Virtual meetings fail without real connections

We had two conversations with executives in the last few days, one in the UK, one in Canada. Different characters, different businesses – but both complained about the same thing: Zoom fatigue.

Both said they routinely would have five or six virtual meetings every day. Don’t get me wrong, they’re not crying ‘poor me’. Both execs have very senior positions and they are fortunate to be able to direct their businesses from home. They know a lot of people have had life a lot harder over the last 3 months.

They were simply pointing out how exhausting it is to work in a virtual world. Both were surprised at how much more tiring it was to take part in a series of virtual meetings, rather than face-to-face encounters. What they found draining was trying to ensure the meetings were useful.

There’s no doubt that engaging in a virtual meeting demands more focus and concentration. By its nature, the medium eliminates most of these clues and cues that help us connect face-to-face.

In fact, ‘connection’ is the biggest problem in the virtual world. And connection is vitally important in any effective communication.

Making virtual connections is the theme of a fascinating article in Psychology Today by Wayne Baker, Faculty Director of the Center for Positive Organizations at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business.

He writes: “In a time of social distancing it’s more important now than ever before to connect meaningfully in a virtual meeting or gathering.”

Wayne Baker defines a meaningful connection as an interaction in which we feel accepted, understood, and supported. We feel heard and cared for. We have a sense of belonging. A meaningful connection, he says, is a human moment.

A ‘human moment’, according to Harvard psychiatrist Edward Hallowell, requires two ingredients: physical co-presence and focused attention.

The first ingredient is not possible when we are socially distancing, says Mr Baker. So is it possible to create virtual human moments? The answer, he says, is ‘yes’ – but it depends on preparation and intentional practices.

“In the past weeks, I’ve participated in dozens of virtual meetings – work team meetings, staff meetings, large town halls, committee meetings, virtual classrooms, church staff meetings, virtual lunch get-togethers, and even virtual happy hours.

“Some of these produced meaningful connections, some did not. The size of the gathering wasn’t the determining factor, though it can be more challenging to create virtual human moments in a large group. The difference was the extent to which these meetings were intentionally designed, managed, and run to produce virtual human moments.”

Wayne Baker has come up with 10 guidelines to promote meaningful connections in your virtual meetings. We’re going to share some of them. The rest, you can read here.

  • Video On – without seeing other people it’s almost impossible to create meaningful connections
  • Active Facilitation – someone, not necessarily the boss, has to shape and lead the discussion
  • Acknowledge Reality – these are scary times. People are worried. Acknowledge the fears without dwelling on them
  • Gentle Mandatory Participation – make it clear everyone is expected to participate. Don’t let the quiet types hide in the shadows
  • Make it Personal – create a virtual space where people can say or show something about themselves that goes beyond name, title and role
  • Enable Chat in Big Meetings – encourage participants to use the chat room functions, and take time to share interesting comments with the broader group

Experiment with these ideas, says Wayne Baker. “The important thing is to get started, learning how to make meaningful connections in your virtual meetings.”

You can read his full article here.