By Paola Pascual on Mar 28, 2023 1:59:20 PM
Virtual meetings have become an essential part of our professional lives. While they serve as a convenient way to connect and collaborate with colleagues across geographical boundaries, virtual meetings can also be challenging to conduct efficiently and engagingly.
With different time zones, languages, cultures, and communication styles in play, it's easy for virtual meetings to lose their effectiveness or fail altogether. That said, there are ways to ensure that your multicultural team's virtual gatherings remain productive and enjoyable.
We talked to Felix Zeltner, an award-winning journalist and author. He is the founder and CEO of Remote Daily, a thriving boutique agency specialized in workplace programming. The Remote Daily team helps people leaders all around the world to build community inside their organizations, embracing the hybrid era. From all-hands to bespoke series to peer-to-peer groups, Remote Daily focuses on year-round live experiences that solve the biggest workplace problems. You can join Felix and his team live every Friday when they host their Remote Daily live show with pioneers around the future of work, including live music and mindfulness.
In this Talaera Talks episode, Felix shares lots of practical advice on how to conduct effective virtual meetings with multicultural teams. Make a copy of this checklist (Google Doc) and earn how to lead better discussions and build stronger connections with your teams.
How are virtual meetings different from in-person meetings?
With the shift from in-person to remote work, virtual meetings have become the norm in many organizations.
One of the main differences between in-person and virtual meetings is that virtual meetings require more preparation. “In the virtual world, you can't wing it – you have to show up and be prepared”, says Felix. When you’re in the same room it’s easier to improvise, grab a coffee together, and make it a meaningful experience. That doesn’t always happen remotely.
The COVID-19 pandemic also took a toll on the motivation of millions of employees across the globe. Their sense of belonging and meaning somehow faded away. “A lot of teams and companies fell apart in the pandemic because people started feeling no sense of belonging anymore. They were just in endless meetings. There were knowledge workers who were working a lot more and working more efficiently, but they didn't know who they worked for anymore.”
Today’s hybrid workplace requires a different approach. Organizations need to add more meaning behind every meeting and any moment their teams spend together. The more prepared team meetings are, the more likely they are to be successful. We need to figure out a way to create psychological safety that empowers participants to speak up and add value.
3 reasons why virtual meetings suck
While virtual meetings can offer a range of benefits, including convenience and flexibility, they are often met with frustration, boredom, and disengagement. Zeltner shares three main reasons why virtual meetings may fall short.
1. The purpose is not clear
“The biggest problem is that a lot of the meetings that happen in a workplace suck because they are rituals that were put into place at some point in time, somebody felt the urge to do it, and then they just stayed there. And nobody questioned them. And they're just happening because they always happened.”
Walking into a meeting with no clear purpose is discouraging. Stop for a moment and think - do I have any meetings that keep taking place just because they were once scheduled and no one ever questioned them? If you have the chance to ask your team the simple question, "Tell me why I need to be here”, you will most likely be able to reduce the number of your meetings on any given day.
2. Virtual meetings aren’t optimized for an online environment
Effective virtual meetings are very different from effective in-person meetings. “You cannot replace something from the physical and just copy and paste it. It does not work.”
We need to figure out what is transferrable and what is not. What are the parts of nonverbal communication that we are missing online and how can we make up for them? How can we leverage the tech functionalities in a virtual environment? And what happens when that same technology doesn’t work properly for some reason?
Ignoring all these questions can only result in ineffective virtual experiences.
3. People don’t like meetings
“When you look at surveys of meetings, everybody hates them. Meetings are one of the few things in the workplace that are so ominously disliked”. Meetings are unpopular because they can feel time-consuming, unproductive, and distracting – a work experience that rarely seems to add any value.
These low expectations about meetings put us in a difficult mindset. We can’t bring our best selves to these encounters if we don’t think they will be worthwhile. But it doesn’t have to be. We can turn meetings into enjoyable, meaningful experiences. They can become a moment where everyone can voice their opinion. They can become opportunities to learn, connect, bond, and create meaning. If only we knew how to run successful meetings.
3 tips to run more successful virtual meetings
Felix Zeltner knows how to run engaging meetings. His mission with Remote Daily is to help teams, companies, and communities navigate this new hybrid world and create meaningful connections both virtually and in person. He shared his top 3 tips on how you can run more successful virtual meetings.
1. Ask why
Before scheduling a meeting, ask yourself, “Why are we having this meeting?” Take a moment to really dig into this question. Is there important information that needs to be shared? Is there an important question to be discussed? Is there alignment needed for an upcoming project? If there isn’t a good reason, don’t schedule it.
