The team meeting experience – ten subtle ways that ‘virtual’ is better than being there in person
Recent studies from across the globe show that about half of organizations still have not embraced flexible and remote working or distributed virtual teams. Sometimes there is a good reason for that – certain job types are obviously not a good fit for ‘anywhere’ working. But many organizations still hold the belief that people need to be co-located, present and visible at an office location.
Conventional wisdom says there is nothing better for team collaboration than a face-to-face setting. That means everyone in the same place at the same time – where the familiar presence of those you trust as teammates, and the nuances of body language, can be fully embraced. And remote working still carries lingering concerns of social isolation, lack of engagement, along with doubts and challenges for direct supervision and measurement of effort and performance.
However, if you already work on a globally distributed team, you likely find virtual meetings using collaboration tools with remote teammates is the norm. Even working locally, with the on-demand gig economy, many professionals find themselves on teams with people they have never met in person. But still, it works – often very well.
Before we lament the loss of the personal touch of ‘being there’, we should take stock of the possibilities that virtual teams bring us, along with the collaborative technology solutions that enable remote teamwork. With today’s cloud-based tools, we can easily create a rich team communication experience via high definition video, audio conferencing, content sharing and web collaboration – virtually anywhere, on any network or device.
So, here are ten less-obvious ways that ‘virtual’ meetings may produce better experiences and results than conventional in-person meetings:
1) In a virtual setting, the focus is centered on the business content at hand – what is being discussed and what is being shown – not on the physical presence, appearance and distracting behaviors of those sitting around us, or the environment surrounding or passing by the meeting room.
2) Your results may vary, but some team members report feeling more apt to contribute to the virtual conversation (via voice, text, content sharing), compared to a physical meeting where being the focus of ‘all eyes’ can be intimidating and yield silence among those who are less than extroverted.
3) Virtual meetings require less planning for location and travel logistics, can be setup more quickly and can take place anywhere with no travel costs (not to mention being a greener option).
4) People can be added and dropped as needed easily; participants can arrive late or leave early with minimal, if any, disruption to the group. In contrast, it is relatively difficult (if not impossible) to physically bring in ad-hoc participants on the fly.
5) With modern collaboration tools, you have more ready access to collective knowledge, specialized skills and creativity regardless of where your people are located in the world – even if they are mobile or traveling. Meanwhile, co-located team members may have a more common experience, culture, knowledge or background, which may seriously limit the diversity of input.
6) When your team members don’t have to endure daily commuting to and from the office, their mood may be lighter, and stress levels may be lower. This may lead to happier people coming together to accomplish common goals, rather than thinking about traffic jams and crowded transit systems.
7) Traditionally, ‘face-to-face’ meetings are often limited to predefined content that is immediately at hand, whereas in a virtual setting anyone can share any relevant content instantly. This fluidity of dynamically sharing digital content is hard to replicate in a face-to-face team setting.
8) The inevitable virtual side conversations via the text chat backchannel are far less disruptive than the physical passing of notes or distracting whispered conversations in a meeting room. How many times in face-to-face meetings have we heard someone call out “People, let’s have one meeting in the room, please!”. With virtual meetings that problem is largely alleviated.
9) Given the cold and flu season is upon us – no one has ever caught a bug from attending a virtual meeting. Your workforce may remain healthier and more productive, with fewer sick days.
10) And… being virtual means you don’t have to find and book that scarce meeting room and make sure there are enough chairs!
For those who have used them, today’s collaboration tools can re-create the richness, immediacy and immersive nature of a face-to-face scenario – and potentially deliver a whole lot more on other dimensions that are less obvious but still have a real impact. We can now break through the limitations of the conventional “walled” meeting room by fluidly including those who are mobile, off-site, in other countries or even other continents – tapping the collective skills, diversity, expertise, and authority of the greater community. Plus, teams thrive on relevant content and information which can be shared seamlessly in a virtual setting to enable easier information sharing, faster decision making and real-time content collaboration that is difficult to replicate in a traditional meeting room scenario.
Given the reality of today’s flexible work lifestyles and distributed teams, it is time to set aside conventional wisdom that face-to-face teams are always the ideal situation for team performance.