Most of us agree that meetings can be frustrating, time consuming affairs, with disengaged participants wishing they could be anywhere else. It’s hard enough to keep people focused in one room, but with some participants miles or oceans away, showing up as talking heads on a screen, the challenges only increase.
In a previous blog post, Mastering The Virtual Meeting, we discussed four main ways that meeting facilitators need to be on top of their virtual game. Today we look more closely at disruptive patterns that can be exacerbated by the virtual meeting and how both meeting facilitators and participants can interrupt them.
Whether it’s a bad link, a video or audio problem, or some other glitch, technology sometimes decides it needs a coffee break right when we’re ready to get to work. This can be a huge headache when the issue can’t be resolved quickly. If technical glitches repeatedly cause delays in meeting start times, your team can become frustrated, and when meetings don’t start on time, people might think it’s OK to show up a few minutes late.
Don’t ignore the problem. Acknowledge the late start, state why it happened, and make a follow-up item to brainstorm with your team how to avoid letting it happen again. For example, 5-10 minutes before the meeting, set up technology and resend the meeting link to all participants. Keep a list of common problems/solutions to help you quickly troubleshoot any problems that arise. Always have a backup plan for your technology. In our meetings, if Google Hangouts isn’t working, we switch to Skype.
Computers can multitask; humans can’t. Yet with multiple devices competing for our attention, and attention spans getting shorter, we often try to work on multiple things at once. Participants of virtual meetings can work on devices without others seeing this behavior, although other team members, virtual or otherwise, can generally feel if a person is distracted. Remember that thoughtful contribution and decision-making require our full attention.
If you are unsure, unaware, or in denial about whether you multitask during virtual meetings, ask yourself if you:
Frequently need others to repeat questions or information.
Ask questions that have already been asked and answered.
Rehash conversations or mention points already made.
Don’t remember key issues discussed in previous meetings.
Contribute little, if anything, to the conversation.
If you exhibit two or more of these behaviors, chances are that you multitask.
Recognize that you are in control of how you act during virtual meetings. If you struggle to keep your focus, change your behavior. Put devices away, set video conference to full screen, and devote your full attention to the conversation. You can even tally your behavior. When you catch yourself opening an app on your phone or checking your email, make a mark on a notepad. At the end of each meeting, calculate how many marks you made and try to reduce the number each time.
Too Many People.
When there are too many people in the room (typically more than 8), it’s harder to include everyone’s perspective. If your team members are not actively part of the conversation, they may get bored and mentally check out.
In virtual meetings, the situation is worse. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to see everyone on the same screen at once, so it’s hard to keep track of who is engaged. With conference calls, you miss the visual triggers altogether.
Pause before sending out the meeting invitation. Don’t feel obligated to invite everyone on the team. Refuse to let the “Fear of Missing Out” mentality dominate your decision. Double-check the attendee list and make sure everyone invited is critical to the discussion. During the meeting, write down everyone who has called in. Make yourself some visual reminder to intentionally check in with people on the line. Address the participants by name more often to keep them engaged.
Neglecting Human Connection and Relationship Building.
If you’ve spent 5-10 minutes on technical issues or waiting for everyone to join, when you finally do get everyone connected you might be tempted to jump right into the conversation. In an in-person meeting with everyone in the same room, it’s easy to have small talk as you settle in, so people connect more organically. It’s also easier to notice the moods of others by observing their body language. Virtual meetings pose additional challenges for people to connect with each other.
Conduct a 3-minute check-in at the start of the meeting to learn what’s on everyone’s minds. This brief investment of time will get everyone’s voices and a piece of their lives in the room. It establishes connection and gets people more engaged in the meeting. If possible, use video over audio, so your colleague is not just a disembodied voice, and you can observe and respond to their body language as well.
The Meeteor Team has its weekly alignment meeting on Google Hangouts.
Remember that the virtual meeting is on the rise, and as technology continues to advance, the virtual meeting itself may change. Make sure you have a strategy to make it work for you.
Does your organization hold virtual meetings? If so, what strategies do you use to get the most out of them? Let us know! For weekly quick tips, check out #MeeteorTip on Twitter.