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How to keep virtual meetings real

Posting in Technology
When I do presentations, I like to inject humor, to better connect with my audiences and take as much boredom out of my spiel as as possible. However, I do a lot of online webcasts, and run into a curious problem with this formula. That is, when I crack a joke or take a stab at humor, no one laughs. At least, I don't hear anyone out in my virtual audience laughing. Maybe my jokes aren't funny enough anyway, but it's still a bit weird, and one of the missing pieces in digital meetings -- that human connection.

That's an issue with one-way digital communication, but two-way communication also can be problematic. That human connection is increasingly vanishing from our daily work as well. If you're like many of today's professionals, chances are you don't see most of your coworkers -- they are likely in different parts of the globe. Digital connections are a boon to productivity, but do they provide for the same quality of relationships that face-to-face work offers?

While video conferencing technology is helping to bridge the gap, it is also giving rise to a need for new communications protocols.In a recent post at HBR Blog Network, Keith Ferrazzi provides guidelines on managing relationships in the age of digital teamwork:

Do a personal "check in:" Most in-person meetings start off with some cordial "small talk," which involves some form of sharing. "Personal sharing is one of the easiest and most overlooked ways to create that connection, especially when staff are remote," says Ferrazzi. Unfortunately, such warm-ups often don't occur in digital interactions.

Don't shy away from out-of-the-office background noise: If an employee is calling in from a home office, and a child yells or a dog barks in the background, don't be afraid to encourage the participant to share about what's going in at his or her house. As with the "check in," this encourages stronger connections at a human level. Plus, it helps validate support for maintaining participants' work/life balance.

Discourage multitasking: This is all too common -- virtual meeting participants will be checking email, or even making their lunch in the kitchen while the meeting is takimg place. While checking mobile phones is also common in face-to-face meetings, it reaches high proportions within virtual settings. While this may be difficult to enforce, making it clear that multitasking is forwned upon at the beginning lets participants know that management is serious about encouraging interaction.

Discourage muting: "Besides encouraging general disengagement, the dead air of mute kills any attempt at humor and eliminates the bonding value of shared laughter," Ferrazzi points out. 

(Thumbnail Photo: HubSpot.)

— By on January 31, 2014, 9:44 PM PST

Joe McKendrick

Contributing Editor

Joe McKendrick is an independent analyst who tracks the impact of information technology on management and markets. He is a co-author of the SOA Manifesto and has written for Forbes, ZDNet and Database Trends & Applications. He holds a degree from Temple University. He is based in Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure