Keeping your team connected while socially distant is going to require virtual meetings. The better you can make those virtual meetings work, the more connected you’ll keep your team. With the spread of COVID-19, keeping the appropriate social distance makes all the sense in the world. If you’re leading a team, your top priority has to be to keep its members safe. Do that. And you also need to keep your teammates connected with each other to maintain and strengthen the team.

Meetings in which people can engage with each other with all their senses (sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch) will always be the gold standard. You can’t really duplicate that in any virtual meeting. But 1) more deliberate content and flow planning, 2) a different approach to delivery, and 3) more, better, and stronger meeting facilitation will get the results from your virtual interactions close enough to those of live meetings to keep your team connected.

We are social beings. We meet to share knowledge, to work together and build relationships, and to make decisions and drive to action. Most will comply with decisions if they are made aware, even indirectly. To contribute, they need to understand through direct communication. But if you want them to commit, they have to believe in the cause, each other and in the decisions, requiring connecting emotionally.

Written words on paper, emails, messages and other platforms are generally sufficient to share knowledge.

Spoken words adds tone to the words, improving the quality of working together.

Live meetings are best for building relationships, emotional connections, and commitment to decisions as people breath the same air and communicate with words, tone and body language.

Virtual meetings via video, webinars, web conferencing, or virtual worlds can get us almost there with increased attention and investment in preparation, delivery, and follow through including:

  • More deliberate content and flow planning to set up and prepare for the most effective virtual meetings’ pre-work and breakouts.
  • A different approach to delivery, doing more work before and after the meetings themselves, and in more and smaller breakouts.
  • More, better, and stronger meeting facilitation given the process complexities to allow leaders and participants to keep their focus on relationships and content.

Let’s dig into those:

More deliberate content and flow planning

The five steps to an effective meeting always apply:

  1. Context. Understand the meeting’s place in the broader journey.
  2. Objective. Set an overall single objective for the meeting and clear expectations for learning, contributing, relationship-building, and decisions by agenda item and attendee.
  3. Pre-work. Get appropriate pre-work and pre-reading to people far enough in advance for all to learn and contribute to their fullest potential.
  4. Delivery. Manage meeting participation and timing to optimize learning, contributions, relationship-building, and decision-making.
  5. Follow-through. Get meeting notes out promptly to memorialize decisions and actions, kicking off implementation and the preparation for the next meeting.

The big differences in a virtual meeting are going to be 1) more emphasis on pre-work and pre-readings to virtually eliminate presentations in the meetings themselves (pun intended,) and 2) more and smaller breakouts to enable conversations and co-creation.

A different approach to delivery

People are going to have a harder time sorting inputs and staying focused in virtual meetings than in live meetings. In live meetings, people can nudge them. Their attention gets revitalized by physical changes and changes in modes of delivery.

Co-creation requires people to be able to deal with multiple inputs at the same time. This is why it’s going to be harder to co-create in a large virtual meeting. Don’t try. Instead, let smaller groups co-create inputs into the meeting and then let the people in the virtual meeting contribute to improving those inputs. Interim pre-reads and itemized responses work well for this with people going through:

1.    Questions for clarification

2.    What they see as particularly valuable and

3.    Suggestions for improvement

In that order.

More, better, and stronger meeting facilitation

Virtual meetings are harder to run than live meetings – driven by the increased complexities associated with people working from physically different spaces across different technology platforms. You’ll need more facilitators. They’ll need to have more skills. And they’ll need to play much stronger roles in virtual meetings than in live meetings.

Click here for a list of my Forbes articles (of which this is #625) and a summary of my book on executive onboarding: The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan.