Remember how working from home used to seem so luxurious and decadent? It’s possible that feeling has dropped away in the last few weeks.
Part of the reason for this is that running an effective virtual team is about more than everybody managing to get onto Zoom at the same time and unmuting themselves.
There needs to be a bigger plan.
With this in mind, here are a few practical strategies for running your effective virtual team.
Prior to the meeting:
Establish your note-taking and cross-talk policies.
My personal view is that there should be no side texting, etc., during the meeting—we all know you are doing it and it’s distracting, no matter how subtle you may think you are being—but this is a personal choice.
As for cross talk, this can be difficult enough in a real-time meeting; add in screens and it can really start to feel out of control. With this in mind, I also have an extremely limited tolerance for cross talk.
Pick a note-taker.
Again, it’s all too easy for items to get dropped when meetings happen in real time. This person is responsible for ensuring what was on the agenda gets covered and that there is a written record of what was discussed.
Speaking of agendas: have one.
My preference is that you make a decision about what kind of meeting you are having before you set the agenda. Is this a brainstorming meeting? A pre-decision meeting? A decision-making meeting? All too often all three kinds of meetings are going on simultaneously.
Have a version protocol.
If you have multiple drafts of a document going around, it needs to be updated each time it is touched. My recommendation is that while the document is still in-house, you start with version .1 This will give you through .99 to make changes. Once the document is client ready and they begin making changes, you can switch to whole numbers.
Show your work.
If you alter a document, make that alteration visible to others. It is maddening to enter a document and try to figure out what changed since its last iteration.
Decide on your turnaround times and if “by when” is in play.
Is your turnaround time 12 hours? 24? Close of business? Figure out what works for you. If you need it sooner, let them know that “by when” is not an estimated time. It’s when you need it.
In the meeting:
Begin with a weather report.
Go around and ask everyone to check in with their feeling about how work is going. Are things sunny? Partly cloudy? Is there an incoming typhoon? This will help prioritize time. It also ensures everyone speaks, preventing “hiding.”
Beware the Urgent/Not Important.
I recommend putting identified “action items” into Stephen Covey’s Urgent/Important, Not Urgent/Important, Urgent/Not Important, Not Urgent/Not Important quadrant. Asking people to think this way ensures your meeting isn’t spent on the Urgent/Not Important items, which so often hijack time and energy.
When others are outlining a problem, it’s easy to ask “advice giving” questions along the lines of “What if you tried X?” In real time you will see your colleagues grimace. This can be lost on-screen—instead, the grumpiness will reveal itself in inter-colleague text messages once the meeting is over. With this in mind, open with a clarifying question along the lines of, “What have you tried?”
Shut down side meetings.
It’s all too easy for two people to get embroiled in trying to fix something …and everyone else to get on Instagram. If you notice this occurring, state it. This might sound like, “This sounds like something that’s beyond the parameters of this meeting. For the sake of the group, I’m going to ask you to finish this conversation at a later time.”
Finish with key items and takeaways.
As with the weather report, end the meeting by going around and asking everyone for their key takeaway and/or their action item. If they have an action item, make sure it has a “by when” it will be accomplished.
Photo: Allie Smith via Unsplash