You can’t. They don’t exist. Instead, find ways to compensate for their absence.

By now, we all know virtual meetings are more efficient than live meetings – mostly because of the savings in travel time, stress and money. Despite the inevitable distractions from working at home, those working out of the office are highly productive.

At the same time, there’s a strong argument that live meetings are more effective than virtual meetings – mostly because those in the same physical space communicate better with each other and build stronger relationships. (Except for those whose relationships get worse when they are in the same space. But that’s a different article.)

What doesn’t work is blended meetings in which some are live and some are virtual.

When a meeting is predominantly in-person, those joining remotely inevitably miss some of the conversation in the room – especially when more than one person is speaking at the same time. And they miss all the side conversations during the meeting and during breaks. It’s physically impossible for them to get as much out of and contribute to meetings as do those in-person.

Conversely, if the meeting is predominantly remote, the remote people each have their own screen and camera, while the in-person people share them. Those attending in-person have to fight with the other people in the room for air time.

Neither way works. Make your meetings either 100% live or 100% virtual.

Live meetings are the first prize for groups needing to work interdependently. This requires relationships and nuances that you’re never going to get with everyone virtually.

A big part of this is what happens during the side conversations that happen in fuzzy front ends before and after meetings and during breaks.

You’ve been through all of these.

Fuzzy Front End before a meeting

You’re walking to a meeting. You bump into a colleague going to the same meeting. You share expectations and going-in assumptions. It helps you get your mind into the meeting and collect and organize your thoughts. Once in the room, you chat with others about stuff going on in their days and their lives. It’s amazing what you can learn about people by listening to them.

Fuzzy Back End after a meeting

No. It’s not the same thing as before the meeting. As you’re leaving the meeting someone asks you what you thought. That post-meeting conversation helps you filter the message from the noise and determine what to take away from the meeting and where to focus going forward. It is, arguably, more important than what was actually said in the meeting.

Think about the old presentation guidance of 1) tell them what you’re going to say, 2) tell them, 3) tell them what you said. This happens in a lot of meetings except the participants imagine what you’re going to say and then decide what they heard. And everybody hears something different.

Breaks

It’s frightening how much gets done in meeting breaks. One of our partners was the only female on an otherwise all-male team. She noticed things changed during the breaks. So, on the next break, she took her chair into the middle of men’s room and sat down.

“What are you doing.”

“It seems that this is where all the decisions are actually being made. You have two choices. Stop making decisions here. Or carry on with me present.”

When I set agendas for meetings over two hours, I try to build in 30-minute breaks. That gives people time to take a real break, clear their heads, get done some non-meeting stuff so they don’t have to multi-task in the meeting, and engage in side conversations to play with the ideas floating around in the meeting.

Compensating

There are no fuzzy front or back ends to virtual meetings. People show up, leave and aren’t together in virtual breaks. Hence the need to compensate for their absence.

One approach is for virtual meeting participants to schedule one-on-one conversations with other meeting participants either before or after the meetings – being deliberate about side-conversations. Essentially, this is about re-investing some of the time saved with the efficiency of virtual meetings in further communication, idea sharing and building relationships.

Click here for a list of my Forbes articles (of which this is #812) and a summary of my book on executive onboarding: The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan.

Follow me on Twitter.
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