Virtual meetings have replaced water cooler conversations and conference room collaboration. Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, most of us nonessential workers who have spent the last five months working from the spare bedroom have forgotten what it's like to have meetings face-to-face. That is not necessarily good for connecting and relationship building.
Videoconferencing and screen sharing technologies are wonderful things that enable remote work. But they are no substitute for face-to-face interaction. Studies show that virtual meetings are physically and emotionally taxing. Why? Because communicating with one another is made more difficult when participants do not have access to nonverbal cues.
Simply put, it takes a lot more mental work to participate in a virtual meeting. In addition to the lack of nonverbal cues, meeting participants have to deal with technology problems, screen fatigue, and more. Once again, none of this is good for connecting and relationship building. But there are ways to overcome the limits of virtual meetings for better personal connections.
1. Limit Meeting Time
Virtual meetings are one area in which less is truly more. Limiting meeting time also limits the amount of emotional and mental stress meetings cause. If your team spent two hours per week in formal collaboration sessions, consider making your virtual meetings an hour long. Then encourage teams to break up into smaller groups for that second hour.
2. Don't Stress Over Formality
It's a given that the office environment requires a certain amount of formality. Such requirements do not have to exist in a virtual format. For example, does it really matter if team members are dressed in business attire for virtual meetings? Of course not.
Also remember that life happens during virtual meetings. Kids wander around in the background. Dogs bark when packages are delivered. Roll with those kinds of things. Laugh about them. The more relaxed the environment, the more productive your virtual meeting will be.
3. Schedule Non-Work Meetings
Not all of your virtual meetings have to focus on work-related tasks or topics. In fact, they shouldn't. Before the pandemic, team members would regularly meet in the break room to talk about their families, travel plans, etc. They would go out for lunch to socialize.
Some of your virtual meetings should be non-work meetings. Even though conducted during working hours, they should be nothing more than sitting around and chatting about life. Connections are made and relationships built when team members show interest in one another's lives.
4. Encourage Participation
In a face-to-face setting, team members rely on a whole host of nonverbal signals to remain engaged. With those nonverbal signals unavailable in virtual meetings, tuning out is a lot easier. The solution to this is to encourage participation by changing meeting format.
For example, we have all been to face-to-face meetings led by facilitators who spent the first half of the allotted time presenting information with a slide deck. It was easy enough to tune out then; imagine how easy it is now that meetings are being held virtually.
Rather than going through the slide deck online, send it to meeting participants ahead of time for their review. Use your virtual meeting to discuss the data, encouraging every participant to give his or her input. This sort of thing increases connection points by using limited meeting time to actually collaborate.
Virtual meetings are already mentally and emotionally exhausting. Do not make them cold and robotic to boot. Instead, make every effort to connect with team members by engaging them in creative ways. That is how you build relationships even when you cannot see one anoth