Do you mute your co-workers?
The number of people who are managing and collaborating globally has grown exponentially over the last few years. As a natural consequence of this, many workplaces are experiencing a substantial increase in virtual meetings.
One of many examples is the global furniture retailer IKEA, which has seen a dramatic rise in the number of virtual meetings taking place, going from around 14,000 to 190,000 a year in just half a decade.
Skype, smartphones and sound stations have become the indispensible communication tools of the virtual team in the digital age. But for many Chairs simply paying attention during a Skype meeting or teleconference can be a challenge, not to mention ensuring the active participation and focus of the other participants.
What we are really doing while on conference calls
A 2014 survey of 530 people conducted by Intercall, the largest provider of conference solutions, showed that most people see conference calls as an opportunity to conduct other tasks.
Two thirds of the respondents answered that they do other work while they are on conference call, and four out of five try to hide their lack of attention by muting the phone.
The respondents’ five main reasons for muting the phone are:
1. To reduce background noise (69 pct.)
2. To talk to others (65 pct.)
3. To go to the toilet (50 pct.)
4. To eat or to cook (35 pct.)
5. To answer another call (18 pct.)
Virtual collaboration requires that everyone is mentally present and engaged.
Virtual and face-to-face meetings are not the same thing
Hosting a productive virtual meeting comes down to whether the Chair has the right tools to lead it. A virtual meeting requires a different approach than a face-to-face meeting to ensure the participants’ continued attendance and focus. Basically, you must ensure they don’t get bored and shift their focus to other activities.
Virtual collaboration requires that everyone is mentally present and engaged. When facilitating a virtual meeting it is vital to set a clear agenda. You must also ask participants to contribute with specific input, and regularly encourage them to share their thoughts and input throughout the meeting.
Better still, switch from telephone to video. This will in itself eliminate a lot of the multitasking going on ‘behind the scenes’.
Do not touch the mute button
To ensure active participation, involvement and engagement in a virtual meeting – and thus increase its effectiveness – there are a few things you can do.
We have collated this simple five-step guide to ensure an effective, active and involving virtual meeting as follows:
1. Keep your meeting short:
Studies show that we become distracted during virtual meetings after just 10 minutes. Therefore, you should plan your meetings in segments with planned breaks where the participants can regain their focus.
It is generally a good idea to break the meeting up into shorter periods and divide the participants into smaller groups.
2. Set an agenda:
Set a clear agenda for the meeting. Also, send out beforehand any material that needs to be read, and give everyone a task. This could be a short (!) introduction around the table, keeping track of time or just ongoing input from the participants about the topics that are being discussed.
3. Do not touch the mute button
Unless there is a lot of background noise, you should never go near the mute button. Active participation during a teleconference depends on the participant being ‘on point’, which leaves room for spontaneous reactions, such as laughter, questions and discussions.
Muting is the same as putting on a pair of headphones during a physical meeting – you close off yourself and the other participants.
4. Activate the participants throughout
Learn how to use digital functions such as hand-raising, chat and agreement throughout. The more senses you stimulate for the participants, the more they will turn their attention to the meeting rather than wandering off in thought.
5. Make it visual:
Hiding behind an email, a blank screen or a phone can make the distance more pronounced – but it does not have to be like that. Eye contact is our most fundamental mode of communication, and one of the most effective aids for a productive virtual meeting is using video.
In this way the participants can see each other, meaning they can read facial expressions and body language.