Virtual Meetings Etiquette and Best Practices
Virtual meeting are increasingly an acceptable method of communication and collaboration in today’s busy business environment. With stakeholders in multiple locations, companies are reducing the number of face-to-face meetings and substituting with virtual meetings. Arecent study reports over the next 10 to 15 years, virtual meetings could constitute upwards of 70 percent of internal travel and 10 percent of external travel. Based upon a study conducted by Bernstein Research, the resulting effect could be a cumulative reduction of 21 percent in corporate travel. Organizations recognizethese types of meetings are a cost effective method of including those who otherwise might be unable to attend.
Indeed, virtual meetings afford participants an ability to interact with all attendees, allowing for stronger communication and involvement. It is a valuable business tool when used effectively.
However, conducting meetings virtually does pose some unique challenges. For example, if the number of attendees is too large the meeting may be difficult to manage. It can also be difficult to identify who is speaking. Various technologies, connections, and mixture of audio and video can make meeting communication inconsistent across participants. Break-out sessions are not possible which may necessitate more meetings.
The interpersonal dynamics and synergy created in face-to-face meetings is lost in a virtual meeting. Research indicates seven percent of communication is expressed with words, 38 percent is tone of voice, and 55 percent is nonverbal clues. It is much more difficult to build trust and team structure when people cannot see each other. Proper etiquette may also be lacking; and there is room for misinterpretation when nonverbal clues are absent.
So, you ask, how can an ethical issue arise from virtual meetings? Consider the following scenario provided by one of our members:
I was unable to attend a meeting last week due to snow in NC. I joined the meeting via a speaker phone. One of my colleagues and the VP made several comments about "my pajamas" and asked about them three to four times. I have been on thousands of conference calls and this is inappropriate and unprofessional. Another colleague from SC was also conferenced in (a man) and was not asked about his "pajamas" or what he was wearing. Should I report this?
For argument sake, we will assume the writer is a woman because the sex of the other attendee included via teleconference is identified as "a man." As a result, the reference to attire can be considered sexual harassment. Clearly, the writer felt harassed and, as we know, harassment is viewed from the perspective or perception of the recipient. Harassment is not only unethical, it is illegal.
What should she do? It was/is incumbent upon the writer to inform the offender that the statement was viewed as inappropriate. If the offender repeated the statement, she may rightly feel harassed and should report it to human resources or the person to whom the offender reports. However, she should first discuss her perception with the offending party. It could be a lesson learned.
In recognizing the limitations of virtual meetings; it is beneficial to create a disciplined and well focused process for discussion that is outlined for participation.
- Keep the number of participants to 10 or less.
- Keep the meeting as short as possible. By keeping the meeting time to a minimum you will help avoid the tendency of participants to multi-task.
- Send electronic copies of the content to participants prior to the meeting - technical issues do arise.
- Provide participants with an agenda. This will help keep participants focused and engaged.
- Begin with an introduction of participants.
- Define the meeting goals.
- Establish rules regarding interjecting comments.
- Emphasize the need for professionalism and the requirement that disagreements should not be voiced disagreeably. (Yes, it is possible to disagree without being disagreeable).
- Avoid interruptions. If you are conferencing from home, ask the family to be quite and not interrupt you. If you have an animal with the potential to create noise, put them in a place where they cannot be heard. Inevitably the dog will bark or your bird will whistle during your conference. If you are in the office, place a sign on the door indicating you are in a meeting and when you will be available.
- Use the mute feature when you are not speaking so background noise is not a distraction for others.
- Identify yourself before you speak.
- Think before you speak, recognizing that others do not have the benefit of your body language and other non-verbal cues, and the tone of your voice can cause misinterpretation.
Working remotely and virtual meetings are here to stay. The same professional and ethical conduct that applies to an office environment applies to working and meeting in a remote/virtual environment. The lack of physical interface imposes a requirement that we apply more diligence to our interactions with others. We must endeavor to ensure the perception received by others is intended, accurate, and inoffensive.