A virtual online meeting using Skype or Microsoft Lync can be both cost effective and productive if done well. See my post from a couple of weeks ago Three ways you’re losing the benefits of online collaboration One of the points I make in that post is that you simply can’t copy what you do in a face-to-face meeting and expect it to work in the virtual online environment. Here are some mistakes I know I’ve made and how to fix them.
My five essential fixes for virtual online meeting success.
Shift pre-read to pre-meeting contributions
Key learning; participants are even less tolerant of death by PowerPoint online. If a presentation or document is essential to the discussion, send it to participants is as pre-read for review before the meeting. Lingering painful engagement death comes to online virtual meetings in the form of reviewing documents that participants have already seen. Better yet, send pre-read in sufficient time, with a clear request for feedback, and collate opinions before the meeting. That way you can share the collective position of participants from the outset and use the time to reach agreement.
Key learning; engagement time shrinks for participants when not physically in the room. Meetings need to be shorter, every agenda item needs to be punchier “why is it important to discuss this” and “what outcome, decision, or change, are we aiming to produce”. Did you ever try to sit in a virtual online meeting longer than an hour or two and stay focused? My recommendation is that no item on the agenda should be more than 15 minutes.
Master the technology
Key learning; you may be able to use a flip chart badly and get away with it. The same isn’t true for online tools. It’s essential to understand how to use the online collaboration tool such as Microsoft Lync properly. Make it work for you and be prepared to get help when necessary. For example, make sure any documents you want to share are pre-loaded in the right order; invite questions or contributions via the instant message window and have a colleague monitor these for you and respond where appropriate; tie audio and video into conference room facilities to support engagement. This week Microsoft provided previews of it’s Lync replacement – Skype for Business” – for a vision of the future take a look at the Microsoft Office blog
Plan your discussions
Key learning; unmanaged discussions lead to inaction and delay. I’m not advocating here for some extreme control-freakery. Just be clear about the shape of the discussion being invited. For example, “we have twenty minutes to review the proposal and decide a course of action. I’d like to hear everyone’s opinion. After fifteen minutes we’ll take a pause in discussion and I’ll summarise contributions and suggest next steps”. We’ve all been if face-to-face meetings where the discussion goes around and around. It may be frustrating face-to-face but online participants will disengage, agreement will be elusive and no action will be taken.
Key learning; guests that just rock-up are likely to mess-up. Sometimes you’ll have participants join for only part of the meeting. This can go brilliantly, or…not. Make sure they’ve received a comprehensive brief about the session they’re participating in, about what is expected from them specifically, and any ground rules that the main group generally follows. If the discussion is likely to raise questions or issues, work with the guest to anticipate these and address them in the meeting or ideally before it.
Feel free to add your own experiences and observations as comments on this blog. What’s your biggest challenge with online collaboration? If you’ve read this and would be interested in taking the conversation further drop me an email firstname.lastname@example.org or Contact Us via the site Take a look at my earlier post “Three ways you’re losing the benefits of online collaboration” Or, simply follow us on Facebook, Google and Twitter to stay connected with us and share articles about improving organisation, team and project performance.