When you work with teams in different locations, you either try to get together in a common location or you need to work virtually. At least for four years, I work with virtual teams and managed virtual meetings for different project and process meetings, and I say GO VIRTUAL!
Even though virtual meetings sometimes look fancy and efficient, when managed poorly, they become unbearable like the video below. This post is for you to manage better meeting.
In this post I will tell about the advantages and disadvantages and when to do it. Secondly, I will give suggestions on how to manage virtual meetings better. In the end, you may read my story about how I started managing virtual meetings. While I am telling about virtual meetings, I will emphasize on call or video conferences. I will not focus on managing virtual teams with collaboration tools, etc.
All the content I provide is from my experience and they do not depend on any standards. I hope, you will some tips that will increase your virtual team management skills.
So, let’s start!
Advantages and Disadvantages of Virtual Meetings
As a supporter of virtual teams, online education, collaboration tools, of course, I want to tell you about only the advantages of virtual teams. But, I know that there are also some pitfalls, and I will describe what they are.
Let’s list some advantages:
- Mostly shorter and to the target meetings
- No losing time and money by transportation and accommodation
- Meeting up at any time any place
- Voice and network issues may appear
- Poor technology adaptation
- Not appropriate for long meetings
- No or limited face to face interaction
- Losing focus
Well, advantages may seem less but they are guaranteed 🙂 But the disadvantages are manageable.
Mostly, if you need to do a workshop or meeting for two or three days and you need uninterrupted attention you may need a co-located meeting. If you are already co-located, then do not do a virtual meeting. However, if you need shorter and frequent meetings and/or if people need people to travel you need a practical and cheaper solution. Virtual meetings is a great solution for that case.
Preperation Before Virtual Meeting
Voice is never perfectly clear at virtual meetings. It depends on the used technology, network speed, headphones or speakers. Plus, people mostly prefer quite small room for themselves where at some point they consume all the fresh air. So you need to keep the meeting short as much as possible. To keep the meeting short, you need to spend time on planning. Answer the following questions:
- What is the meeting agenda? What is the purpose?
- What is the format of the meeting? An education, discussion, workshop?
- What is my message at the meeting?
- What will I present? What will I talk about?
- Do the participants need to read a document or fill out a form?
- What will be the participants’ possible questions and responses? How do I respond to them?
- What will I ask the people?
- Will I distribute tasks to participants during or at the end of the meeting?
Take notes, prepare slides. Know what you will talk about, be ready for the possible questions. Practice on presentation if you feel nervous during a presentation.
Communication Before the Virtual Meeting
The first rule of arranging a meeting: Try finding a common free time interval if you need everyone to join. I mostly first check participants’ calendars from schedule view at Outlook (if the person works in your company you can see). I look for a few matches that are free and as participants whether this time interval is okay.
Before the virtual meeting, like any other meeting, you need to send a meeting request to people. When it is a virtual meeting you choose the location as “Skype” or whichever tool you are using.
If this will be your first virtual meeting with that group, it will be a good idea that you will inform participants (by phone, chat or e-mail) that the meeting will be conducted virtually. Ask them whether they need any assistance or trial. Everybody still is not familiar with those technologies and it is not their fault. You should be helpful to have a better experience.
Sending both e-mail and meeting request for the same meeting is not mandatory, however, I strongly suggest. People sometimes miss meeting requests when they do not expect. If you need them to see and join I suggest you to both send e-mail and a meeting request.
If participants need to complete a task before the meeting such as reading a document or filling out a form, make sure you remind it before the meeting. If it is mandatory you may even call them and ask them to complete. (kindly of course:) )
Last and critical note, do not forget to send the connection link at the meeting request. Otherwise participants will never know how to connect to the meeting and you will manage chaos if the meeting supposed to be crowded.
Choosing and Managing the Right Technology
Your company may support different technologies. You need to select the right technology and you need to be familiar with the technology.
Right Video Conference Technology
Ask the following questions while you are selecting the tool:
- Speaking & listening
- Screen sharing
- Sharing documents
If the tools you have support those four aspects, then move on to the next question?
- Do all participants have the same tools?
- Is it easy to use for everyone?
- Are participants allowed to join? (most companies block users who work in different companies, if you have that case you may need to speak with your IT department on what to do.)
If you need quick meetings or a bit informal ones, you can use Skype (will be replaced by Microsoft Teams), Google Hangout for Businesses, Amazon Chime or any other option similar to those technologies.
When the companies have rooms for video conference supported by televisions, roundtables, etc. they mostly expect you to use it. But I only prefer them when there is a formal meeting because they are fancy but not practical. You need to make sure that you come to the meeting room early, and you need to make sure that you have people in different locations who will organize the work at those rooms.
After choosing the right technology, choose the right headphone. Of course, if you decided a video conference room, then you do not need one. The following paragraph is for the ones who will use tools like Skype or Amazon Chime.
Headphones avoid your voice to be echoed. Secondly, not all headphones work for all the tools. For example, when I use Skype I do not use a USB headset but I use regular headphone without a microphone. I tried every option, but a regular headphone worked best. Each tool requires different technology and you need to try that they support. So use a headphone and use the right one.
Managing Virtual Meeting – Before the Meeting
I believe that you are now prepared, you have your slides and notes with you. You have your headphones if you need. You are ready. It is time to manage the meeting. However, before the meeting, there are few things that you should consider.
If you chose the meeting room option, you need to make sure that you come to that room early and make sure that everything works. Plus, your device will connect to meeting rooms in other locations. So you need at least a person who is familiar with the technology at each location. Make sure that you are connected to all the rooms before starting the meeting. So much effort. 🙁
If you use tools such as Skype, find yourself a small room for conversation. You do not want to disturb your colleagues. Joining the meeting is easy since you have already sent the link. All you do is connect from the link 5-10 minutes before the meeting and wait for the people.
