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Don’t let the thought of connecting virtually deter you. With some careful thought and consideration, virtual meetings are just as effective as in-person ones, potentially even more so. 

As much as we might be tempted to simply apply the same processes and procedures, virtual meetings are entirely different from physical ones. We need to carefully consider and prepare for this different meeting format, especially for those who are new to this type of technology or remote working. 

How we engage virtually can either make or break a client or internal relationship and we risk causing disengagement and frustration if we don’t shift our meeting approach. In my previous role at a multinational Internet Communications organisation, I lead the online meetings and training processes and, while some of the below may seem like common sense, I would like to remove the pain and teething issues you might experience as your team, and clients, begin to adopt remote working. 

The fundamental considerations and advice for virtual meetings are: 

Adopt a different mindset:

Don’t’ try and imitate an in-person meeting – virtual meetings are different. They remove the impact body language and physical energy can have when holding a group’s attention versus being physically present.  There is no corridor talk as you enter the meeting, there is no visual stimulation to enable you to ‘read the room’ with any level of accuracy, and your own presence, if you are leading a session, is paramount. Once you have thought about these factors, you are in a better headspace required to make an effective virtual interaction work.

Create a virtual meeting culture:

In setting up your meeting, ask yourself the following questions: 

  1. What is the core purpose of this meeting?
  2. Who needs to be in the meeting?
  3. What is the best time to start and end the meeting?
  4. What style of meeting do we need to have?
  5. What ground rules need to apply – which ones are standard, and which ones are relevant in this meeting only?

The ground rules are important as they serve as guardians of culture. In the ‘real world’ organisational cultures are built around the physicality of being together and the artefacts one can see. When you are operating remotely, the stated boundaries and ‘ways of working’ become vital.  The clarity of knowing what’s in and what’s out is critical more particularly when we’re operating in a new way. Here are some examples of items around which to form useful ground rules:

What Why
Check your tech Checking that your technology (camera, sound, connectivity, etc) are all working before you join is essential – the amount of time wasted with individuals trying to get themselves sorted once in the meeting is frustrating for others and economically disastrous.
How to enter a session Having an agreed way of how you enter a session is important – do you say your name as you enter, or does the meeting lead do this – having clarity avoids awkward silences or talking over / interrupting one another.
Assign roles Just as in a physical meeting you need a meeting lead, minute taker, timekeeper.  You also need a technical support person and sometimes even logistics support (depending on the style of the meeting).
Camera usage Do cameras need to be on or off as a standard?
Pre communications Sending out pre-communication is particularly important. Keep it as short as possible but outline: 

  • Reason for the meeting 
  • Meeting etiquette/ground rules 
Don’t touch Unless contributing to a chat, keyboards and phones should be out of bounds just as in a physical meeting. If this is not explicitly stated, folks may be tempted.
Dress code Even though the temptation may be to not think about what you wear, it’s really important to dress appropriately for meetings, virtual or not
What’s in view It’s important to think about what is in view – ensure you don’t have things like: beds, laundry, animals, kids or inappropriate art in view of the camera. Also either raise your camera or adjust the level so that you are at eye-level with the camera. It is also good to talk directly to the camera, to create eye contact with the rest of the participants. 

 Crafting meaningful digital engagements:

As a business that leads workshops and facilitates in-depth conversations with senior leadership teams, we design and prepare online engagements differently to how we work when we are in person. This applies specifically to when you are leading large groups of people and are using the time for a training session. 

Here are a few of our core design ‘rules’: 
  • Create short sessions of a maximum of 2 hours with a 10-minute break during that time.
  • Every 2 hours have at least a 30-minute break – you can set some reflections for during this time, but it should offer a screen break.
  • Go outside during your break to get some fresh air (if you can).
  • Inserting activities during digital interactions is vital to ensure that everyone stays engaged. Teach for a maximum of 10 minutes before requiring some form of engagement – a poll, raised hand, breakaway room or whiteboard session.
  • Use all the digital tools available – whiteboards, polls, breakout rooms, putting your hands up, slide share etc – to encourage interaction.
  • Ensure your participants take part in some of the session as a stand-up meeting, just to get the legs stretched and to change their mindset.

In a time of crisis, leaders have the opportunity to make a substantial difference in the mental well being of their teams. Staying calm, creating a culture of communication and support, and being specific on how your business can work digitally is a first step to leading through this time. 

Our team is skilled in facilitating online meetings and workshops. If you want more practical and pragmatic steps, please contact us on leadership@lockstep.co.za and we are happy to help and support. 

Annie Hanekom

Annie Hanekom

Annie Hanekom is a Senior Associate at Lockstep and is currently based in Cambridge in the UK. Annie is an executive coach, facilitator and leadership practitioner and has spent more than 16 years in the consulting and leadership development arena both in the UK and in Sub-Saharan Africa. Annie serves global clients in both locations. She has coached and advised on leadership, team and personal effectiveness and focuses on building deep self-awareness in individuals.

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