How to Lead a Successful Remote Team: Virtual Meetings
Uncertainty during an in-person meeting? You can always pop in your teammate’s office and clarify. But in the case of virtual meetings, it can cost a lot of extra time and efforts to bridge gaps and fix misunderstandings. Therefore, in the time of mandatory remote work, it important for leaders to skillfully manage virtual meetings to run a successful team.
Of course the principles of managing effective face-to-face meetings are still applicable for virtual meetings, such as planning ahead, making the meeting as small as possible to reduce social loafing, sticking to the shortest possible meeting time and starting the meeting by making all members feel appreciated and welcomed.1 But leaders should also be equipped to deal with other issues that come with meeting in virtual settings.
Issue #1. Distraction and Multi-tasking2
Whether reading/replying to an email during a virtual meeting, or quickly catching up with some small tasks when we are not talking — we’ve all done it. The lack of presence of others make us more prone to distractions and multi-tasking, which can make the meetings less effective and members less committed to the outcomes.
To solve the issue, it is essential to get all members engaged throughout the meeting process. For example, the leader can make explicit pre-meeting plans and share them with team members in advance. Such plans should include and are not limited to the topics to be discussed, how they connect to individual and team goals, specific timelines for each part of the meeting and the purposes and objectives of each part.
Keep a scoreboard during the meeting to have participants focus on the topic at hand; keep them up to speed if they are distracted and too embarrassed to ask others to repeat.
Moreover, leaders can correspond with participants ahead of time to communicate their expected roles in the meeting and engage their vested interest in the outcome of the meeting.
Issue #2. Lack of Feedback2
“Hey, are you there? Can you hear us? What do you think?”
When in virtual meetings, people probably will find themselves asking others these questions all the time. Because if you don’t, awkward silence will fill in.
Virtual meetings can reduce people’s sense of presence, especially when feedback cues and nonverbal communications such as body language and eye contacts are absent, especially when there are no webcams involved. Therefore, it is necessary for leaders to communicate verbally and frequently to solicit feedback from specific team members.
Or to make it interesting, have a voting session in place where members can vote on certain issues either via an app or a group chat window.
Leaders should also establish back channels for feedback and encourage everyone to participate.
Issue #3. Feeling of Disconnection3
Without small, informal daily interactions, prolonged remote work can surely make team members feel disconnected on a personal level. We can no longer keep track of what has been going on in our coworker’s life. So it can be hard to show that we care. Such lack of connection can decrease team members’ commitment to each other and reduce team identity (click HERE to see why creating a unified identity is important for team work).
So virtual team leaders should help to reconnect the “human” side of all team members. To achieve this goal, researchers suggest leaders do the following things at the start of the meeting:
- Have each meeting participant share a personal story about an event that happened to them over the last week.
- Ask each member to share a hobby they have been working on.
- Focus on major events in one or two of the members’ lives. For example, if one team member recently went on a vacation, we can discuss his/her experience at the beginning of the meeting.
In sum, it is hard for everyone to transition into remote work all in a sudden. Therefore, it is important for leaders to help team members adjust to and excel in virtual settings. Leading an effective virtual meeting by planning carefully in advance, encouraging feedback and helping team members establish personal connections can help increase team members’ commitment to the outcomes and team goals. Maybe at the beginning of your next virtual meeting, start with a fun personal story.
Next time, let’s talk about how to influence others in virtual work environment.
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- Rogelberg, S. G. (2018). The Surprising Science of Meetings: How You Can Lead Your Team to Peak Performance. London, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press.
- Mittleman, D. D., Briggs, R. O., & Nunamaker, J. F. (2000). Best practices in facilitating virtual meetings: Some notes from initial experience. Group Facilitation: A Research and Applications Journal, 2, 5-14.
- Malhotra, A., Majchrzak, A., & Rosen, B. (2007). Leading virtual teams. Academy of Management Perspectives, 21, 60-70.
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