Five reasons to hate virtual meetings

Oct 22 2012 by Wayne Turmel Print This Article

Virtual meetings are a fact of life, but that doesn't mean we enjoy them very much. That in itself is not a big deal. After all, there are plenty of things at work we don't like but deal with, depending on exactly how much we loathe the activity in question.

Like so much in life, it's hard to quantify misery, but if we were to develop a scale from mildly annoying (the coffee pot is empty and you could use another cup) to migraine-causing misery (Sitting through status updates from every participant, there are eight participants, with no time limit, in alphabetical order, and you're a "W").

I won't attempt to tell you how you should feel about them, but let's look at five reasons people hate virtual meetings and see if we can't make them less odious.

On his "Public Words" blog, Nick Morgan recently gave some reasons he struggles with working virtually. You can read the entire article here.

  1. It's actually hard to remember anything that's said or happens
  2. Attention spans are getting shorter
  3. You don't get a lot of the subtle social cues that indicate boredom, anger or support
  4. Misunderstandings easily develop
  5. The social bonds that occur naturally are hard to create in the first place and very fragile

These are all legitimate complaints. They are also subjective. "Hard" doesn't mean impossible. "Happen naturally" doesn't mean they can't be overcome, or at least mitigated. What it does take is planning, hard work and a commitment from all attendees to make it work in spite of the obvious barriers.

Here are some simple (not easy, implementation is still up to you):

1. Use the features of the platform to help reinforce key points. Use the "record" button, save white boards and chat logs, and document what you can and share it with participants or post it on a shared drive or other site where everyone can refer to it as needed.

2. Attention spans are based on two factors: physical barriers (how long can someone visually and auditorially focus without bursting a blood vessel) and mental barriers (are they interested enough in what's going on to make the effort). Keep meetings short, focused and make sure people understand what is expected of them.

3. Presenting online, even with video, makes it hard to pick up shrugs, glazed eyes and confused faces. Ironically, when we present virtually we tend to barrel through in an effort to get done as quickly as possible. Build in opportunities to check in with your participants such as chat, direct questions and calling for comments.

4. You need to be able to listen carefully to detect things like tone of voice or people speaking at cross purposes. That's hard to do when you're worried about running the technology or wishing you were someplace else. Try having someone else run the meeting so you're free to really listen, question and ensure understanding between all attendees.

5. Don't ignore social niceties in the interest of time (at least not every time). When people get to know each other as people, they tend to cut each other more slack and strive to create real strong working relationships. Help people get to know each other (video, showing pictures of attendees, focusing each meeting on a different person or group) intentionally. Don't expect it to happen of its own accord.

So while we might not be fond of virtual meetings, at least we can move them a little lower on the misery index.

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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.