Significant Advantages of Remote Meetings
This article was first published on Creating Open Space April 8th, 2020. Re-published here with permission.
As someone who is commonly asked to facilitate leadership meetings and retreats, I’ve been fielding a lot of questions about whether, and how, organizations can move forward with important gatherings: board meetings, strategic planning retreats, team building retreats, even training sessions.
Many organizations initially responded by postponing these sessions. But as the epidemic stretches on, the need for highly effective leadership meetings grows, not diminishes. In the spirit of resilience-driven innovation, where pressure doesn’t weaken but rather strengthens us, I offer three substantial advantages of remote meetings and retreats. For those who facilitate these meetings, I’ve also included guidance on how to facilitate remote meetings such that these benefits are realized.
By leveraging focused, well-timed invitations to contribute via chat in parallel, facilitators can get through more in less time, while also evening out personality dynamics. This last point demands attention: from the dawn of text messages, research has suggested that messaging is a particularly empowering medium of communication for those who experience barriers to speaking up in public, including but not limited to introverts[i]. In my experience, those who are socially shy, in lower power positions and even those who are speaking in a second language find messaging a more empowering medium than speaking up.
Advantage #2: Improved Articulation of Good Points
The biggest derailer of long meetings – live or remote – is disengagement (multitasking, daydreaming) and the phenomenon of “satisficing”, in which participants go along with less-than-stellar ideas because they’re tired of talking about it. Both disengagement and satisficing often stem from rambling monologues, distracting tangents, and repetitive narratives. For example, Harry takes so long to say something that no one is listening anymore, Andrés dives into details that aren’t helpful for the conversation at hand, and Li continues to emphasize a point that others agree with. When the quality of contributions degrades, so does others’ focus and willingness to participate.
In remote meetings, the facilitator has two tools to help improve articulation of good points. The first is use of the Chat function, discussed above. The second is the unique ability to discreetly nudge participants via private chat messages. The best nudges acknowledge and encourage strong articulation.
For example, when Harry is concise, quickly send him a private note that says: “Harry, thanks for summarizing that so concisely!” When Harry starts to ramble, a note might read, “Harry, your passion for this is great! Can you please summarize a little more concisely so that your points don’t get lost in the narrative?” For Andrés, a private note could read, “Andrés, the first thing you said really resonated; the details can come together later – I trust you.” Similarly, a note to Li might read, “Li, since we strongly agree with you on this point, I’m going to move on to the next topic.” You might even nudge the entire group by saying, “I like when we have a little silence between each person who talks. Hopefully it’s a sign that we’re really listening and thinking before we speak.”
Because such nudges can be sent to participants in a private, non-disruptive way, remote meetings make it easier for facilitators to improve the articulation of good points. It’s as if each participant has access to their very own private communications coach.
Consider the implications of improved articulation throughout the course of a meeting. People who are used to being tuned out will feel more heard and more appreciated. Meanwhile, those who think before they speak are more likely to be rewarded with airtime as well as positive messages.
Advantage #3: More Contributions from the Deepest Thinkers
One of the most bemoaned characteristics of in-person meetings is that they naturally favor outgoing communication styles over reflective styles. For example, extroverts, who think out loud, are more likely to emerge as thought leaders than introverts, who think to themselves before speaking up. Similarly, those who are high on the traits of conscientious and steadiness are more likely to inwardly reflect and process information, and thus can be misperceived as disengaged, uncommitted, ambivalent, lacking creativity, or even dull. These perceptions are often furthest from the truth! A meeting in which people are required to speak out, on their feet, and over others will disadvantage deep thinkers, whereas a meeting that allows people to think first, put thoughts in writing, and be called on to share will empower them. While such adjustments can be made to in-person meetings, such prompts fit more naturally into remote meetings, and remote meetings add a layer of social distance that can make it easier for deep thinkers to do what they do best – think!
Here are a few ways that facilitators of remote meetings can be sure that reserved, deep thinkers have a more equal voice in conversations:
- As always, send out discussion questions in advance; during the meeting, type these questions into the Chat box as an extra prompt, as the conversation unfolds
- Explicitly encourage everyone to use the Chat box to share their ideas and reactions to what others are saying
- Assign an attentive co-facilitator to monitor contributions made via Chat
- Make this person’s role known to everyone, pause frequently to ask this person what they are hearing over Chat, and plan for time to discuss these items
- At key points in the agenda, ask all participants to take a few minutes to review the ideas submitted via Chat
Given that roughly 50% of the population prefer to think quietly and inwardly more so than out loud, remote meetings hold the potential to exponentially diversify the voices that get heard and ideas that get considered. As addressed in my last blog, an extra bit of mindfulness in the way we engage with colleagues may in fact boost existing efforts to build diversity and inclusion.
If you find these tips helpful, please share this article. And if you can’t see yourself doing these things for yourself, we’re here to help – feel free to reach out by contacting us.
[i] Voorn, R.J.J. & Kommers, P.A.M. (2013). Social media and higher education: introversion and collaborative learning from the student’s perspective. Int. J. Social Media and Interactive Learning Environments, 1(1).
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