Prior to the pandemic, I never believed that a virtual meeting could outshine an in-person meeting for important work. I thought, “How can you match being in the physical presence of others, seeing each other, being able to stand around a whiteboard, or moving sticky notes around together?” But now, I am a huge fan of virtual meetings.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some qualities of in-person meetings that can’t be replicated well online; yet, there are other qualities of virtual meetings that are hard to replicate in person. The more I facilitate online, the more I grow to love this medium for meetings and training.
As we move into 2021, Zoom meetings have become the norm. Here are three ways virtual meetings outshine in person meetings:
We know that extroverts and leaders often dominate meetings which can diminish the input of the full team. By using robust meeting platforms, such as Zoom, or collaboration apps like Mural, there are a lot of ways to gather input from the entire team which gives everyone an equal voice.
One way to equalize input is to use polls. Polls are an excellent way to gather opinions or to vote. Read more about polls here.
Chat is another way to encourage input from everyone. I find many people who don’t like to speak out loud will type a response or a question into chat. Then, the facilitator can read their response out loud to be sure it has been heard. This opens the door to invite the person who typed the chat to share more.
Breakout rooms are a MUST for me in a platform so that small groups of 2-6 people can gather privately to discuss a topic. Just like in person, breaking up into smaller groups allows multiple people to be talking at the same time and creates a safer space for the more introverted or junior team members to speak up.
The online apps and collaboration tools are improving constantly. Not only that, people’s general comfort with the online meeting platforms and tools has also improved now that we have been forced to use them. Using tools like Google Docs, Microsoft Teams, Miro, Mural, or IdeaBoardz allows teams to work collaboratively on a document at the same time.
While it takes some time and practice to get comfortable with these platforms, these tools are opening the door to amazing opportunities to creatively interact and produce visual documents of the process and end results.
Additionally, team members can return to these co-created documents and continue to add, change, and update them. This cannot be done as easily or efficiently post-meeting on traditional whiteboards or flip charts with sticky notes, especially if the team is in different locations.
Pre-pandemic, I regularly traveled to the site of a meeting. Sometimes, other team members were also traveling to the meeting site. Because of the time and cost involved in travel, we would pack a lot of agenda items into the meeting. We all know how exhausting and intense a full day (or week) off-site can be.
When we meet online meeting, a 2-day agenda can be spread out over 4-5 half-day virtual meetings. Then, we can spread those ½ day meetings out over 2-3 weeks. The advantages of having shorter meetings spread out over a few weeks are plentiful. One benefit of spreading out the meetings is that it allows time between the meetings for the participants (and the facilitator) to do additional thinking, research, conversing, etc. This time to reflect and discuss leads to better decisions and plans when the team comes back together for the next online meeting. Additionally, the team is less fatigued because they have time to reenergize in between meetings. Finally, the facilitator and the leader also have time to adjust the agenda of the next meeting based on the inputs from the preceding meeting. No more, adjusting the agenda or process on-the-fly over lunch. With a day or more in between, there is time to be more thoughtful about how to modify the next agenda.
While some people may have less control of their space because they share their home or office with family members, many people have more control over their workspace at home. We can control the temperature. We have access to our kitchens. And, my favorite, we can wear comfy clothing and footwear (at least on our bottom halves below the camera line). Being comfortable relaxes us so we are more creative and in the right mindset to collaborate.
There are some perks to virtual meetings that I’ve personally grown to love. Because technology is advancing along with people’s comfort and skills, we can conduct important team meetings online with great success.
About the Author: Leigh Ann Rodgers, Founder of Better Teams and Forward, is an IAF Certified Professional Facilitator with 20 years of experience in the human development field. Leigh Ann is a skilled meeting facilitator, trainer, and coach working across the globe to help leaders cultivate teams that are happy and high-performing.
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