Virtual Meetings: Understanding the New Reality

So many people hate attending meetings for various reasons and working from home has exacerbated this situation. The challenge facing leaders today is how to run efficient and effective meetings in such a way that everyone is able to contribute and feel heard. There is no easy way to conduct meetings but let us first examine why people dislike meetings.

Some view meetings as a waste of time because some decisions made in meetings are not implemented either due to lack of buy-in by people charged with implementation or inadequate resources to implement such decisions. Other reason could be pure sabotage by unhappy employees who deliberating refuse to implement decisions. There are also instances where informal meetings are held by a selected few before formal meetings and formal meetings are held only to ratify what has already been agreed by a selected few.

To get the best out of meetings, it is important that everyone at the meeting is allowed to share their views. This is not always possible due to various reasons such as:

  • Few people dominating meeting conversations giving other people less or no time to contribute.
  • Meetings schedule at short notice that do not give people enough time to prepare.
  • Meetings scheduled without clear agenda.
  • Time allocated to an agenda item not adequate to enable robust debates before decisions are taken.
  • Some people decide not to talk at meetings when they believe they are not being heard despite their contributions or due to lack of confidence.

This was the situation before the new normal of work from home which has further compounded the challenges associated with holding meetings. The new normal is to hold virtual meetings due to work from home or hybrid meetings which is a combination of both virtual and physical meetings. Where the meeting is a hybrid, the challenge becomes how to avoid giving undue advantage to people who joined the meeting physically whilst granting virtual attendants equal opportunity to be heard as much as those who are physically present. For this to be possible, the chairman of the meeting should put in place necessary mechanisms that allow everyone to be heard.

One way of ensuring that everyone is heard in a meeting is to use Council approach to holding meetings where the chairman of the meeting consciously gives everyone who has a contribution to make the opportunity to talk. Those making contributions should be advised to be brief for the privilege to be heard. To ensure everyone is heard within the limited time, a time limit could be set for individual contribution and agreed to by all participants to ensure that no one dominates the meeting.

Technology challenges come with working from home. As a result, those who do not want to participate in meetings could hide under poor connection or faulting computers not to participate. People could also be distracted by family members or visitors at home during meetings. Therefore, organisations should provide support to employees to ensure they have functional wifi and computers. In some cases, back-up arrangements should be put in place to ensure that employees are always online.

Meeting notice should be at least 48 hrs with all the relevant documents forwarded to participants with the notice. Those that have got known connection challenges should be encouraged to send in their contributions before the meeting. In addition, those having connections issues during the meeting should be encouraged to type their contributions in the chat box or email them to participants

Other tips that could help to manage time and ensure the participation of everyone include (Jay A. 1976):

  1. Expected outcomes should be clear.
  2. Late coming to meetings should be discouraged.
  3. The chairman should encourage brevity.
  4. Draw out the silent.
  5. Protect the weak.
  6. Discussion should be encouraged to focus on subject matter and not personalities.

Reference:

Jay A. 1976, How to run a meeting, Harvard Business Review. Retrieved July 2, 2021 from https://hbr.org/1976/03/how-to-run-a-meeting)

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