Digital meetings are very different to meeting in person, we miss the real essence of human connection and can miss many of the subtle cues we would have potentially picked up when being in front of someone such as body language, facial expressions and the energy/vibe of the person.
Some people may also struggle with moving from a face-to-face environment to an online environment based on their profile type (e.g. extroverts vs introverts).
It also takes real concentration and juggling act as the host or facilitator to manage a virtual ‘room’ full of people vs. an actual room full of people. You have to deal with technical challenges such as network and connectivity issues, back ground noise, people talking over each other not to mention short attention spans and the potential of suffering from digital fatigue, especially if you are moving from one online meeting to another.
So how do we go about making our digital meetings more meaningful and value adding for everyone involved?
- As humans we are wired for connection – if networks are stable enough, encourage everyone to keep their cameras on to reinforce human connection.
- Having video’s on also enables you to pick up on non-verbal cues if you notice them which are essential for knowing who’s got something to say or if something else is going on (i.e. people are distracted).
- Other non-verbal cues to look out for are things such as head nods, facial expressions and body language (yawns, slumped shoulders/posture etc ).
- As the host/facilitator, you need to be aware of the different profile types in the room (introverts vs extroverts) allowing all the voices to be heard and not let the stronger personalities dominate.
- Disagreements are bound to happen at some point as participants may not share the same views or perspectives – don’t let it derail your meeting and frustrate others on the call – take it offline.
- Be aware of your environment where you are having your call especially if you are at home and things that could be distracting to others (e.g. untidy cupboards/bookshelves, bright back lighting/windows etc)
- Leave space for pauses/quiet moments after a discussion or something has been said to allow for thinking time and/or network delays. Alternatively encourage people to put their hands up/un-mute themselves if they want to share something.
- Call people out by name so they know you are addressing them as they may not see you looking their way (especially if cameras are off due to connectivity issues) as you would in a F2F meeting.
- Be punctual, respect everyone’s time – nothing is more distracting than people coming late into F2F meetings and equally so virtual ones.
- Keep meetings as short as possible to avoid digital fatigue – research shows 45mins is the ideal time period.
- Put everyone’s mic’s on mute to minimise feedback and background noise – it can cause distractions and irritation for others on the call/meeting.
- Inform everyone upfront of any tech issues, interruptions, having to leave early etc
- Use break out rooms if need (Zoom functionality) to enable more interactive, smaller group sessions that can feed back into the larger group to keep engagement levels up.
- Follow up with action items coming out of the meeting – either record the call for everyone to refer to or send out minutes/actionables from the meeting.
- Use virtual app features to work around having group debates that could waste time or get out of control (e.g. polls).
- Not everything has to be handled as a meeting, some things can easily be handled with a quick phone call or online chat / messaging functions.
- Most importantly treat your meetings like you would do in the office, in other words dress up, show up, participate and follow up afterwards with any outcomes or deliverables.
When employees feel included, fully engaged, and encouraged to contribute, their best efforts and ideas come to light and that’s ultimately what you want whether it be virtually or face-to-face.
With the current stressful times we are experiencing, it’s important to check in with employees how they are doing, how they are coping with work/home integration, managing household and family responsibilities as well as work deliverables and most importantly what kind of support they are needing.
Empathetic leadership is critical right now as well as communication on all levels – individual, team and business and how decisions being made are going to impact employees in the long run (e.g. salary cuts, job casualties etc). Never under estimate the importance and value of human connection, even in digital meetings and digital times.
Versions of this article also appeared on The Media Online website and Lionesses of Africa websites
Paula Quinsee: Relationship Expert, Tedx speaker and author of Embracing Conflict and Embracing No. Paula teaches individuals and companies tools and skills to immediately and positively enhance the quality of their personal and organisational relationships.