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How to Overcome Common Virtual Meeting Challenges

And just as the pandemic itself continues to show itself in new forms, so too have digital meetings persisted, becoming as common as email practically overnight.
Along the way, virtual meetings have presented some problems for managers and executives, namely providing a “digital divide” among team members. This matters because as study after study has shown, engagement is what employees value most in their work life and is quite often the deciding factor of whether to join or stay with a company. In this labor market especially, that’s a critical consideration for most businesses.
Consider a recent Gallup study that examined engagement across 112,000 teams and more than 2.7 million employees. It found the teams that felt most engaged in their roles turned in some pretty impressive work results over companies where employees didn’t feel a strong sense of ownership. Among these, an 81 percent difference in absenteeism, 23 percent higher profitability and 18 percent higher sales productivity.

Common remote meeting challenges

Remote meetings, by definition, eliminate many of the things that drive engagement in employees, starting with disconnecting them from their supervisors and teammates. For all of its convenience, virtual meetings lack many of the elements of human communication such as social cues, those verbal and body language that gets meaning across. Lacking social cues – such as tone and subtle physical response humans give off during face-to-face conversations – makes it more difficult for the listener to gain the speaker’s true meaning, as anyone who’s ever tried to send a joke or sarcastic remark over email only to have it be taken seriously knows.
These communication barriers can not only lead to misunderstandings in the moment, but over time present barriers to team members trusting one another or their leadership. And that is a sure recipe for dysfunction.
On top of all that, studies have found virtual meetings result in poorer information retention due to boredom and distractions. Remember back when we were all meeting in person and how much you dreaded it? Poorly-run virtual meetings takes all of that, adds sometimes-sketchy technical connections and tops it off with no barriers to multi-tasking, further affecting attention spans.
But, as we can all agree, virtual meetings aren’t going anywhere. So, it’s becoming increasingly important that managers, team leaders and even company executives learn best practices for hosting productive meetings, remotely. Here are a few suggestions:

Virtual meetings are a different communication animal, so treat them as such.

Live meetings were already challenged by audiences used to getting their information via 3-minute YouTube videos, but as experts note, virtual has its own challenges when comes to attention spans. People might sit through an hour-long meeting or 45-minute speech because of the social pressure to sit still and pay attention. That’s not the case with virtual meetings so schedule accordingly, building in frequent breaks for longer sessions.

Build in engagement.

One-way communication may get your point across, but it’s murder on team chemistry. Getting people to speak up in the virtual environment is trickier than in person – your quieter ones get quieter and your louder ones get louder. As the leader, it’s your job to achieve a balance among participants. Making a concerted effort to draw team members into the discussion while holding the extroverts in check shows everyone their input is valuable. But use tact to keep people from feeling put on the spot or muzzled, as the case may be.

Set ground rules.

Some of the implicit rules for face-to-face meetings (such as wearing pants) are often absent in the virtual environment, which means it’s a good idea to set some ground rules for what you want to accomplish and how the meeting will be conducted. Reminding people up front to keep comments short and to the point, asking them to mute mics to eliminate background noise and defining a distribution system for calling on team members can help keep your call from dissolving into chaos.

Follow-up is critical

Don’t let team members form their own takeaways from the meeting, even if you summarize at the end. If you recorded the meeting, distribute right away. Create a follow-up document that highlights what is expected going forward, with time markers and deadlines, to help keep projects moving forward. Your call is only as good as the actions that follow it, so take steps to ensure those actions are absolutely clear.
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