1. Use the right form of communication. Virtual meetings should be encouraged but they are not suitable for all types of communication. Research indicates 7% of communication is expressed with words, 38% is tone of voice, and 55% is nonverbal clues. It is much more difficult to build trust and team structure when people cannot see each other. It is also more difficult for clients to say ‘no’ during a face-to-face meeting so it’s important to pick your moments and to mix your communications tactics to suit the occasion.
2. Start on time. About 90% of virtual meetings start late. Most people spend at least five minutes getting online and solving technical issues. Plan ahead. Make sure everything is working before you have to dial-in and turn-up on time, as you would with a face-to-face meeting.
3. Have a clear agenda that can be followed. Keeping a virtual meeting clear and simple is even more important than a face-to-face meeting. Nothing frustrates people more than attending a meeting where there is no clear reason for it, and no logical progression of topics to be discussed.
4. Use video whenever possible. The cost of video conferencing has come down significantly, and it should be considered in most cases. Video can definitely aid communication by helping people to remain engaged and to read each other's reactions and moods.
5. Mute when not speaking. This is essential, especially in larger meetings, as any amount of background noise can be very disruptive. And, never conduct a virtual meeting on a train or in a car. Even with the mute option you can never legislate for announcements over loud speakers when it is your turn to talk.
6. Know your audience. You cannot always track who is at each meeting, especially in large groups and where multiple people ‘attend’ from one office, on one connection. There has to be a clear line of communication to ensure that messages get relayed properly and are actioned accordingly. Measuring virtual teams is therefore essential. It is also important, especially when in a combined face-to-face and virtual meeting not to concentrate on the screen of the virtual caller. It seems to be human nature to do this and to let the virtual caller dominate.
7. Pause regularly for group input. Involving and engaging the entire group in the discussion is essential and the most effective way of doing this to go around the phones asking for input. As you have no visual signs of body language to direct you on how people are doing, you need to stop regularly to take everyone's temperature.
8. Use visual references. Distributing visual aids that everyone keeps in front of them during the meeting will ensure that every participant is on the same page. With no virtual references, people can become distracted and less focused.
9. Say no to multi-tasking. How can a team focus on the meeting if they’re reading and sending texts or emails while on the call? Even though technology enables it, we can’t be nearly as effective when doing more than one thing at a time.
10. Leave time for a chat. Virtual teams don’t get the opportunity to have a few drinks at the pub after work; so getting to know (and trust) each other is a vitally important part of working effectively together. You can either make time upfront or at the end of the meeting for small talk. This can be particularly important for smaller groups working together over a long period.
Mike Hunter is vice president, head of consulting Europe, for Cognizant Technology Solutions