Meetings are an opportunity for individuals to come together as a team for group discussion, decision-making, and debriefing. They’re far from easy: disagreements and confusion can occur, and some meetings can be long and tedious. Whether the meeting is in-person or virtual, it is up to the meeting leader or facilitator to make it as pleasant as possible for attendees, which will in turn make meeting participants more effective at achieving goals.
In any meeting, people need three things for effective collaboration, according to the late American psychologist Will Schutz: inclusion, control, and openness. Because of the distance factor, meeting leaders need to think creatively about how they can provide for these basic needs. The following 7 tips are designed specifically to make a difference in achieving this for virtual teams.
Call People By Their Name
Using someone’s name when you address them is a sign of respect and trust. You might do this occasionally in face-to-face meetings, but it’s even more important in virtual meetings. It can be difficult to tell who is being addressed in a videoconference if names aren’t used frequently. In addition to providing clarity, it also makes people feel included.
Take Polls for Agreement and Understanding
Before moving on to the next topic, everyone in a meeting should be on the same page. Whenever the group is working toward an agreement, address everyone by name and ask for their opinion. If the group decides to move forward with a decision, make sure, one by one, that each person understands the decision and agrees to move forward. Be direct and specific: ask whether they understand X statement, what they think about X opinion, etc. This step provides all group members with a sense of control.
Have IT Specialists on Call
Even when you put all your ducks in a row, you never know when you’re going to have technical difficulties in an online meeting. Don’t rely on the people in the meeting to solve the issue. Instead, inform your local IT team (or someone else who knows what they’re doing) that you’re having a virtual meeting so they can be ready for you to call them for support when needed. Quickly resolving any technical issues will make your group have more confidence in the meeting.
Explain Roles and Contributions
Sometimes, people arrive a meeting, but they’re unsure what their role is. If they never find out, they may lose interest. It’s hard to be interested in a meeting topic when you don’t know why you should be interested. At the beginning of the meeting, clarify to the group who each person is (if they haven’t met) and what they can be expected to contribute to the meeting. On the agenda, include each person’s name next to the items that pertain to them.
Organize Topics Deliberately
Every person in your meeting may not need to stay the entire time. This fact should be considered when you’re putting together the meeting agenda. Organize the order of topics in a way that caters to the group members’ schedules. If Linda has to leave 15 minutes early, put her issue early in the meeting. There may be a topic that relates to the entire team, but the rest of the meeting is only intended for a few people; in this case, have the all-inclusive topic be the first thing you discuss. Show respect for people’s time and their respect for you will increase in kind.
Set Ground Rules for Using the Software
Ground rules are a must for any meeting. For virtual meetings, the ground rules should include do’s and don’ts for using the videoconferencing software appropriately. For example, you might make a rule that no side conversation is allowed in the chat box, and another that states participants who don’t currently have the floor should mute their microphones. Making everyone agree to these rules puts all members on a level playing field and reduces distractions.
Put Shared Notes on the Screen
Often in face-to-face meetings, a scribe is designated to take notes for the group on a whiteboard or easel notepad. All participants need to be able to see these notes to maintain their accuracy and use it a frame of reference. When hosting some virtual attendees in an otherwise face-to-face meeting, make sure notes are clearly visible to them. You may even want to take the notes on a computer – put them on a projector for in-person attendees and share your screen with virtual team members. For an all-virtual meeting, the note-taker can share their screen throughout the meeting or when appropriate to reference notes.
The quality of virtual meetings is much improved even from a few years ago. Part of this has to do with more advanced technologies, like better image quality and increased Internet service speeds. The other part is enhanced understanding of meeting dynamics. Even when technology performs imperfectly, you can make a meeting better with these simple steps. They’ll lead to more collaborative meetings by catering to the social and informational needs of your team members.