Building a group dynamic when everyone is kilometres, maybe even countries apart is a big challenge which many business leaders are experiencing today. Distributed teams are having to consider how to build good working relationships with remote colleagues and how to collaborate effectively, via online meetings.
This article highlights a few key things to consider and follow for effective communication in a digitised world:
Before The Meeting
Set-Up: A digital meeting requires preparation, just like in an in-person meeting. Each member should find a quiet, clear space near a light source with no surrounding distractions.
Understand The Purpose: Now more than ever, workers are viewing meetings with a ‘couldn’t that just have been an email?’ mentality. It’s important to keep meetings efficient and to follow their intended purpose, which is to promote discussion and group thought. Reading a report to the participants is a sure way for them to switch off and be tempted to check their emails or multi-task during the reading.
Use Video: Putting a face to a voice is a quick way to build trust. If you are meeting with a new group, or with regular co-workers, video can make conversations go a lot smoother. It is easier to associate a voice with a face instead of relying on hearing like in an audio call.
Facial expressions matter. Emotion is also an excellent way to get a gauge of the room. Humans instinctively look for non-verbal communication; so a smile after a joke, or an eye roll after a statement gives critical information even if there were no audio cues to go with them.
Prior Engagement Material: As we said earlier, a meeting is a way to communicate with a large group and to gather a group consensus on a topic. If there is information to go over, send an email beforehand with the agenda or a report on key points and then discuss them further in the meeting.
If the participant has a clearer idea of what will be discussed before the meeting, it saves you time by avoiding simple questions. Be sure to establish that any prior reading is compulsory with the participants well before the meeting start time. This way, each member will know what to expect and will have time to formulate opinions on the matter.
Understand The Call Program: Before the meeting begins, make sure that you understand the program you are using. People will have issues if they have never used it before, so make sure you know the basics to help them mitigate any issues that may arise for them.
Set Call Rules: How will your meeting be run? Will it be an informal discussion, or will there be a principal speaker who is going through key points? Figure out the best way to get your message across and structure the meeting around that.
Also, think of how you want the participants to act. It may be better for everyone to mute themselves, except for a key person who will call on participants to contribute. The opposite may be the case, and you’d prefer everyone to speak frequently.
Allow Time To Chat: Digital meetings can be awkward at first. Diving straight into business doesn’t stop the unnatural feeling of speaking to a computer. Give participants time to chat with each other. Ask about their personal and work lives, or go around the group and play a question game to ease tensions. This also helps iron out any technical difficulties like a faulty camera or quiet microphone before the actual meeting starts.
Keep An Eye On Quiet Participants: Just like an in-person meeting, some participants are more open to sharing their views than others. Online there is a delay between speaking and when the audio reaches the other members in the call. The time buffer makes it challenging to jump in and out of the conversation. This could dishearten some of the quieter members.
As a leader, it’s beneficial to select a grid view of all the video feeds instead of an enlarged view of a select few members. This way, you can see by a person’s body language if they are trying to find a way to speak. If someone looks like they have something to add, or are being cut off, point the call’s attention to them.
Have A Moderator: Digressing can be a time-consuming issue, and it frequently happens in group meetings. You gave participants time to chat and joke at the beginning, but once the meeting starts its business as usual.
Appointing someone to keep the meeting on track reduces semantic noise and makes sure the group doesn’t stray too far from the topic. It’s good to pick someone who is respected but won’t use their power with an iron fist. A few jokes here and there or chatter won’t ruin your meeting. Just make sure someone is there to keep the flow of conversation consistent.
100% Focus: The urge to check emails, or open a new tab while on a meeting are common distractions. Point out to your participants that your meeting is a professional gathering and should be treated as such. In a video call, it’s not hard to notice a distracted person. Constant typing or eyes darting around the monitor are tells that a person is not focused on the meeting.
After The Meeting:
Time To Chat Again: Once the formal discussion is over, let the participants digest the information with each other and talk about what they’ve learned. This time is where the more casual questions come out, so it’s important to let your team speak when they may not have a chance to do so in person. After a minute or so, ask if everyone is happy and understand the point of the meeting before signing off.
Ask The Young Team Members: Businesses implemented a lot of new technology when distance work was normalised. Chances are the younger members have more experience with this technology than some of the senior staff. It may pay off to ask them for some tech advice at the end to help things go more smoothly next time.
Send Notes Out: Just like most in-person meetings, send out any useful sources and notes which summarise the key points after the meeting is adjourned.