One of the big complaints about virtual meetings is that they aren't as effective as face to face meetings. Given how most of us feel about face to face meetings, this is slightly terrifying but the way we work today makes them inevitable. So, fine, take a moment to grieve. Feel better? Okay. Now what?
Since web meetings are essentially unavoidable, what can we do to make them as effective as really effective face to face meetings? When we teach How to Lead Effective Virtual Meetings, one of the most valuable exercises we do is to ask people what works well in person, and then figure out how to replicate that experience live. To whit:
Get to know each other. Yes, it's hard to have the same social interaction online as you do live, but you can do something to get to know, like, and trust each other. Using webcams (or even photographs of team members) helps people see each other as, you know, people. Take the time to showcase at least one team member on each meeting. Take turns leading the meetings so that everyone gets to see everyone else "in action".
Hear from everyone. One of the big complaints about virtual meetings is that you don't get input from everyone. Do you hear from everyone face to face? My guess is that there are people who dominate the meeting, some participate when called on and some try to hide in the shadows. Same thing online, except that the shadows are easier to hide in. Since you can't make eye contact, the meeting leader needs to be more assertive about calling on people and letting them contribute in other ways like chat and voice.
Show of hands and other interaction. Often I ask people what they'd do at this point of a presentation or meeting, and they'll say, "oh I'd just ask for a show of hands". Did you know that most platforms have a "raise hand" button that's ideal for quick input, voting and checking who's listening or not?
Brainstorming and problem solving. In a regular meeting, you might go to a flip chart or white board. Maybe post a "fishbone" chart to do problem solving. You can do all of that online (there's usually a button marked "white board". What else do you need to know?)
What stops most people from using these tools is the notion of multitasking. Trying to type on a whiteboard, lead a discussion and stay focused is almost impossible, especially if you're inexperienced.
So don't try. Let someone else scribe for you and you can keep on track. One added advantage is that depending on how you run this meeting, people can download or keep their own copy of the final documentsÖ. That's hard to do in a real meeting.
Look, I am old and enough of an extrovert to prefer meeting face to face as well, but given how ticked off I get about wasted time, lost opportunities and annoying people, I also recognize the problems. Short of splitting a doughnut, there is very little you can do in a real meeting that can't be replicated online.
You just have to stay focused, learn what your platform is capable of, and get competent so you can get the job done.