In the age of freelancing, digital workspaces and virtual teams, people work together who live all over the world. In the past, a meeting with such a team would require air travel and hotel rooms, per diems and expenses. Today, a virtual meeting, also known as a remote meeting, is the cost effective alternative.
But is a remote meeting actually as effective as sitting in a room together? It can be, if it is handled correctly.
The upside to virtual meetings
Obviously, cost is a major upside to virtual meetings. Both in terms of time spent and actual costs, like travel expenses. Getting people together in a physical space who are some distance away take a lot of time, in terms of travelling. Time which could be better spent on other tasks. Since time is money, add that to the cost of travelling and the overall expense of an in-person meeting skyrockets.
Another upside to the virtual meeting is convenience. Meetings can be scheduled on the fly and with minimal preparation, enabling team members to respond to issues or come together to make a mission critical decision, quickly and easily.
The downside to virtual meetings
The technology – does every participant have adequate technology / internet service to participate without glitches and issues?
Interruptions – are all participants in a work space that limits interruptions or will some be distracted by their surroundings?
Less collaboration – do people work as well in collaboration when they aren’t in the same room? Yahoo’s CEO (at the time) Marissa Mayer eliminated remote working back in 2013, citing that she felt there was less being accomplished when teams weren’t physically in the same space. There are plenty of CEOs who would say the opposite is true, so this downside is not verified, but it’s worth considering if you want to use virtual meetings.
Five steps to hosting a successful virtual meeting
- Prepare for the meeting.
a. As with all meetings, have a clear, focused agenda, with only one or two topics, and section timings, as well as a list of background information / documentation that the attendees will need in order to prepare. To that end, make sure that the agenda is sent out well ahead of time.
b. Make sure that only the people who need to attend are invited. While this is good advice for ANY meeting, it’s even more important with virtual meetings. The agenda needs to be relevant to all the attendees. If it’s not, you need to adjust the agenda and / or attendee list until it is! What’s an ideal number of participants? 5 or 6 people at most.
c. When booking a time for the meeting, keep in mind all participants and their time zones. If some aren’t happy because the meeting is at 5 a.m. where they are, they won’t be paying attention.
d. Make sure the instructions for joining the meeting are clear to even someone who has limited technical knowledge and check in with remote attendees to ensure that they have what they need in place, in terms of technology, BEFORE the meeting time. Even better if those people call in a little early, to make any adjustments. Wasting everyone else’s time while one or two people struggle to get on the call isn’t productive.
- Choose how you’re going to engage in the virtual meeting. You can do a simple audio teleconference or you can move to a digital / video medium. Which you choose depends on the number of participants and whether or not there will be any visual aids / whiteboards used during the meeting. A meeting of more than three people should be done with video, to avoid too much difficulty in identifying speakers. You can use audio for a hybrid virtual meeting where some attendees are together in the same room and only one or two are virtual. That said, if there are materials being presented via screen share that cannot be sent out in advance, it’s best to use video so that the remote participants are not left out.
- Remind all participants that they can’t talk over each other, as they might if they were in the same room. Skype, Google Hangouts and other tools will block all but the current speaker. Messaging features are a great way for people to participate with questions. The chair needs to be a strong figure, who can draw in those questions at the appropriate time. We’ll share some other useful video conferencing tips in our next post!
- Keep it short. Sitting in an interminable meeting in person is hard enough. Doing it remotely is an invitation to having people playing with their phones, or engaging in other tasks, slightly off camera.
- Share the results. Make sure that any deliverables, task lists or other outcomes from the meeting are shared with all participants after the fact. The remote nature of the meeting creates a feeling of disconnect but if there are tangible results and everyone receives them, there is a better feeling of having achieved a goal through the meeting for everyone.
Meetings are meetings, whether in person or virtual, but the specific challenges of remote meetings are easy enough to master if you pay attention to the details!