Meeting-up in Times of COVID-19 – 12 Tips for High-Impact Productive Virtual Meetings

COVID-19, in the first ten weeks of 2020, has led to travel bans by most global businesses – at least in EMEA, at least for non-client related meetings. One leader within one of my global clients emailed me in the second week of March: “Covid-19 is challenging us, but we are challengers”. Challenging times demand challenger behaviours - different ways of working with remote clients, colleagues and teams. But it’s more than COVID-19. 

Last year’s global momentum for salvaging the planet led by Greta Thunberg spotlighted our need to cut the number of flights we take.

Global business is at an inflection point – a moment of great opportunity for business continuity.

I see a silver lining for unlocking potential in the way we work. What I’m about to share is working for me and my global clients – so I know it can work for you.

It is time to leverage technology. Zoom, Webex and Skype, examples of platforms, are virtually free of both carbon emission and cost. They also allow us to share content on the screen to better focus the exchange. Used mindfully, these methods provide a great way to “meet-up” for two-way dialogue, real exchanges – not just for one-way communication where one speaks and others listen.

Most of us have mastered the art of technology for one-to-one meetings and communication. At least that is more ingrained in our way of working – even if we still do most of that communicating by voice or text, less by FaceTime or WhatsApp voice. It is trickier for group or team communication.

12 tips, then, for creating high-impact and productive virtual exchanges with groups and teams. Some of this is good practice for in-person meetings. It’s even more important when virtual.

  1. Prepare well. This includes (a) setting a date and time that is convenient for all/most; (b) agree in advance with key stakeholders what they want from the session; (c) being clear about key messages and the purpose of the session. Only then can you be more mindful of those joining the session than you are about yourself and your material. Only then can you really “listen” to others during the session – with ears and eyes.
  2. Share the purpose of the session – if helpful, also the agenda and content - with all in advance of the session to maximise trust, intra-participant exchanges and contributions during the session.
  3. Cap numbers joining the meeting to ensure all can use their videos as well as sound during the full meeting. We know that circa 7% of what we communicate and “hear” is words alone, 38% tone of voice and 55% body language. Why eliminate 55% of what you can “hear” or “say”?
  4. Ensure at the start that reception/bandwidth is good for all connecting into the call, that the quality of the sound and video is good
  5. Be sure you all know each other’s names (and faces) to be able to invite people in to speak and better direct messages to all or specific individuals. 
  6. At the start, as “chair” or “facilitator”, capture quickly on a piece of paper who is sitting where so you can refer to people during the session by name.
  7. Invite people to share what they want/need to get from the meeting. Ask them to introduce themselves if everyone doesn’t know each other.
  8. Be intentional in making time for different people to “break out” and have “discussions” so that all of the conversation is not between the “chair”/”facilitator” and everyone else.
  9. Invite individuals to share their thoughts if their body language suggests they are not with you.
  10. Draw comments from the quietest ones and conclusions from all at regular intervals, not just at the end, to ensure high engagement, contribution of diverse ideas and buy-in to agreed action.
  11. Leave sufficient time, the last 10 minutes (longer if attendance is high - or if the purpose of the session to agree to work differently) for participants to articulate and for someone to document: “What do we take from this session?” “What do we commit to do as a team/group and as individuals in this team/group?” “How will we track these actions – hold each other to account?”
  12. Agree date and time of the next virtual meeting to check progress and actions.

We are at an inflection point. COVID-19 and climate change are forcing us to rethink the way we have increasingly worked over the past 20 years. Hopping on and off planes on a daily basis several times a week to meet with clients and colleagues in different parts of the world is no longer viable, can’t continue – if only temporarily, though we CAN make a more sustainable change.

We’ve seen in news bulletins how scientists and medical experts are “called in” for a live exchange with others in the studio. Done well, such two-way exchanges can be as real and lively as the exchange between those co-located in the studio itself.

We simply have no other choice. Even if “it isn’t the same” as meeting up physically, in person, to get “the smell of each other” – we CAN use technology and maintain the human touch, especially when we haven’t got the luxury of “physical” proximity.

There will always be a need to meet in person. We must, however, get better at meeting-up virtually – for business continuity and to save the planet!

For more on the above – contact me, Cora Lynn Heimer Rathbone (cora-lynn@rathboneresults.com) to start a conversation!