One of our most popular podcasts at the moment is on the topic of ‘Virtual Meetings’. Douglas Miller shares his experiences of how to build rapport, how to get your ideas noticed and how to make the most of your time in online meetings. I’ve taken his hints and tips on board, but it did make me stop and think about what I’ve learnt from a year full of virtual meetings.
I am, by nature, a people person. I like to chat. I like being in the office and the ability to sit around a meeting room table face-to-face. But with the pandemic forcing us into ‘home office’ locations I, like many, am left with my main form of communication being via the telephone, Zoom and MS Teams. If I reflect on my experience this is what I have learnt:
It’s not easy!
Accept that and it takes the pressure off.
The courtesy of starting and finishing on time remains the same whether it’s a virtual or face-to-face meeting. I’ve run a number of virtual meetings recently where attendees turn up late and then we all feel the need to rewind and start the discussion again. Effective scheduling and time keeping is vital. I block downtime in my diary or start a meeting at quarter past the hour so that meetings don’t run into one another. This also allows time to re-adjust in-between.
If it’s a long meeting a 5-minute coffee break provides everyone with some screen-free time and often invigorates the discussion on return. During our online Workshop sessions, we break every hour to ensure our participants are well rested and better able to concentrate.
As with any meeting, virtual meetings require a focus, an intent. Whilst we might not feel the need to provide a formal agenda, we should at least ensure the team keeps on topic. At the start of our internal meetings, we headline what the purpose of the meeting is and at the end we round off with a discussion on whether we have achieved that purpose.
Patience is vital.
It’s frustrating when there are technical issues, or someone goes off-topic. Be patient. Ensure you’ve got a good technical support network that can help resolve those irritating IT problems. Protect the purpose of the meeting by being firm but fair and politely guiding people back to the topic in hand.
Virtual meetings need to be productive and efficient. But remember to build in time for interpersonal social interaction and relationship building. We start our daily team meetings with the conversations that would have happened over a cuppa or in passing in the corridor, and then we move on to the business matters that need discussion.
No matter what you do, some people just don’t appear comfortable on the screen. I’ve recently used the ‘hide self-view’ option. That way I’m not distracted by my appearance on the screen, it ensures that I focus on others and means that I don’t neglect anyone.
If I’m chairing a meeting, I make sure everyone gets a chance to speak and for those who prefer not to, I encourage their contribution via the Chat function. That way, there is space and time for everyone to feel valued. I’ve also found that breakout rooms have a useful role to play in creating a different meeting dynamic. Smaller groups are less inhibiting, and they give quieter individuals a chance to have their say.
With many of us continuing in the home office and the hybrid working culture being embraced I think the ‘virtual’ meeting is here to stay. So, our Scott Bradbury advice is…
Take the pressure off yourself, be patient and accept it’s not always easy conversing in the virtual world. You’ll find you’ll be more relaxed and therefore more natural.