Few aspects of office life inspire more grumbling than meetings. And the fact that they’re taking place almost exclusively online now hasn’t helped their reputation much. There are lots of things that make virtual meetings with your office team tricky to pull off, according to The Hub’s Autumm Caines, who’s been facilitating virtual meetings since 2015. But she says much of the “doom and gloom of Zoom” (to steal some clever verbiage from The Hub’s latest workshop) can be softened with a few simple tweaks to your team’s approach.
As you’ve no doubt experienced, one of the most significant ways virtual meetings differ from their in-person counterparts is that the former can get messy when two people attempt to talk at the same time.“In an in-person meeting, there are lots of occasions where people might talk in close timing to or, for short bursts, at the same time as one another. In a brainstorming environment, it can be really important and even fun, and your ear is pretty good at sorting through all the layers,” Caines says. “But it’s one of the quirks of the videoconference software that the camera shifts to whoever is the loudest, so if two people try to talk at the same time, even for a few seconds, it’s basically chaos.”
To leave room for this kind of layered communication but avoid the confusion, Caines says try leaning on the chat feature a little more in your meetings — especially large meetings. For example, facilitators can use chat to quickly take the pulse of the room, collect instant feedback on an idea, or deploy an icebreaker at the start of a meeting. Caines says this kind of chat activity typically works best in situations where the feedback can be dished up in a word to a few words, not sentences and paragraphs.
In fact, Caines says chat is generally a great tool for boosting participation. If a facilitator is a capable multitasker, or if the meeting has someone who can play the chat monitor role, you might try encouraging folks to chat out questions or comments during a presentation, with the facilitator briefly working in this feedback as it rolls in. And while you don’t want chat to take over your meeting, Caines says it can also be useful to create a little meeting “side banter,” which can be a visible way for folks to indicate they’re listening.