We Know There Are Bad Virtual Meetings
If I were to ask you to raise your hand if you have ever attended a bad virtual meeting, I'm certain that it would be a majority. If you've read my articles, you know that I harp on the importance of leaders taking responsibility to run an engaging virtual meeting that accomplishes the intended results. I still believe that the leader carries this responsibility to lead differently in the virtual workspace. What I also believe is that the participants of the meeting bear a responsibility as well. The next time you gripe about a bad meeting, I want you to ask yourself what you did to help make it better. Did you apply some self-leadership to help right the ship or did you let it sink while increasing your multi-tasking as you stayed on mute? It's that old adage, “If you aren't part of the solution, you are part of the problem.” As our workplace becomes increasingly more virtual, it will be up to all team members to contribute in making the virtual workplace experience valuable and productive. If participants of meetings fail to take responsibility for their experience, remote and virtual teams may begin to disappear along with the flexible lifestyle that they provide team members. The bottom line is that bad virtual meetings threaten the existence of virtual teams.
Why Meeting Leaders Fail
We know that part of the problem is that many leaders prepare more for an in-person meeting than they do for a virtual meeting. The conventional thinking is that a virtual meeting is easier because you can rely on your notes as you run down a list. That's got to be easy, right? Uh, no. Virtual meetings require extra effort to ensure engagement and understanding. Without this, the leader is talking to the air and hoping that they are getting their point across. The leader needs to do intentional activities to make virtual meetings successful.
Your Responsibility as a Virtual Meeting Participant
There are some things that you can do before and during a virtual meeting and it always starts with the meeting invite. As you read the following tips, I want you to think about meetings that you have attended (and led) and ways you could have had a positive effect on meeting outcomes.
1. Be protective of your time.
It's all you've got. As a virtual worker, structuring your time is of great importance. Don't be held hostage just because you were invited to a meeting. When I talk with people globally, I find that all have admitted to sitting in a meeting wondering why they were invited. They would say that they added no value to the meeting and that the little that they learned could have been sent to them in an email. Many times meeting leaders invite "the world" to meetings in an abundance of caution. They don't want to offend anyone and want to be open and inclusive. The problem is that they probably didn't put much thought into who really needed to be in attendance that would provide and receive value. If you could get this time added back to your life, think how productive you could be. To that end, if you are invited to such a meeting, email back the meeting leader and ask if your attendance at this meeting will "be of value". Do this ESPECIALLY if there is no agenda in the description area of the invite. It's a red flag when you receive an invite with no high level agenda (see point #2). If you can make this a habit, you will find that a number of meetings may not actually need your presence.
2. Ask for an agenda for the meeting.
It's just polite and efficient for a meeting leader to include a high level agenda within the meeting invite. This only need be a one-sentence purpose with three or four bullet points. That's all I'm asking for. If a meeting leader can't do this, then they should not be having a meeting. A purpose statement and a few agenda items indicate that there has been some thought put into what the expectations and goals are for this meeting. If you receive an invitation without an agenda, kindly email the meeting leader back and say this ... "Hey Mike, I'm trying to prioritize my meeting for this week. Can you shoot me a high level agenda and expected meeting outcomes? Thanks". If Mike gets a few of these emails, he will begin to add agendas to his invites.
3. Ask clarifying questions.
There is one thing that I'm certain of. If you are not clear on something that was said, several others have the same question but won't ask. Take it upon yourself to ask questions for everyone's benefit. Ask your questions in an open, neutral and positive way. Don't be "that person" that always pushes back with a negative tone. The idea is to he helpful and not a hindrance. Helpful: "Mary, I just want to be clear that each team needs to complete four of the six tasks. Is that right?" Hindrance: "Mary, this doesn't make any sense and it's not clear at all what each team should be accomplishing?" Kindness counts.
4. Ask the leader for a process check.
Help the leader keep the meeting on track. If three items were supposed to be agreed on, but only one has been discussed and more than half of the meeting time has passed, gently ask the leader if we need to move on or rework the agenda. This can be very helpful if the leader is caught up in a circular fruitless discussion and needs help extracting themselves to get the meeting back on track. Process checks are always a good reason and reminder to keep the meeting moving to honor the meeting time commitment.
Remember... Don't Be "That Person"
While preparing for engagement and value in a virtual meeting is the responsibility of the meeting leader, meeting attendees can assist in keeping the meeting on track and in making sure that all points are understood. The key is to be attentive and helpful, not argumentative or negative. As a virtual meeting participant, be actively engaged or don't be there. Don't complain about a bad virtual meeting unless you've done all you could to help.