Don’t Lose Sight of the Benefits of Virtual Staff Meetings
You hear a lot about “Zoom fatigue” these days and the draining effects of being on video meetings for hours a day. As offices in our area consider reopening and ending capacity limitations, some are relishing the novelty of being able to return to holding meetings in person with their teams and staff. “Teams need to be together in person to truly connect” is often cited as a reason for returning to in-person meetings. Do people connect better in person? Sometimes. Do in-person meetings create an inclusive and equitable space? Not for everyone.
In a recent blog post, Erin Volland made the case for why virtual meetings should be a permanent option for association leadership post pandemic. She made a strong argument for virtual meetings offering greater accessibility and opening up the door to a more diverse pool of leadership.
I’d like to extend that argument a bit and say that virtual team meetings also create a more welcoming space for staff with different communication styles and preferences (a plus these days for organizations concerned about staff retention). As we’ve discovered during staff meetings these past 14 months, a virtual format has opened the doors to more engagement, interaction, and participation.
Is that to say virtual meetings are perfect? No, they aren’t, but then again neither are in-person meetings (before “Zoom fatigue,” we grumbled about “meeting fatigue”). But, we’ve seen several benefits with virtual meetings that have been challenging to achieve in person.
Levels the Playing Field for Introverts
The traditional, in-person meeting format can work well for those who gain energy being with a group of people and diving into a collective discussion. For introverts, or those who find it challenging to contribute when there are many voices, in-person meetings can create barriers. Your staff introverts have great insights to offer, yet they might not be as likely to share their ideas unless there is a clear place in the conversation to do so.
Virtual meetings have changed that dynamic. They offer a physical buffer, giving introverts the space they need. And as we’ve become accustomed to going around the virtual meeting room to ensure everyone has the opportunity to share, a welcoming space has naturally been created for our more internally focused colleagues to contribute and shine.
More Efficient and Productive Meetings
As we discovered when our office transitioned to being remote, when you bring people together for a video meeting, you need structure and purpose. Because virtual meetings were new, we spent more time planning them and thinking through the logistics, speaker transitions, and, most importantly, how to engage attendees. As a result, meetings become more focused and efficient. Maybe it was the added step of logging in online or knowing people are trying to balance childcare with work, but making the most of the time you met virtually together took on greater importance than it did with meetings in the office.
More Opportunities to Interact and Engage
The world of online meetings has opened up opportunities to interact and engage in ways that we haven’t experienced in person. Have a question or comment while someone is speaking? Post it in the chat or click on a reaction icon or emoji. Want to quickly take the pulse of how your team is feeling? Initiate a poll and instantly share the results. Depending on your communication style and preference (verbal, nonverbal, emoji), virtual meeting attendees have any number of ways to participate and give real-time feedback. This has led to a notable increase in the number of people who participate and engage during staff meetings. I’ve seen people who don’t share as much during in-person meetings now actively commenting and sharing their ideas in the chat, surely a reason to keep virtual meeting options on the table in the future.
Our way of working is still evolving, much as it has for the last 14 months. But as things shift once again to create more opportunities for in-person meetings, I hope we don’t lose sight of the benefits virtual has offered. There’s no going back to exactly what was and that shouldn’t be the expectation. As we define how we work post pandemic, let’s keep inclusion front of mind and include virtual meeting options.
Katherine Wayne is senior manager of corporate communications at AMC.
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