Technology is only a tool, what really counts is how we use it
Recent events have led to an explosive development of videoconferencing. If this form of communication was used only in certain cases in the past, it has now become the only way to “meet” and work together for many of us. In this context, it is only natural that we are flooded with advice about how to use these tools, comparisons between technology platforms, etc.
Personally, I feel that this is not so much about the choice of a technical solution or system, but much more about the way we live through the experience. At AIMS International, we have been working for many years in virtual teams with participants from all around the globe and I would like to share some insights:
Make sure the technology works
When working in virtual teams on a daily basis, there is nothing worse than having problems to connect and exchange. Stable systems and networks are an absolute must. This may seem no issue if you live in a city in Switzerland, but can quickly become a problem if you are based in a country with less developed infrastructure like South Africa or even in a rural area in France. Making sure everybody in the company is using the same tools across subsidiaries and regions will also reduce the number of issues. Finally, using recent devices with up-to-date software is also a key point.
Show that you are available
Make sure that you are logged into the different platforms you use so that people can call you. Many people are not, and you then have to send an email or phone them to tell them that you would like to “see” them… Being available will make communication much easier.
Everybody should be equal
It is important that everybody joins via videoconference. Small “physical” groups of a few people are no problem, but there should not be a majority of people who are physically present and a minority over videolink as the second group who would be at a disadvantage and would find it difficult to join the conversation. It may be better that everybody join via teleconference even if some could actually meet physically (and of course, it is also safer under the present circumstances!).
Do not hesitate to set up a parallel communication channel
In a “real” meeting, there is always bilateral communication between participants that is not intended for the whole group. The lack of this is one of these things that sometimes make online meetings feel “artificial”. Most platforms provide a chat functionality with which you can send a private message to a single participant, but this can be dangerous if one presses the wrong button… It is easy to use a messaging platform like WhatsApp (even available on desktop for better typing comfort) to ensure this second communication channel is effective.
Don’t forget the informal moments
The parallel communication channel mentioned above can help, but you should do more. Let’s not forget that many important things are discussed during the coffee break and that meetings and co-working are also opportunities to reinforce personal bonds, not only to take decisions or do actual work. There are several possibilities for this like organising informal gatherings separate from meetings (common breakfast or coffee or drinks) or alternating large gatherings with one-to-one meetings or conversations in smaller groups where you can be more informal.
Don’t try to simulate physical meetings, it will never be possible to completely match the experience of a “real world” meeting. Rather try to innovate by handling topics in smaller blocks and groups and at different times and giving people who normally would not travel to a meeting the opportunity to participate. You can also use the tools that are normally integrated in some platforms like recording, automated minutes or chat to enhance the experience. Nothing forces you to go to the whole program of a meeting and take all the decisions at once since you can easily meet again without the cost and hassle of travelling.
Build an online culture
Not every user will be at the same level from the start and group dynamics need time to “settle” in the new remote environment. Don’t try to rush it and use all the technical possibilities from the start as this will be too cumbersome for some, rather develop an online meeting culture specific to the group in which more possibilities are used each time.