It is good to wait for people rather than making them wait. Join the meeting early, have a small talk with participants who joined early. Increase communication. You lose the face-to-face experience in virtual meetings, but before the meeting, you have time socialize a bit and compensate for the lack of face-to-face experience. If you wish, before the meeting you may activate your camera to increase face-to-face experience.
Generally, some people will come late or even forget the meeting. Check out who is missing at the beginning time of the meeting. Start communicating them by Skype, text messages or phone calls. Let them know that you are starting. Wait for people about five minutes and if there are still missing participants, don’t worry, just move on. You will deal that case during and after the meeting.
Managing Virtual Meeting – During the Meeting
Virtual meetings have their own dynamics. As I told before, they are mostly shorter and to the point. Time management is crucial. Agenda is important. Delivering the right messages, getting feedback is important.
Before moving on the disrupters of virtual meetings, there are few suggestions on technology usage. Use technology wisely. Share your screen. Use the chat platform. Make people control your screen if they need to show or edit something.
You may even record the whole meeting or part of it. If it is an educational meeting you may do it. If the meeting is based on discussion and sharing ideas, I do not suggest recording since people will feel under pressure and cannot speak freely. If you decided on recording make sure that you inform participants before the recording, and at the beginning of the recording. Recordings are beneficial for those who could not join the meeting or would like to rewatch.
Due to nature of virtual meetings, there are several important things disrupt your meeting.
- Voice problems
- Connection problems
- Irrelevant or deadlock discussions
Voice problem is common in the meetings. When the team is experienced in virtual meetings you will not have this trouble, but when they don’t, you may have. Let’s check out how to solve the voice problems:
- There is too much background noise from participants – Mute the participants. Inform them to unmute themselves when they speak.
- Terrifying loud noise – I don’t know how to call it, you have heard that voice at the video. That happens when two participants are at the same location unmuted themselves. Mute them.
- Participant’s voice problems – Some participants may have a problem with their headphones, microphones, or voice settings. Try to tackle them but do not lose too much time. As long as the participant can hear you and the others, this situation is manageable. There is always a chat option, and they can write to everyone via chat. Make sure that you check the chat messages time to time while presenting your screen, do not ignore the participant.
Sometimes wireless performs worse than connecting with a cable to the internet. You may try cable. Secondly, if camera usage decreases performance. You do not need to see each other that much, just turn off the video. Still, if you have troubles with the network performance, you may try to reconnect to the meeting. If the trouble still continues, just move to another tool or say sorry and postpone the meeting.
Latecomers should not spend too much of your time or other participants’ time. However, you still make sure that they join and participate. I mostly say welcome to the person, I do not judge them. I summarize what we have discussed so far in just 1-2 sentences and then inform them to stay after the meeting for further details. And I move on.
Irrelevant or Deadlock Discussions
In traditional co-located meetings, I have seen that some discussions never end or people start discussing situations that are not relevant to the agenda. When your time is limited, you do not want your agenda to be ruined. Plus, you cannot make people stand up during the meeting like Scrum Daily meetings. So you need to manage it. There are few methods to go in back to meeting content:
- Escalation – People may have different opinions and cannot meet at common ground. Different people, different culture, different group companies may have those situations more. A good practice is, explaining the group that you took note, both opinions are good. You will escalate them and make upper managers decide.
- Put off – That conversation may be important and should be discussed. That discussion may require another meeting and different participants. Inform that you created a task to arrange a meeting for a detailed discussion.
- Meet 1-1 – Some problems that participants discuss may be only a problem in their company or department. If the group has no solution or suggestion, ask that person to meet 1-1 on Skype or in person.
- Assign tasks – To yourself, to each other. You cannot do every task in the meetings. Meetings are mostly for deciding what to do and how to do rather than doing them. Tasks may be completed individually or in smaller groups after the meeting.
Managing Virtual Meeting – After the Meeting
Good work! You have completed the meeting. You thanked to the participants, informed briefly what will happen next. And said goodbye.
Well, what happens next? Well I mostly write an e-mail. What I write?
- Thank those who joined
- Briefly mention on decisions
- Share contents that are provided at the meeting
- Share tasks and escalated issues
- Inform about the next step
The work has not been completed yet. What if there are people, who were supposed to be in the meeting and not showed up. Well, you may either ignore or try to reach them and arrange another session. From my experiences, arranging another session and gaining people’s support always worked out better.
The Story of My Virtualization
For more than 6 years, I have worked in group companies. I had to work with teams in different locations. When I first started my journey with group companies, I traveled frequently for the meetings. Long roads, long meeting hours, crowded meetings made me exhausted sometimes. Besides, not only I had to arrange a meeting, but I had to arrange logistics, accommodation, meeting rooms and snacks. Total waste of time, money and energy! This much trouble worths sometimes, if you really need long workshops, learning together and socialize. However, traveling for 8 hours for 2 hours meeting makes mostly no sense.
Fortunately, that situation had been resolved when my company introduced Skype for Business (Lync) and video conference solutions. When I used Skype for the first time for business purposes, I loved it, I was the early adopter. Not only I used it, but I also taught it to the people who have never used it before. Most of them loved it. And I have involved or managed dozens of virtual meetings.
Thank you for reading. This was a very very long post. But I believe that virtual meetings are useful, easier and cheaper. We all need to use it more in the digital world.
I tried to share my experiences that I learned through the journey. I hope you enjoyed the post and liked the tips.