Every leader I know conducts some, or even most, of their team meetings online in a virtual environment. This is an inescapable reality in today’s business world. Not being live, in-person with your people, however, poses unique challenges for meeting effectiveness and leadership success in them.
Here are six essentials for overcoming these challenges:
- Invest in quality technology
- Insist everyone use their video camera
- Call on people by name
- Keep the numbers small
- Make your meetings short and fast-paced
- Get in-person at least once a quarter
1. Invest in Quality Technology
The biggest issue I see that undermines the effectiveness of virtual team meetings is doing them on the cheap. Because free, or nearly free, software options exist for conducting a meeting online, companies flock to them. But these freemium platforms aren’t stable enough for quality interaction, and invariably produce an immense amount of frustration.
This, as they say, is penny wise and pound foolish. Find a solid, stable platform that won’t break up, cut out, or crash completely, then learn how to use all the platform’s features, from polling to breakout rooms, whiteboards to screen sharing. You get what you pay for here.
2. Insist Everyone Use Their Video Camera
Having a stable meeting platform doesn’t mean people will use it. It’s too easy to leave the camera off and jump on audio only. Don’t let your team do this. Without the accountability of being seen, distractions will lure participants’ attention away from the meeting every time. Get face to face to face to face without exception in your online meetings.
3. Call on People by Name
This is a counterintuitive practice that only applies to virtual team meetings. At an in-person meeting when you call on a person out-of-the-blue by name, it can be seen as rude and aggressive. In a virtual meeting, it’s essential for keeping people’s attention and preventing long, awkward gaps of silence.
Establish this practice as a clear expectation for all your virtual team meetings. Explain why you’re doing it, then dive in, graciously yet firmly. I’ll often use a variation of this in my virtual team meetings by having the first person I call on by name pick the next person to speak, then that person picks the next person, and so on. This way I’m not always the bad guy. Here’s the bottom line on this: If I’m in a virtual meeting and I know that at any time the leader will call on me by name, you can bet I’m paying attention!
4. Keep the Numbers Small
Which brings up another essential for virtual team meetings. If time doesn’t allow you to call on the participants in your meeting multiple times by name, that meeting has too many people in it.
Sure, technology exists for hundreds of people to attend an online meeting all at the same time. But your virtual team meetings have a different purpose: connection and interaction, not the mass dissemination of information. That’s why I recommend eight or fewer in attendance, so no one can hide. At an in-person meeting, you can run your eyes around the room and make eye contact with most everyone present. You can’t do this in a virtual team meeting, so keep the numbers small.
5. Make Your Meetings Short and Fast-paced
Distractions do exist in a virtual meeting environment, much more than live, in-person, so you’ve got to keep your team meetings short and you’ve got to keep them moving. A virtual meeting should be less than 45 minutes, no longer than an hour. This is the gold standard for online meetings.
Shortness, however, is just one part of the equation. Virtual team meetings have got to move at a faster pace than in-person meetings, again because of the distractions inherent in them. This means having lots of people participating in your meetings, having fun throughout them, and not getting off track.
Listen to a morning radio show on your drive to work one day. That’s the kind of thing I’m talking about. These DJ’s know that at any second a listener can turn them off or jump to another channel. This is true about your reps as well. Steal a few ideas from these professional communicators and amp up your virtual meetings.
6. Get In-Person At Least Once a Quarter
Finally, there’s no substitute for being live, in-person. Business realities may not allow this every week, but at least a quarter get eyeball to eyeball with your people. That may mean bringing them to you or your going to them, but, without live connection, drift will inevitably occur. That’s how the universe works, proceeding from order to disorder. Leaders reverse this trend by injecting meaningful, in-person contact with regular face-to-face interaction.
Yes, virtual team meetings are here to stay and rapidly increasing in every area of business. Don’t rail against the technology gods but learn how to lead in this new environment with greater effectiveness and impact.