Virtual Meetings as the 'New Normal': Getting Your Employees to Participate

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March 30, 2020

In a matter of days, “coronavirus” and “COVID-19” has turned the world of person-to-person business into virtual reality – literally and figuratively.

Lockdowns have become a citywide, statewide and even countrywide issue. More and more people are conducting business on a laptop three or four feet away from their toothbrushes or refrigerators.

Video conferencing software packages like GoToMeeting, Zoom and Google Hangouts have seen a dramatic push, as online meeting platforms have become the new normal for companies globally. According to an Aventri article, online meetings “not only decrease travel expenses by 30%,” but also “allowed employees from different regions to connect better with each other, as well as increase collaboration and profitability.”

Online meetings offer flexibility for employees in that they are conducting business in the comfort of their own homes. But with that, there are challenges.

Technical issues can be an obvious one, as all computers and wireless internet systems aren’t built the same. The guarantee of engagement, however, is a challenge that often isn’t discussed.

It’s hard enough to get employees to pay attention in some regular, in-person meetings. Imagine the level of difficulty when that disengaged employee is at home having to choose between virtual meeting participation and his favorite movie on Netflix or the latest court show television episode.

“I’ve got a horrible attention span, so I always use me as an example,” said Cameron J. Shaw, a Scrum Master for Toyota Financial Services in Plano, Texas. “If I’m not engaged, if I’m not looking at something, nine times out of 10, I’m doing something else.”

Shaw has been conducting online-platform meetings successfully for more than a decade. He and multiple individuals in managerial positions all agree that when it comes to online meetings, there must be a high level of accountability for engagement.

Here are three ways to assist with employee participation in virtual meetings:

Sharing your screen is mandatory
With the variety of video conferencing software packages available, the best option is one with a reliable screen-sharing functionality. There are times when you’ll need to share a slide for evaluation or view a document for personal perusal.
In short, screen sharing is interactive. And in a professional virtual setting, interaction is key.

“People are visual. Sharing the screen is very, very important, especially when you work remote,” Shaw said. “Words can get really stale after a while.”

A recent Entrepreneur article hits the nail on the head. The article discusses how addressing issues without “reading the room” can be a major problem. Screen sharing will aid in keeping everyone on the same page — and keeping everyone, at the article says, “feeling engaged, valued and connected.”

Keep messages simple and succinct
Think about in-person meetings. Then think about what puts you to sleep during in-person meetings. What you don’t want to be is a long-winded boring orator. This applies especially in an online setting.

It’s a good idea to keep your content short and to the point. The one thing the best orators have to battle is a basic distraction — and that distraction can be something as simple as a 30-second commercial on television if you’re meeting with people currently at home.

You always want to keep your message brief and meaningful. Make sure your points are well-defined and hard-hitting, while also clever to where they positively strike the nerves of your audience.

More moderator, less speaker
If it’s your virtual meeting, of course you will have everything you want to say structured and ready. But if you want to see your participation numbers rise, give opportunities for your audience to be a part of your presentation.
“You’ve got to turn every meeting into a working session where you can ask feedback,” Shaw said. “I don’t want it to be just me talking. Not after an hour, not even after 5-10 minutes. You’ve got to keep it engaging.”

A good moderator not only speaks to the audience but also directs the audience. He is a master of ceremony, so to speak, someone who will get the most out of an audience. In this case, “getting the most out” could be a major step to interoffice productivity.

Virtual meetings aren’t supposed to be cake walks, but they don’t have to be impossible tasks, either. In these times of adjustment, good companies can still march forward with the help of a strong virtual meeting, run by an experienced manager who is fully aware of keeping his employees entertained, educated and motivated.

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