More and more people around the world are working virtually, that is, they don’t work in the same physical space as their colleagues. According to research, 50% of the US workforce works virtually in some capacity and that number continues to grow. To stay ahead of this trend, organizations must master the virtual meeting. Here are four actions you can take toward successful virtual meetings.
Make Technology Work for You
You can’t run a virtual meeting without the help of technology. However, technology can also be a source of frustration that costs your team time and energy. Here’s how to use technology to support your team’s success.
Choose video over audio. There is a significant difference in the level of engagement in an audio conference versus a video conference. Video conferencing more closely approximates face-to-face interactions by enabling participants to pick up nonverbal cues. With the advancement in connectivity and video quality, and various cloud-based tools, you can spend minimally more to vastly increase the quality of the meeting.
Choose conferencing software that works for everyone. Consider conference audio and video quality and ease of use since you want to avoid calling a tech support team every time you want to meet. Test the tools a couple of times before purchasing and implementing with the whole team. Offer training and support to everyone on the team, so you don’t just rely on one person to set up the call.
Good equipment makes a difference. The right camera or microphone can make an enormous difference. This is a lesson we learned the hard way at Meeteor. We had a hard time engaging the virtual participants because it was difficult for them to hear everyone clearly and follow the conversation. After we upgraded to a wide range camera and tabletop microphone, the quality of our video conferences significantly improved and virtual participation skyrocketed.
Mind Local and Global Cultural Differences
Diversity enriches a team’s knowledge and unleashes its potential. However, when you have a team with people from different backgrounds and life experiences, you need to be more mindful of these key points in your team communication.
Cultural awareness is key to establishing trust. If your organization is global, cultural awareness and sensitivity are vital to the health of your business. You must understand the work-style differences, customs, and cultural assumptions of all the members of your team. This guide to better intercultural communication written by Erin Meyer (professor of INSEAD Business School) is a good place to start. You can also learn by being curious and asking your colleagues questions about their lives.
Be considerate when scheduling. Set meeting schedules to accommodate people from different time zones. Try altering the meeting schedule regularly so everyone gets a chance to have meetings during their preferable times. And, be aware of and sensitive to the holidays and practices of the different countries in which you operate.
Subcultures matter, too. Even if you’re not a global company, subcultures still develop within an organization. Different offices might have different ways of working. Learn how others do things and establish a shared understanding for your cross-location team. Use the check-in at the start of the meeting to reconnect with each other and learn the latest about your colleagues in different offices.
Learn Effective Facilitation Techniques
The facilitator plays a vital role in most meetings. Virtual meetings require even more attention from the facilitator to keep the conversation flowing and to reach the meeting objectives. Here are some tips:
Offer the floor to virtual participants first. Invite the virtual participants to speak before your co-located colleagues. It’s easy for the co-located team to jump into the conversation and more difficult for virtual team members to do so.
Acknowledge participation and maintain one conversation. Encourage the participation of virtual team members and recognize those who do participate. Avoid side conversations in the co-located meeting room or the side chat window in your conferencing software.
Get visual feedback from the team. Ask the team to give you a physical thumbs up if they agree with a decision, thumbs to the side if they are unclear or have doubts, and thumbs down if they disagree. This is a quick way to get feedback from everyone at once, and it eliminates the misunderstanding that can come with people talking over each other. Think of it as giving life to the emoticons that people often use.
Amplify What You Do in Face-to-Face Meetings
Without physically being in the same room with all the meeting participants, you need to do more of whatever you do to make a face-to-face meeting successful.
Prepare, prepare, and prepare. With team members scattered, preparation for a virtual meeting is doubly important. Share your agenda and conference call log-in instructions in advance, assign pre-reading materials, lay down the meeting ground rules, and make sure everyone knows and sticks to the meeting process.
Be explicit about what you’re thinking and doing. Adding commentary to your actions might feel awkward, but silence can easily be interpreted as no response, no action, being on mute, or even worse, lack of care. In order to avoid unnecessary misunderstandings or rehashing the same conversation over email after the meeting, stating what you’re thinking and doing will help. For example, if you’re still processing your thoughts, let the team know, so they don’t assume everyone is done with the topic. When you pull up a document or reference, let others know what you’re looking at so even though you’re miles apart, you can still be on the same page.
Stay focused and listen actively. It’s easy to get distracted in a virtual meeting and you might find the urge to multi-task. However, the people you’re talking with are your primary focus, so remind yourself to listen to them as if they are in the same room with you.
Share meeting outcomes. Summarize the decisions and next steps to ensure everyone is aligned. Use an appropriate check-out process at the end of the meeting to get everyone’s feedback and share your meeting notes soon after. Use a meeting content management tool like Meeteor to keep track of meetings notes, tasks, and decisions.
Does your organization conduct virtual meetings? What meeting practices have you employed during your virtual meetings?
If you have questions about implementing these practices with your virtual meetings, tweet at @meeteorHQ.