Virtual World” to explore how technology is shaping our relationships and how we collaborate. This multiyear journey also evolved my thinking on the subject, helping me recognize that virtual is not the enemy of the physical if key rules and processes are maintained and respected.
Going back through that research now, I’ve put together a comprehensive list of some simple do’s and don’ts to help you get the most out of your next virtual meeting.
Before the meeting:
Turn the video on. Since everyone on the call is separated by distance, the best thing you can do to make everyone at least feel like they’re in the same room is to use video. There are many options to choose from, such as WebEx and Skype. Video makes people feel more engaged because it allows team members to see each other’s emotions and reactions, which immediately humanizes the room. No longer are they just voices on a phone line; they’re the faces of your co-workers together, interacting. Without video, you’ll never know if the dead silence in a virtual meeting is happening because somebody is not paying attention, because he’s rolling his eyes in exasperation or nodding his head in agreement. Facial expressions matter.
Cut out report-outs. Too many meetings, virtual and otherwise, are reminiscent of a bunch of fifth graders reading to each other around the table – and that’s a waste of the valuable time and opportunity of having people in a room together. The solution is to send out a simple half-page in advance to report on key agenda items – and then only spend time on it in the meeting if people need to ask questions or want to comment.
This type of pre-work prepares participants to take full advantage of the meeting by thinking ahead about the content, formulating ideas or getting to know others in the group, which can help keep team members engaged, says business consultant Nancy M. Settle-Murphy in her book Leading Effective Virtual Teams. But one thing is critical: It has to be assumed that everyone has read the pre-read. Not doing so becomes an ethical violation against the team. I use the word “ethical” because it’s stealing time from the team — and that’s a disrespectful habit. The leader needs to set the tone aggressively that the pre-read should be done in advance.
Come prepared with the team’s opinions. Not only do you need to do your pre-reads, but once you see the agenda, make sure you discuss with your team what is going to be covered – that is, do your own due-diligence. What happens all too often is that people get on virtual calls with a point of view, but because they haven’t done any real homework before the call, they end up reversing their opinions once the call has ended and they’ve learned new information that they could have easily obtained in advance. If there’s a topic that seems to have interdependencies with people who work in our location, get their input ahead of time so you’re best representing those constituents in the meeting.
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