In the HBR blog post, How to Conduct a Virtual Meeting, the author begins with the assertion: "Virtual meetings are the suboptimal reality of most information workers' lives." While there's no doubt they're increasingly commonplace, are they necessarily "suboptimal"?
- Collaboration tools take the task of editing or reviewing documents, graphics or slideshows from mundane to extraordinary. For those that don't yet have experience with them, create a Google document and simultaneously edit it with a colleague. As changes are made, they're immediately visible to others. Flags show the name of the user making the changes.
- Travel time, hassle and expenses are eliminated along with travel planning and trip preparation.
- Working from your computer gives you access to information, applications and resources that aren't yet centrally located in the cloud.
- Everything can be recorded for later reference by anyone including those who were unable to attend.
- The comfort of your own desk always trumps that of a conference room that's inevitably too warm or too cold.
Tips for Success
Don't make the assumption that business relationships can't be developed in virtual space. The effort you make to build a relationship has more impact than the forum.
Relationship building time isn't optional. Make reconnecting and small talk a standard part of all virtual meetings. This is an important but commonly overlooked step.
For teams that have never met in-person, encourage participants to spend time getting to know one another. Connecting and learning about others through social media is one option. Having team members schedule a call for a casual "get to know you" conversation is another. The key is to make the same effort to build a connection that you would with coworkers in a shared physical environment.
Managers need to monitor the dynamics of teams working together remotely. Work to thwart any hint of an "us versus them" attitude that can sometimes develop.
Video doesn't necessarily enhance meetings. To the contrary, it's often a distraction.
Lack of visual cues is often cited as an issue with virtual meetings where video isn't used. However, expressions, gestures and body language risk misinterpretation even when meeting in-person.
Use the lack of "tough to interpret" visual cues as an opportunity. Make an extra effort to employ good communication practices by regularly asking attendees to verbalize their thoughts and feelings. Communicate reactions, e.g., "Everyone here is nodding in agreement".
There's no one size all solution. Experiment with different tools and forums. Phone calls supplemented with collaboration tools often work well. Don't overlook chat tools or in-house social media solutions.
Consider whether interactions need to be real time or whether asynchronous interactions (e.g., a discussion forum) are more appropriate. The latter solution is often surprisingly effective as it gives participants time to carefully consider their answers.
Make sure the technology is working before the meeting starts.
Virtual meetings offer significant advantages over those held in a physical space; however, the latter clearly has its place too. Find what works best for your team.
Instead of considering virtual meetings "suboptimal", companies must learn how they can reap the substantial benefits offered by this rapidly evolving communication space.
When offered a choice, I've found that people usually opt for virtual meetings. What's your experience? What techniques or tools do you use you done to enhance their effectiveness?