1 October 2020
Why Virtual Facilitation is Gaining Importance
Change is the only constant in the business landscape. In recent years, the culture and processes in companies have transformed dramatically due to technology. And over the past few months since January 2020, the way we work, live and play has changed dramatically due to the global COVID19 pandemic. The landscape changes include:
1. Global pandemic and travel restrictions
Since the COVID19 global pandemic, many countries have closed their borders and imposed travel restrictions. Organisations worldwide have to turn to alternative methods of working while adhering to national lockdown and safe physical distancing rules. It has become imperative to utilise virtual platforms for online meetings to get work done.
2. Reduced travel budgets
With revenue adversely affected by COVID19, companies are spending less on employee travel expenses, unless a project specifically requires them to have face-time. Virtual access to the company from home or satellite offices has reduced the need for employees to be physically present during meetings.
3. Dispersed work teams
As a result of modern communication modes like email, chats, and conference calls, teams can now collaborate virtually from diverse locations, driving higher involvement and efficiency levels.
4. Time compression
Technology advances reduce the need to travel to and from the office, so employees can accomplish more while experiencing a better work-life balance.
With virtual meetings, companies can diminish the following challenges:
Expensive business meetings.
Face-to-face meetings, especially those that involve international travels can be a time-consuming and budget-draining dilemma. With virtual meetings, business meeting expenses can be reduced significantly, as only a good internet connection, a computer or even a mobile device, are needed.
Low productivity and inefficiency.
A long and arduous commute, responsibilities at home and emergencies are the common causes of employee tardiness, absence and poor performance at work. As employees can attend virtual meetings from the comfort their home, the tendency to perform better is higher.
Face-to-face meetings typically take a lot of time to arrange and conduct, while virtual meetings can transpire quickly. Participants can be contacted quickly, especially if the one presiding just wants to point out a few things about the project. One click from a computer or from a mobile device and a meeting can start and end.
Impact on the environment.
Traveling to attend to face-to-face meetings, especially with international travels, increases participants’ carbon footprint. It is also typical for multiple documents to printed at physical meetings. Virtual meetings reduce the need for travel and for paper print-outs to be distributed to participants.
The Usual Pitfalls of Virtual Meetings and How to Overcome Them
Here are some of the common pitfalls of virtual meetings and the means to correct them:
- Misunderstandings. Since you do not see each other directly, be familiar with voices and match them with the names you know. Always address each other by name to make relaying messages easier and quicker. Many people we know have shared that they found it surprising tiring to participate and conduct online meetings.
- Lack backup plan. Although virtual meetings are possible with technology, technology sometimes fails too. When it does, it can be disruptive to your meeting. Always have a backup plan so that you can all get back to where you left off immediately.
- Lack engagement. The inability to engage the participants is an instant path to failure in your meetings. You should make sure that everyone speaks or asks questions.
- Lack consideration for time zones. Virtual meetings are successful when everyone is present. If there is a time zone difference, ensure that the difference is reasonable, especially when participants are on the different sides of the planet.
- Lack competency and experience. Participants and meeting organisers often lack the competency and experience to use the online meeting platforms effectively.
Tips for Virtual Meetings
The following are some tips for virtual meetings:
- Prepare ardently
- Acquire and master your virtual meeting tools.
- Use video conferencing so that everyone can see each other and feel comfortable.
- Have a contingency plan.
- Assign roles such as technology support, facilitator, timekeeper, or scribe.
- Prepare your visual presentation and share your documents and screens.
- Invite the relevant attendees and confirm attendance.
- Set clear meeting goals and agenda and invite comments from the participants.
- Build in relevance and engagement of participants.
- Clear the channels of communication
- Confirm the meeting a few days beforehand.
- Make sure the participants use a headset and not a speaker.
- Look for the best means to share documents.
- Set the stage right
- Test the system.
- Introduce everyone and always use the names of your participants to establish rapport.
- Lighten up the mood with some small talk.
- Set meeting norms, such as being respectful of others and using the mute button while others are speaking.
- Always remind the participants of the meeting objectives and agenda.
- Create visual focus. Present the meeting materials and share the screen.
- Tackle critical topics early in the meeting when participants are fresh.
- Keep meetings no more than 90 minutes or build in breaks.
- Encourage balanced participation
- Engage the participants and encourage them to contribute actively.
- Build brainstorming, Q&A segments, polling, feedback, etc. into the agenda (and at regular intervals) to help keep everyone involved.
- Introduce voting to include everyone in making decisions.
- Prohibit multi-tasking.
- Make sure that the meeting pushes through no matter what
- Keep the agenda on track.
- Expect something to go wrong and be prepared to troubleshoot.
- Have a back-up plan, such as a phone if the web conference is being disrupted. Give commentaries for remote listeners to know what is happening if their Internet connection fails.
- Follow things up
- Thank participants at the end.
- Agree on the next steps as you approach the end of the meeting.
- Do a closing by asking for questions, final comments and confirming action items.
- Circulate notes of meeting and action items.
- Ensure any assigned tasks are completed in advance of the stated deadline.
- Arrange periodic face to face meetings to bond the team.
Gathering team members together for face-to-face meetings is vital and the personal connections formed at these meetings are valuable for a company’s progress. However, the downside is that these meetings require a venue, and a good amount of time, resources and effort from the participants.
On the other hand, with technological advancements, virtual meetings are gaining importance and are best suited for participants in remote locations. They are less expensive to set up and encourage more efficiency in the workplace. Yet virtual meetings lack the tangible working relationships established during face-to-face meetings.
Ask these questions to choose the best option:
- Can participants make it to the venue on time for the schedule set?
- Is it practical for all participants to travel that far for a meeting?
- Do you have the resources to facilitate the face-to-face meeting?
- Do participants have access to the technology required for a virtual meeting?
- Are time zone differences acknowledged?
You could choose either option depending your project needs or your company’s preference. Be sure that every participant agrees to the house rules before you start and to the follow-ups after the meeting.
Of course, in every meeting, be it face-to-face or virtual, engagement matters most.
Learn More About Running Virtual Meetings Effectively
Facilitators Network Singapore is now offering ‘Virtual Facilitation Workshop’ to help those who are struggling to make their online meetings work. To learn how to optimise commonly used meeting platforms such as Zoom, join us for an enriching learning experience to:
- Acquire the confidence and competence to lead or facilitate virtual meetings and learning sessions.
- Know when to use and not to use virtual meetings and learning.
- Learn the factors and components required for a successful virtual engagement strategy.
- Gain expertise in the use of appropriate hardware, software, competence and behaviours for an effective virtual engagement session.
Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on how our Virtual Facilitation Workshop could benefit you.