Wednesday, December 03, 2008

5 Tips for Better Virtual Meetings

We at Stinson Brand Innovation have been conducting virtual meetings for quite sometime, as we collaborate with clients and colleagues nationally and globally.

We have found that virtual meetings (mostly through Webex) have improved our productivity and communication – and yet there are still obstacles.

I found a great article entitled Five Tips for Better Virtual Meetings by Karen Boda and Rebecca Hinkle in Harvard Management Update, a newsletter from Harvard Business School. Here is what the article suggests to make virtual meetings run smoother for everyone involved.

1. Be Very Interactive
One reason virtual meetings do not flow as naturally as in-person meetings is that establishing camaraderie at a distance is difficult. Yet it can be achieved if the meeting participants make an effort to engage with their colleagues from afar.
• Greeting one another with warm hellos and small talk
• Emailing and phoning colleagues outside of meetings to get to know them
• Learn something new about your colleagues-especially if they are from other parts of the world
• Leave phones off mute for better interaction, spontaneous questions and open dialogue.

2. Use Technology to Enhance Collaboration
Technology that enhances two-way communication and active collaboration can make virtual meetings almost like being there-one team at a Fortune 100 company experienced a stunning 90% drop in decision-making time in virtual meetings after it put technology to work. Useful high-tech tools include virtual rooms for attendees, white-board functionality for note taking, voting tools for anonymous feedback, cameras so colleagues can see on another, collaborative online presentation capability, informal chat rooms for side discussions, and the ability to raise your hand virtually and ask questions.
Be Prepared:
• Explore the more effective tools for your team
• Designate a technology savvy person to test the equipment before every meeting
• Send presentations and documents to each person before in case technology fails.

3. Reserve Meetings for Two-Way Communication
Have you ever attended a meeting where all you did was listen? If one-way meetings are bad in person, they’re deadly over the phone, especially when participants are scattered across the globe and it’s the middle of the night for some.
• Important information should be emailed to each team member, not used in a virtual meeting.
• In the absence of visual cues, the best way to get true opinions and input is to call for a vote, or take an anonymous poll.

4. Level the Playing Field
It is common in virtual meetings for some employees to participate while sitting together in a conference room, while others are alone in their offices or other locations. Employees in the conference room have the benefit of side conversations with their colleagues and shared coffee breaks. The individuals not in the room may feel excluded and wonder whether their input is equally valued.
Be Fair:
• If one person is alone during a meeting, everyone should be. Have team members dial in from their own desks and offices individually.
• Alternate meeting times so everyone is inconvenienced equally.

5. Establish a No E-Mail or Instant Messaging Policy
This is obvious, but it’s worth emphasizing: just as it’s rude to have side conversation during a face-to-face meeting, it’s rude to converse on e-mail or instant messaging during virtual meetings. To encourage compliance, try what one team did: it decided that anyone who broke this rule would be assigned the next action item. This proved a highly effective deterrent!

If you have an experience, tip, or suggestion on what makes an effective virtual meeting, please post a comment. We are always looking to improve.

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