In the last article, I discussed how to make in-person meetings more effective. In this article, I discuss making virtual meetings more effective.
Virtual meetings need to be treated differently from in-person meetings, some aspects of technology make them more challenging for example:
- Performing on Camera and Social Pressure
Workplaces that allow staff to work from home (WFH) expect staff to attend virtual meetings and have their camera on. For employers this is a proxy for engagement and focus. It is reasonable to want to see staff and what they are doing. After all, in a face-to-face meeting you can see what everyone is doing and whether they are paying attention.
However, virtual meetings can make staff feel social pressure to perform for the camera and be “on” at all times-which is exhausting.
To get beyond the social pressure issue, some employers allow staff to turn off their cameras during meetings. Other employers ask employees to show up in-person to work and have in-person meetings.
2. Delayed Responses
There is pressure to respond quickly in a virtual meeting. However, technology creates a delay in response time that we don’t experience with in-person meetings.
Think about the times have you have fumbled to unmute yourself, or started talking in response to a question only to have people tell you that you are on mute, or the host goes on to the next person to get a response to their question because you are seen as too slow in responding.
Think about trying to find documents for your presentation and put them on a shared screen. If the person takes too long or has technical difficulty they may be labelled as not being prepared or inept
A 2014 study found that delayed responses in a teleconference made others see the responder as less focused, confused, or inattentive, I would add possibly inept. We seem to have lost the ability to tolerate any delay or interruption in a smooth transition and we label the person as less capable.
What to do?
Count to six. I received the following tip when I took a course on presentations: when you ask a question, count to 6. This is the amount of time people need to hear and process the information they receive. Therefore, in a virtual meeting, counting to six will relieve some of the response time and social pressure. Our natural instinct is to want an instant answer, but with technology expect delays.
Give people time to process and respond, be patient as people navigate their way through the virtual environment
3. Effective Use of Technology
Never assume that everyone knows all the technology available to them, help participants become familiar with what is available to them, like screen share, polls, break out rooms, and chat functions. Make it interesting by changing up the format.
Use the Chat Feature
Encourage everyone to keep their video meeting chat feature open and ready to use. One of the best features of a virtual meeting is the chat function, this feature can help people be engaged throughout the meeting and it is a great way to get work done.
Use Breakout Rooms for Small Group Work
This feature is similar to real life break out groups, but it is done virtually. The host of the meeting usually has control over the breakout function and can place people into a breakout room. It is a nice way to brainstorm or discuss issues before going back to the bigger group.
Use Polls to Keep Participants Engaged
These are instant surveys that the host will use to gauge the participant knowledge or engagement They are fun because you get to see what others are thinking.
4. Set Virtual Standards
Most people behave in a professional manner in meetings, but there are occasions when the meeting can get away from the host and rude and unprofessional behaviour happens. It may be more difficult to catch and stop this behaviour in virtual meetings than in-person meetings, but it needs to be stopped. Similar to in-person meetings, when a meeting becomes rude or unprofessional it is time to apply standards for virtual meetings. Provide participants with examples of acceptable behaviour and standards:
- “We will not speak over one another in meetings”
- “We will record team chats so everyone knows what’s going on and who’s responsible for each idea and task,” or,
- “Team meetings will be smartphone-free zones.”
Some examples of standards:
- Raise your hand (real or virtual) before speaking.
- Address colleagues respectfully.
- Do not yell or use profane language.
- Maintain a professional tone.
- Listen to the speaker.
- Remind participants that rude or unprofessional behaviour will not be tolerated. If necessary, take a break and discuss the disruptive behaviour with the participant(s) or stop the meeting and reschedule. Deal with instigators individually to address the inappropriate behaviour as you would in an in-person meeting.
5. It’s Ok to Socialize Before the Meeting
A common comment about virtual meetings is that it’s not as personal and interactive as in-person meetings. There are no treats in a virtual meeting, there is little socializing in a virtual meeting and people are more wooden. For example, in an in-person meeting people chat about their family, evening/weekend plans, weather, but as soon as people get on a call, the socialization aspect doesn’t seem to happen, people go on mute and off camera until the meeting happens.
Getting to know your colleagues in a more personal way makes the interactions more personable, pleasant and can facilitate better working relationships.
Virtual meetings are here to stay. Find different ways to engage participants, change up the format, make sure participants know how to use the technology and practice tolerance.