We’ve been a world of virtual communication for quite some time now. Many people, including myself, have done nothing other than virtual meetings for months on end.
For the most part, we’ve adapted to virtual meetings. Zoom has exploded and we’ve all become at least semi-proficient in more platforms that we’d have ever imagined.
But despite these adaptations, virtual communication simply isn’t the same as live, in-person contact.
We’ve seen some of the challenges that virtual communication creates for teams who are either fully remote or in some hybrid model of combined remote plus in-person work.
From my perspective, one of the biggest perils of virtual communication is that it’s more difficult to feel truly connected to others when you’re engaging in anything beyond a one-on-one conversation.
Here are a few ideas that can help us to break through some of the remaining barriers of virtual communication to make meetings more effective and just a little less exhausting.
1. Break it up
From what I’m hearing, as well as my own personal experience, people are generally finding that their ability to stay focused starts to slip with any meetings beyond an hour with this virtual format. This is particularly true if the format of your meeting is unidirectional (i.e. one person sharing information with a group with limited interaction).
Tip: Break meetings up into shorter segments. At the very least, allow 15-minute movement breaks during longer virtual meetings and encourage people to go for a quick walk outside in that time.
2. Make it a conversation
Approaching the meeting as a conversation instead of you alone speaking to your team will inevitably engage people in the process. It’s a change that would be well received in-office also, but the detriment of not doing so nowadays, when working virtually, is much more significant.
Tip: Spend some time planning ahead of time to ensure that you’re building in as much interaction as possible.
3. Be aware of non-verbal communication woes
With tiny thumbnails of multiple people, it becomes ‘virtually’ impossible to catch people’s non-verbal communication the way we would if we were sitting in a room together. This makes it much more difficult to tell if someone is disagreeing with something you’ve said, if someone is confused or if someone is perhaps not fully engaged. We’ve lost a lot of the non-verbal communication cues that we rely on during face-to-face communication.
Tip: Listen in closely to voice intonation as a cue to meaning beyond the words being spoken. Ask explicit questions that will allow you to better understand whether or not you are misinterpreting someone’s intent (for example, “I get the sense that you may not agree with what I just said. Can you tell me more?”).
4. Leave more space for questions and feedback
The key to running group virtual meetings is to make sure that you’re stopping regularly to gather feedback. I’ve seen too many times where someone speaks for lengthy periods of time without an awareness that the people who they were speaking to have became lost and are no longer in sync with them.
More than ever, when we’re using virtual communication, it’s important to pause and ensure that everyone is still following. When we don’t do this, we end up with a group of people who have sat through an hour-long meeting without truly gaining any new clarity to move forward with. In other words, you’ve all just wasted your time.
Tip: If you have a tendency to forget to stop and make sure everyone is still following, ask someone else to play this role. Tell them that each time there’s a shift in topic, you want them to interject to ensure there’s nothing that needs to be addressed before you move on.
I continue to hear comments about how remote work and virtual communication are contributing to a decrease in overall productivity. I’d suggest that part of this is because we’re still working to truly and fully adapt.
We can’t just superimpose the old model on the new one. To move forward successfully, we need to identify the differences and move forward in ways that takes those differences into consideration.
It’s only with this type of open-minded flexibility that we will ultimately reach the results that we’re looking for.
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