The current pandemic has definitely changed the way we organize ourselves and our meetings. This large scale experiment has also shown that work from anywhere is going to be a distinct reality in most of our lives (unless it can’t be).
This definitely means that we need to rethink the way we function – work, play and meet with our colleagues, customers and partners.
In this regard, I read this HBR post “3 Things Virtual Meetings Offer That In-Person Ones Don’t” written by Bob Frisch and Cary Greene. You can read the entire post here.
The authors argue that there are certain inherent advantages of running meetings virtually than when they were run in-person. They go on and detail three ways virtual meetings are better.
When done well, polling is an easy and effective way to figure out whether all the participants are aligned on a given topic or not. Anonymous polling in virtual meetings can potentially give voice to the minorities who might not otherwise be heard.
This ability to test the alignment at every step has the potential to unearth misalignment and bring forth diverse points of view on the topic. When done well, these can significantly increase the effectiveness and implementation of the decisions made in the meeting.
Every organization, at a regular interval (monthly, quarterly or annually) runs offsite meetings for their leaders. This is a dedicated time for the entire leadership team to come together and work “on their business” rather than “in their business”.
Being invited to these leadership offsites have at some level become status symbols for those who get invited. Traditionally, these were expensive affairs due to travel and associated costs.
When done virtually, these offsites can include a lot more people participating at various levels of the organization and can be done more frequently.
This has at least two positive effects on the quality of decisions being made at these offsites.
1. The leaders get to see and hear a diverse point of view.
2. They can see the depth of leadership potential in their organization and identify potential leaders to be groomed.
The authors also claim that virtual brainstorming can be a lot more effective than the physical counterpart. My experience says that if we use the right tools and with good facilitation, virtual brainstorming sessions can be very effective.
Good use of virtual whiteboards, virtual post-it notes, virtual voting (anonymous), and breakout rooms (intentionally created to facilitate diverse opinions) followed by prioritization methods can make these meetings really powerful.
The ability to record the meeting and therefore the context and assumptions based on which the decision was made is something that is very powerful. This is something that the authors did not mention in their post.
Recording the meetings also makes it easier for people who did not make it to the meeting to get caught up easier. While someone might still make minutes and share the action items agreed in the meeting, they can also share a recording of the meeting (in case someone wants to understand why a particular decision was made.
We now have tools that can allow you to easily divide up a given video into sections so that one could directly watch a specific section if needed and the links to these sections could be added to the minutes as well.
In conclusion, I believe that both physical and virtual meetings come with their own strengths and weaknesses. The challenge and the true power of virtual meetings will show up when you start seeing and running hybrid meetings – some participants joining virtually and the rest physically.
I’ve had the privilege to run some hybrid meetings and my experience is that planning, running, and facilitating such a meeting will require a specialized skill that managers are better off learning and fine-tuning if they really want to be effective in their roles as managers.