Randi S. Brenowitz
article was featured in the July 5, 2003 issue of HR.com
The first thing to understand when conducting a “virtual meeting”
is that it is not really a virtual meeting at all. The meeting
is real, the business conducted at it is real, and the importance
of the results is real. This is a real meeting that happens to
be taking place in a virtual environment.
Much of what is good practice for virtual meetings is simply good
meeting management practice – with the twist that without regular
face-to-face contact, every interaction and every infraction is
multiplied. It is helpful to consider the meeting in three ways
– pre-meeting, during the meeting, and post-meeting.
Before the meeting begins, there are certain decisions that will
facilitate its success. Ask yourself:
all of these questions have been asked, answered, and communicated,
you are ready to attend the meeting.
venue do we want to use(conference call, web-based meeting,
technology do we need? Are we sure that everyone has that available?
are the appropriate participants and how should they be invited?
time will the meeting be held – and how do we define time if
participants are in multiple time zones?
what language will the meeting be conducted? Will that make
it difficult for some participants? Is there something we can
do to lessen the difficulty?
will questions be asked and answered during the meeting? You
cannot see someone’s raised hand or quizzical facial expression
during a virtual meeting.
there any materials the participants will need that should be
emailed, faxed, or express-mailed to them? Do not depend solely
on Internet connections. In many areas of the world, these connections
are not as reliable as they are in Silicon Valley. Even the
most reliable connection goes down occasionally, and then the
participant is left without the necessary information. In a
face-to-face meeting, attendees can share or quickly make another
copy. This is not as easy in a virtual environment.
Try to call in or log on a few minutes early to ensure that the
technology is properly set up and working. Start the meeting with
a quick check-in so that everyone attending knows who else is
there and that the connections are adequate. Unless this is a
small meeting where all participants are well-acquainted, ask
participants to identify themselves every time they talk. While
keeping as close as possible to the published agenda:
keep in mind the fact that you will not have the benefit of seeing
the attendees. If there are questions or concerns about an item,
you will need to ask questions or create a process that gets to
them without relying on facial expressions or body language.
as precise as possible
and summarize often
“round robin” technique when appropriate and when you need to
ensure everyone’s opinion is stated
electronic tools only as necessary and not because they are
fun to play with
to slide number or page number if you are using a previously
“What questions do you have?” instead of “Are there any questions?”
The meeting is not over as soon as participants hang up the phone
or log off. Sending notes out shortly after the meeting helps
ensure that everyone has the same understanding of what happened
and what will happen next. Well-documented decisions and actions
items with clear time frames help people know how to proceed once
they have disconnected from the meeting. This will minimize mis-communication
and the possibility that someone will put in a lot of work on
the wrong action item.
As I said in the opening, virtual people do not attend virtual
meetings – real people do. The more you can help these real people
be successful even when located many time zones away from each
other, the more willing and able they will be to attend future
meetings and take on additional responsibilities.
Randi S. Brenowitz is principal at Brenowitz Consulting, a Palo
Alto, California-based Organization Development Consulting firm
dedicated to improving productivity through teamwork and collaboration.
For over 20 years Brenowitz has worked in partnership with her
clients to develop teams, team leaders and team members in order
to create collaborative work environments and increase corporate
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For more information, contact Brenowitz Consulting at (650)
843-1611 or visit her website at www.brenowitzconsulting.com.