Many of us had become accustomed to virtual meetings, even before the COVID-19 pandemic led to widespread stay-at-home orders. But virtual meetings are happening much more frequently now during this pandemic. And there are some new twists, because these virtual meetings are unlike the virtual meetings we're accustomed to. So perhaps a review of the differences might be useful even to those who are familiar with the pre-pandemic virtual meeting format. Understanding the differences between pre-pandemic virtual meetings and virtual meetings now can help make our virtual meetings more effective.
- We're now 100% virtual
- Before the COVID-19 pandemic, many teams were able to conduct face-to-face meetings, a format known to be far more effective than virtual meetings when humans are involved. And many members of those teams that had mostly virtual meetings before the pandemic were also able to hold some face-to-face conversations with people with whom they were co-located. So before the pandemic there were virtual meetings, but there were also face-to-face meetings, hallway conversations, and lunches and coffee breaks.
- Because of the stay-at-home orders, we can no Understanding the differences
between pre-pandemic virtual
meetings and virtual meetings
now can help make our
virtual meetings more effectivelonger rely on face-to-face conversations to supplement our virtual meetings. Whatever puzzles do get sorted out now, get sorted out over telephone calls or videoconferences.
- To mitigate the effects of this change, team members can try to meet more regularly — if virtually — in pairs and small groups.
- One person, one mic/camera
- Before the COVID-19 pandemic, many virtual team meetings consisted of small groups of co-located team members gathering around a single speakerphone or mic/camera to exchange ideas with other sites. Some of those other sites also consisted of small groups. Now, we're (nearly) all working from home — one person, one mic/camera.
- When we had small subgroups interconnected through a virtual meeting, the members of the subgroups could converse face-to-face during the meeting. The members of the subgroups could comment to each other, or pass notes, or communicate by body language or by mouthing words. Although these interactions could be distractions, and often were frowned upon, they sometimes made the larger virtual meeting more effective. Now, all conversation usually occurs through the single channel of the virtual meeting. More of the confusions, misstatements, and unworkable ideas go through that channel before they can be sorted out.
- To mitigate the effects of this change, use the chat feature of the conferencing software the team is using, if available. If that feature isn't available, try texting.
- The home scene isn't the office scene
- Attending a videoconference from home is a bit different from attending a videoconference from the office. The two settings differ in every way from background to lighting. In the office, the background of the shot is office furniture, computers, books — very businesslike. In the home the background of the shot could be anything from a kitchen refrigerator to a wall of family photos. Not so businesslike. And the lighting in the office is usually video-friendly. It's bright enough to make for a clear image of the videoconference participant. Lighting at home is usually subtler. Many participants appear in poorly lit silhouette.
- Check to ensure that you're projecting the image you want to project. An easy way to check your image is to connect to an expired meeting using whatever meeting software you normally use. If there isn't anyone else in the meeting, the meeting software will probably show you what you look like. (This works for Skype, Microsoft Teams, and Zoom) Another approach is to connect to a meeting with yourself using a second device. It's a little more complicated to use a second device, but usually it's doable.
- Whiteboard withdrawal
- Especially for complex or technical issues, whiteboards are helpful communication tools. They're most effective when two or three people are working through some kind of puzzle, each person with a marker or two in hand, and everyone standing in front of the same whiteboard. Although there are tools that enable this kind of exchange in the virtual environment, it's difficult to replicate the natural flow and excitement of such face-to-face exchanges.
- Most conferencing systems do include whiteboard capabilities, but if your team isn't satisfied with what you have, shop around. Search for online whiteboards. Don't assume that you must decide on a single system for everyone to use. Personal tastes and usage patterns differ.
There are many more differences between virtual meetings then and now, including the wide gulf between home printers and office printers. All these differences affect the flow and effectiveness of the new virtual meeting. Pay attention to what works and what doesn't, and be open to making adjustments. Top Next Issue
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More articles on Effective Meetings:
- Our Last Meeting Together
- You can find lots of tips for making meetings more effective — many at my own Web site. Most are
directed toward the chair, or the facilitator if you have one. Here are some suggestions for everybody.
- The Perils of Piecemeal Analysis: Group Dynamics
- When a team relies on group discussion alone to evaluate proposals for the latest show-stopping near-disaster,
it exposes itself to the risk that perfectly sound proposals might be inappropriately rejected. The
source of some of this risk is the nature of group discussion.
- Meta-Debate at Work
- Workplace discussions sometimes take the form of informal debate, in which parties who initially have
different perspectives try to arrive at a shared perspective. Meta-debate is one way things can go wrong.
- Rationalizing Creativity at Work: I
- Much of the work of modern organizations requires creative thinking. But financial and schedule pressures
can cause us to adopt processes that unexpectedly and paradoxically suppress creativity, thereby increasing
costs and stretching schedules. What are the properties of effective approaches?
- Interrupting Others in Meetings Safely: I
- In meetings we sometimes feel the need to interrupt others to offer a view or information, or to suggest
adjusting the process. But such interruptions carry risk of offense. How can we interrupt others safely?
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.