It seems as if almost everyone is involved in virtual communication and meetings right now. It’s a practical solution to continuing with work and social relationships when people can’t leave their homes. Virtual meetings offer a way for teams to get just as much work done even if not everyone is in the same location.
In the last few weeks many of us have seen in real-time, the challenges this form of communication can bring – from challenging colleagues to technological and logistical obstacles. We may have the idea that we can approach these issues without much forethought but meeting leaders should take the time to think about what they want each meeting to accomplish and how they can structure the agenda to achieve the desired outcome.
In many instances, this can mean creating and enforcing simple rules of etiquette that help virtual meetings deliver on their potential.
A virtual meeting is not unlike any other kind of meeting: allowing participants to communicate important information to one another. Without some structure, the meeting can quickly wander off course and leave many people wondering why they wasted their time attending.
Virtual meetings have an additional challenge because it’s easy for people to tune out or multi-task during the meeting causing them to miss out on valuable information or neglect to ask important questions.
Following basic rules of etiquette, (not interrupting, not talking over people, or giving attention to the speaker) can be more of a problem in virtual meetings because the visual cues are harder to read. So a few additional rules and etiquette tips should apply:
Testing Testing 123: Test out your connection and equipment prior to the meeting. Shouting out ‘Can you hear me?”, “I can’t hear you.” or “Can you see me?’ during a virtual meeting is both annoying AND a waste of time. SKYPE and ZOOM both have test functions. Your Wi-Fi signal may be weaker if many people are using it at the same time.
Speak Clearly: Muffled microphones or soft-toned speakers make it hard to make out what is being said during a virtual meeting. Speak up, slow down and try to avoid speaking too fast. Be sure to enunciate clearly. Keep talking points as concise as possible.
Stop for Questions: In a virtual meeting, it can be difficult to find the opportunity to ask questions or get clarification without talking over someone. If you are the speaker, provide these opportunities either by pausing long enough for someone to ask their question, or asking if anyone has a question. Chat boxes are another way to ask a question without interrupting. And since you can be seen on the monitor – a hand signal may be a good visual way to get noticed without interrupting.
Don’t Interrupt: When we are in the same room, interruptions can be managed but in virtual meetings, the non-verbal cues are much harder to read. Someone should be leading the meeting so the loudest voice doesn’t take over. Allowing everyone to be heard verbally can ensure that everyone at the meeting gets air time.
Don’t Multi-Task: It’s very tempting to do something else during a virtual meeting. Distractions can cause people to miss out on important information, which is often the entire purpose of the virtual meeting. Avoid eating during virtual meetings for work. If you are with friends you are comfortable with, check to see that it doesn’t interfere with effective communication (microphones can pick up chewing and typing.) Muting is a useful tactic to adopt because it cancels out background noise you may have at your end of the transmission. Just remember to turn the mute ‘off’ when you want to talk (like using a walkie-talkie).
Guest Stars: Schools and child care centers are closed right now. Many people don’t have someone at home to watch the children while they attend a virtual meeting or they may not have a dedicated office space in their home. If a child enters the screen or climbs up on the lap of the meeting participant, patience and understanding are required. They are managing their blending of work responsibilities and home as best they can. Some people may take a lenient position about pets appearing, but if they are going to disrupt the meeting, it probably isn’t a good idea to have them with you.
Just like any effective meeting, you should:
Have an agenda to follow that is distributed far enough in advance of the meeting so people can come prepared
Start and end on time
Plan for a ‘check-in’ where everyone gets to talk and provide an update
At the end of your meeting, summarize key points, assignments, due dates, and responsibilities, just like you might in any well-run meeting.
An effective virtual meeting can be a creative springboard to collaboration among team members regardless of their location. It’s another tool for effective interpersonal interaction. However, without clear ‘rules of the road,’ your virtual meeting can end up being not just a waste of time but a potential disaster.
Virtually – that’s not a good look.