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July 23, 2020 • read

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Virtual meetings, the new reality? How to improve communications with your team

Even though most people are working from home, meetings still have to happen. The solution? Virtual meetings held over video chat platforms are the daily reality for many workers. 

Humans are social creatures, and it’s hard to imagine a world in which we don’t meet and share ideas in person. Face-to-face conversation also lends itself to spontaneously forging business connections, and discussing new opportunities on the fly. 

Benefits of virtual meetings

There are upsides to virtual meetings that have proved to be silver lining to gatherings during the pandemic era. For one, conferences and webinars can gain an international audience, and often greater overall turnout than could be expected in person.

Discussions held over an online format are often improved as well. If one panelist is hogging the mic, the panel moderator could send them an e-note to let others have a chance to speak. “Non-question questions,” that are more akin to a rant or monologue, can also be avoided. With virtual conferences, panelists can give their attention to the more earnest, succinct questions proposed in a live chat bar.

While your company may be having more regular scrums and department meetings than international conferences, the same principles still apply. A virtual setting is more easily controlled and moderated than an in person setting. And, the carbon footprint attached to virtual meetings is much lower. That means your employees spend less time commuting, and more time productive with work or tending to their families. 

Virtual meetings are less onerous logistically and budgetarily speaking as well. There’s no need to rent hotel rooms for board member attendees, or coordinate refreshments. These expenses were previously thought to be the cost of doing business. Now, their actual value can be weighed going forward. 

Downsides of virtual meetings

There’s no upside without a downside, and virtual meetings have plenty. Some workers are experiencing what’s informally known as “Zoom fatigue.” Video calls require more focus from meeting attendants to hear every word, and pick up on non-verbal cues that would come naturally in person. 

There’s also technological difficulties that could strike anyone, even with the best of wifi. What’s worse, when your video screen lags, you’re personally judged for it. A German study found that when peoples’ screens delay by just 1.2 seconds, they’re perceived as less friendly and focussed. 

Most people harbour stress over the pandemic, and video calls are a grim reminder of what they’ve lost. Every time they log on to that familiar grid screen, there’s a sense that things are profoundly not normal right now. And meeting everyone — friends, family, dates, colleagues — in the same video hangout space breaks down boundaries. Imagine meeting your entire peer group at the same cafe. Certain relationships are very contextual depending on their venues, and video calling removes that. 

Video calling is also taxing on your brain. Interacting with many faces on many panels at once leads to split attention, and a mental multi-tasking. With multi-tasking, many jobs are attempted, but none are completed to satisfaction. It’s the same with video calling. Your brain is exhausted afterwards, but you may not have felt as engaged or productive. 

How to set up optimal virtual meetings

The key to setting up successful virtual meetings is structure and planning. Try to streamline your virtual meetings. That way, everyone will know what to expect, and will be able to contribute meaningfully. 

1. Set an agenda

As with any meeting, consider “Should this be a meeting, a phone call, or an email?” Avoid setting unnecessary meetings. 

For meetings that are deemed necessary, put together an agenda beforehand, and share that agenda with all meeting invitees. During the meeting, try to stick to the agenda. Avoiding segue will make better use of everyone’s time. If there are further conversations that need to happen between a smaller group, set up that meeting for a later date. What’s discussed in a virtual meeting should be relevant for all participants. 

2. Share documents beforehand

If anyone will be sharing documents during the meeting, attach them to the meeting invite so they can be reviewed beforehand. Then, participants won’t be spending meeting time familiarizing themselves with the topic at hand. 

Share the documents again during the meeting, in case some participants haven’t had the chance to read through them yet. The presenter should verbally explain the contents of the documents if any meeting members have accessibility requirements, such as being blind or partially sighted. 

3. Assign a moderator

Video calls can get awkward when everyone speaks at the same time, falls silent, then speaks at the same time again. In regular meetings it’s possible to have aside conversations. Over video, it only adds to the cacophony. 

The moderator will quiet the chaos and let everyone have their turn to speak. The moderator should introduce the meeting members, announce the topic and agenda, give the opening remarks, and allow regular breaks for other participants to contribute. 

In a larger meeting or a webinar, the moderator can also take questions from the audience, or tell certain panelist speakers to simmer down and let other speakers have a turn. 

The moderator will also have duties like informing meeting participants if sensitive topics will be discussed, letting them know recording will take place, and asking about accessibility requirements. 

4. Give people time to speak

The squeaky wheel gets all the grease, and the loudest meeting member can sometimes drown out other peoples’ voices. It’s the moderator’s responsibility to ensure everyone has the opportunity to contribute their thoughts. 

Participants can also use the raised hand emoji to indicate they’d like to speak, or post a question in the video’s chat box. 

5. Think about accessibility

Employers should always be thinking about their employees’ accessibility requirements, and even more so during COVID-19. For example, someone who is blind or partially sighted will need things verbally described. Participants who are deaf or hard of hearing will need closed captions. 

While no one’s sure if virtual meetings are the new, permanent reality, it’s safe to say we’ll be meeting over video calls for the foreseeable future. Many companies have announced they won’t be opening their offices until 2021, and some have instituted a permanent work from home policy. If we’re to continue working and connecting virtually, we have to become fluent with these mediums so that we’re managing our mental energy, and using our time productively. 

The pandemic has added a load of mental stress to employees who worry about their health, families, job security, and future of their communities. As an employer, it’s helpful to provide mental health resources during this tough time. Virtual therapy is a convenient, effective option. Contact us to inquire about adding virtual care, and virtual therapy, to your employee benefits plans. 

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