The challenges of virtual meetings
Who in the past couple of years hasn’t been involved in a virtual meeting using one of the more common platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Webex or Google Meet? And whilst the benefits of such platforms are well documented, the management and use of virtual meetings can raise a variety of concerns, with some of the more regularly cited discussed below:
- Lack of clear communication – unlike face-to-face communication, it can be difficult in virtual meetings to pick up on non-verbal cues such as body language and gestures. So, for example, a speaker may not be able to gauge whether other members of the meeting are puzzled, distracted or have lost interest. In a face-to-face situation they could sense this sort of problem and act accordingly, but online this is more of an issue.
- Poor attention spans - research indicates that attention spans for virtual meetings are getting shorter (down to as low as 10 minutes) even though such meetings are typically scheduled for far longer. Attention spans are also impacted by distractions within the home, such as children and pets.
- Lack of formal relationships – many virtual team members complain that there is not enough time to bond with each other and build formal relationships. The result can be a lack of mutual trust which, in turn, can impact upon the productivity of the team.
- Scheduling and time zones difficulties - since many virtual teams find themselves working from different places in the world, setting up meetings can be problematic, particularly in terms of making it possible for all attendees to join the meeting at a reasonable hour.
- Technical glitches - inevitably there are technical problems from time to time. These include slow internet connections, microphones failing or shared applications crashing.
The other significant challenge is to accurately capture the main points of the meeting in terms of what was accomplished and what still needs to be done, together with a clear action plan on how to achieve these goals. The fact that the members of the meeting are dispersed, sometimes across different time zones and countries, makes this requirement even more critical.
The focus should be on addressing this requirement as simply and effectively as possible so that the level of administrative overhead is minimised. Doing so will ensure that:
- Individuals understand the actions they need to take, whilst confirming to all attendees what actions others are taking to move things forward.
- Individuals who are unable to attend the meeting will be kept up-to-date with what was discussed without the need for lengthy follow-up conversations.
Regardless of the industry you operate in, virtual meetings will undoubtedly play an increasingly vital role in how you do business. They can help to achieve cross-functional collaboration, deliver cost and time savings, and build talented teams across multiple time zones. The key is understanding the potential challenges that such meetings can pose and putting appropriate technical and procedural solutions in place to ensure they operate successfully, whilst also minimising the time spent on associated administrative activities.
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