When was the last time you were part of a virtual meeting? If you asked me that five years ago I would have had to stop and think. Today, the answer is easy, I’m either leading or participating in a virtual meeting almost every day of the week. The recent pandemic has definitely had an impact on the number of virtual meetings being held and we all may be experiencing a bit of “zoom fatigue.”
This trend towards virtual meetings isn’t like to change anytime soon, even when social distancing becomes a thing of the past. In fact, researchers at GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com estimate that we will see 25-30% of the workforce working at home multiple days a week by the end of 2021. The advantages of virtual meetings are that they allow you to develop broader connections, especially within Communities of Practice. Yet, we’ve all experienced some of the disadvantages. For many of us, it feels far easier and more natural to engage with others when you’re at an in-person meeting.
There are practices that leaders can use to promote deeper engagement during virtual meetings. In fact, you might be surprised that some of the results end up exceeding your expectations!
Here are three key practices that will make a difference in the level of engagement your participants will experience:
- Focus on outcomes. This is important for every meeting, but when it’s virtual it’s even more important because it can be all too easy to disengage. As a leader, you want every participant in the meeting to feel connected to the outcome. It’s best if they understand the big picture, beyond their area of personal responsibility, so they’re fully engaged in finding the solution.
Make sure to communicate, in advance, the anticipated outcomes, or focus, of the meeting. This can be done by preparing and sharing an agenda for the meeting in advance. You can also co-create outcomes at the beginning of the meeting. The first ten minutes or so of a meeting will often be about the question: Why does this matter? If this hasn’t been clarified by the agenda at the beginning of the meeting, things can quickly break down.
- Facilitate dynamic personal engagement. As the facilitator of the meeting you need to avoid the pitfall of hogging the spotlight! This means encouraging communication between team members. If every question or comment is always addressed to you as the leader, you’re not really functioning as a team. Instead, allow for, and intentionally include, opportunities for people to speak with one another.
How can you do this when you’re meeting virtually? I’ve seen it done in various ways effectively. In some team meetings, we go into smaller breakout rooms within the virtual meeting for 15-20 minutes to brainstorm and discuss strategies. Then we come back and report our findings to the entire group. I’ve also had meetings where the facilitator will take a short break and set it up for participants to text each other in dyads or triads to help seed the conversation and maintain engagement.
- Keep fine-tuning your efforts. Here’s the most important key to encouraging deeper engagement. Leave a few minutes (I recommend ten) at the end of the meeting to discuss what’s working and what’s not. We are shifting into this new norm together.
While some groups have more experience than others, let’s not take the old model and wedge it into this new experience. Take this as an opportunity to explore, invent, and discover new ways of engaging that can sustain us whether we work in separate locations or have the opportunity to work in co-locations.
This level of engagement is going to require more effort from you as the team leader. However, the reason for meeting together is to build and tap into the collective wisdom of the group. This cannot be accomplished if your participants are distracted and disengaged. You’ll find that as they engage more fully, you’ll be making better joint decisions that your entire team is excited to implement.