Is anybody out there?

Sep 08 2011 by Wayne Turmel Print This Article

One of the biggest challenges to running an effective online meeting is the feeling that no one is actually out there on the end of the line. Fortunately, there are smart people like Darleen DeRosa out there to help.

She's the author of Virtual Team Success- A Practical Guide to Working and Leading From a Distance, a great resource for those trying to help their managers and remote teams cope with the reality of meeting across the ether.

In a recent article in T+D Magazine, she gave us these six tips to make virtual meetings better:

Build an effective agenda: To get the most out of the meeting, give a clear sense of what will happen before, during and after the meeting. Invite participants giving them as much notice as possible. At least a couple of days before (yes it IS possible)send out a reminder with the agenda, any materials they need to prepare and information about the technology you'll be using.

Choose the right medium: Does this meeting require face-to-face communication? Will a conference call do? Choose the technology that will allow you to do what you need to do and not overcomplicate things. Maybe you need something like Telepresence or video conferencing. Maybe a simple WebEx meeting will get the job done. Maybe you just need to get on a conference call and get on with your lives. Choose the right tool for the task at hand.

Address time zone barriers: One of the reasons we hold virtual meetings is that people are scattered across geography and time zones. This means some people are meeting late at night, or early in the morning in order to accommodate everyone else. Sharing the pain helps lessen resentment and make people feel like part of the team. Try rotating meeting times. The home office folks might appreciate your remote workers a bit more if they're suddenly expected to be functional at 4 AM.

Minimize tangential discussions: Attention spans are much shorter in the virtual world. It's up to the meeting leader to keep things on track. Be very firm about what's on the agenda and what should be tabled for later. Don't let people monopolize the conversation and ensure input from your more introverted team members. Basically leading a meeting means acting like a leader.

Reinforce shared responsibility: Every person on the team should have a vested interest in the success of a virtual meeting. Empower people to call out when things get repetitive or unproductive. It's also a great idea to share the responsibility for running the meeting- people might have a whole new respect for how difficult it is once they've had to facilitate a session for themselves.

Balance tasks and trust: Essentially this means that, while it's critical to get down to the task at hand and not waste time, meetings accomplish more than just task management. Use the time you gather to help the team get to know each other. This is often ignored in the interest of expediency, then you find out your team doesn't know or trust each other enough to be effective.

Running good virtual meetings is a key competency for managers today. As working remotely on our projects and team tasks becomes a way of life, we ignore the fundamentals at our peril.

If you'd like to hear an audio interview with Darleen, you can hear her on the Cranky Middle Manager Show.

If you're interested in learning how to conduct better web meetings for your project team or company, check out our Leading Effective Virtual Meetings webinar workshop. Next individual enrollment program is September 29th.

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About The Author

Wayne Turmel
Wayne Turmel

For almost 30 years, Wayne Turmel has been obsessed with how people communicate - or don't - at work. He has spent the last 20 years focused on remote and virtual work, recognized as one of the top 40 Remote Work Experts in the world. Besides writing for Management Issues, he has authored or co-authored 15 books, including The Long-Distance Leader and The Long-Distance Teammate. He is the lead Remote and Hybrid Work subject matter expert for the The Kevin Eikenberry Group. Originally from Canada, he now makes his home in Las Vegas, US.