Three principles for really connecting in virtual meetings

three-principles-for-really-connecting-in-virtual-meetings

Last night as our son proudly gave us a virtual tour of  his new flat via Skype,  I realised how much virtual communication has overcome distance and become a very positive part of our lives.  People can meet without the time and cost of travel. Most of our daughter’s generation of parents have one parent working virtually so they can manage child care  more easily; all around the world, many teams can meet despite being very far away from one another; people can join stimulating international communities in their areas of interest, all through virtual meetings.

Yes, it does remove the direct human contact we all crave, but  with care, we can overcome much of this disadvantage.   If you  manage your virtual communication so that it pulls people together, you can make the most of the technology without losing the personal connect.

Three principles help:

1. Be prepared: Yes,  you need all the usual good preparatory stuff such as circulating an agenda and so on.  As well as this, establish and maintain some careful ground rules, such as insisting participants always identify themselves before they speak so everyone knows who is talking.   When you lead a face-to-face meeting, you can notice what is not being said, whereas in a virtual meeting, you have to deliberately connect into these communication gaps.  One way to do this is to allocate someone the  role of the critic (along the lines of Be Bono’s Black Hat) and then regularlyseek their critical input.  Another option is to  reward anyone who does speak up about something they disagree with.

2. Be present : Use a ground rule that no one multitasks. The human brain can’t do two things at once, it has to switch attention and the virtual discussion will miss out. Listen for the distracted tone in people’s voices and name it.   It will also help to frequently ask questions and seek opinions. Interactive survey tools can help with this. As the leader, draw a clock face with each participant’s name in a place around the dial.  Place it in front of you as the meeting starts and keep track of who is speaking most, then ask for contributions from the quieter people.

3. Be personal: Plan for a short check-in time at the beginning for people to share what is happening for them in their personal lives.  This is also a good time to share any successes since the last meeting. If there is some background noise – a dog barks or someone comes to the door, use that to create a personal connect.  It’s what makes us tick.

As the interesting  Harvard Business Review Blog says- we’re trying to connect, your virtual team will work a whole lot better if the baby crying in the background is a team baby crying!

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