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As organizations around world have suddenly had to move all their non-manufacturing work to home offices, a remote meeting is not anymore just an occasional forum for co-working, but it has become the discussion channel for all kind of work, including sales, development of new strategies to cope with this unforeseen crisis, re-organizing work etc. While before the online meetings were considered a functional way of organizing certain kind of work, now we quickly need to adjust all the collaboration online.
Fortunately, the technologies nowadays enable very sophisticated remote collaboration and we have many kinds of online meeting tools and applications available. Yet, what is most easily compromised in this format of work, is the human connection: the feeling of being part of a group, attentive listening, non-verbal communication and informal communication -> all important elements of building trust and psychological safety that most contribute to team performance. While remote meetings will never replace the real face-to-face gatherings (as we will soon notice), it is now time to change our habits of conducting remote meetings, to enable also a more profound human connection to be created.
It should be obvious, but still isn’t. Having your camera on makes an enormous difference to the effectiveness of communication. When, in addition to hearing, we see each others’ facial expressions, the messages are more impactful, we are able to verify understanding, listen with more attention and also transmit feelings. The communication should happen also on emotional level to motivate, cheer up, energize and create commitment…all so important in this moment.
Make your meeting collaborative and relaxed from the beginning by engaging everyone. Schedule time for an informal check-in. Take advantage of the home setting by inviting participants to introduce their favorite coffee mugs, woolen socks or an important object to everyone, with the story behind them. As the informal chats over the coffee machine don’t happen now (where the real conversations usually tend to take place), organize them differently. They do serve a purpose and you can schedule them a specific slot in your meeting or, as some teams have started to do, have a virtual coffee break with your colleagues.
The biggest difference in remote meetings versus face-to-face is that you don’t share the same physical environment. Therefore, you need to consciously overcome the feeling of distance that this creates. One way of doing that is by verbalizing what is not seen or felt. You could invite the participants to describe the view from their window. Or when something unexpected happens that draws someone’s attention, invite people to share that with others, for example in the chat box. While the goals guide the meetings, the shared experience also matters.
Involve others in the discussion to define together ground rules for effective and well-connected collaboration in online meetings. We have many distractions when we work from our laptops and, furthermore, in home environment. To enable true presence, people just can’t check their e-mails or answer other chat messages while in the meeting. I would suggest keeping the meetings shorter, but well connected. And if you are the meeting organizer, you are showing example for the others!
This situation really has never been experienced before in this magnitude and organizations have not had time to develop practices for this situation. So be active in developing a format that works for you! Choose, together with your team or your clients the three most important elements of great meetings and take some minutes at the end of each meeting to evaluate how you did in them – what worked well and what you could do better next time.
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