Whatever the reason, it needs to be aligned with the meeting itself. Optimize your meeting so that your “WHY” is achieved.
2. Plan and prepare
Felix recommends a method he learned from best-selling author Rick Brinkman: look at your meeting as if it were a flight. You need to prepare well. You need to know your take-off and landing (here are further tips on how to close your meeting), and you need to know where you’re going in between. Ideally, you have a pilot and a co-pilot, a flight recorder (a person or A.I. that protocols everything being said), and, of course, the passengers.
When you think of it in terms of this metaphor, you realize that you cannot improvise. You need to be prepared and all the tools and people need to be ready.
3. Listen to all your teammates
A top-down approach that dictates how it should all be done in the workplace will likely create friction. Talk to all your teammates and try to figure out what is best for each of them. That information should then inform leadership about what is best for the organization.
In this episode, Felix shares how a company managed to have one on ones with each employee within a year. They did this through an elaborate system and managers and submanagers. It helped them figure out their team’s needs at an individual level. It may take up a considerable amount of resources, but, in our guest’s words, “we're at a stage where that is actually what you need.”
Note: If you’re thinking, "I'm too busy to apply all these tips", Felix Zeltner has some great thoughts that will help you. Jump to 24:30 to hear his advice.
How to overcome language barriers in a virtual meeting
Overcoming language barriers in virtual meetings requires intentional efforts to ensure that all participants can communicate effectively.
If you are a non-native English speaker and you have an accent, don’t hide it. We all have an accent and that’s part of what makes us unique. Felix was born in Germany, and he moved to New York around 10 years ago. To be more accepting of our accent, Felix urges us to realize that we are contributing to the culture, not taking anything away from it:
“I think it's a journey of growing more into the fact that you're not a native speaker. In the beginning, I always wanted to hide my German [accent] but everybody heard it. I don’t try to hide it anymore. Because a lot of people have told me, ‘it's cool that you have an accent, it's nice to hear that you have another culture in you. And you enrich whatever is happening here. You're not taking away from it’. And I think that was a really important learning for me. But it took a lot of time to not be self-conscious about it.”
If non-native English speakers participate in your virtual meetings, here are some tips for overcoming language barriers:
- Use simple language. Participants should avoid using complex vocabulary or jargon that may not be understood by everyone. Using simple, clear language can help ensure that everyone can understand and take part in the conversation.
- Provide materials in advance. Providing meeting materials in advance, such as an agenda or presentation slides, can help participants prepare and familiarize themselves with the topic. This can help ensure that everyone has a baseline understanding of the discussion.
- Use software that offers real-time captions. Captions can help bridge language barriers by offering the transcription of the discussion in real-time. This can be especially helpful for participants who may not be fluent in the language of the meeting.
- Accommodate different communication styles. Not all cultures feel comfortable with group brainstorming or heated debates. Effective cross-cultural communication is about increasing your cultural intelligence, understanding how different cultures communicate, and making it easy for everyone to participate.
- Use visual aids. Visual aids, such as charts or diagrams, can help illustrate complex concepts and make them easier to understand. This can be especially helpful for participants who may struggle with language comprehension.
- Encourage questions. Participants should feel comfortable asking questions if they do not understand something. Encouraging questions can help ensure that everyone is on the same page and can participate in the conversation.
- Consider language training for your international participants. Language training can be a helpful way to help them improve their language skills and better prepare them for participating in virtual meetings. Providing language training can also demonstrate a commitment to inclusivity and help to create a more supportive and welcoming work environment.
Overall, overcoming language barriers in virtual meetings requires proactive efforts to ensure that all participants can communicate effectively. By taking these steps, meetings can be more inclusive and productive for all participants.
Running more successful meetings takes time. But imagine what they’ll cost if you don’t get them right. Make a copy of this checklist (Google Doc) and start running more effective meetings.
"It’s crazy when you think about how many people are unhappy at work. Do you really want to just roll with that, and eventually maybe lose your best talent? Or do you want to do something for them and put up a little bit of work and maybe a little bit of an investment and help them have better experiences at work? I think the answer is pretty easy."
For more information about Talaera's business English training, book a free consultation or join one of our free communication webinars.
Learn more about Felix Zeltner
Felix Zeltner is an award-winning journalist and author. He is the founder and CEO of Remote Daily, a thriving boutique agency specialized in workplace programming. The Remote Daily team helps people leaders all around the world to build community inside their organizations, embracing the hybrid era. From all-hands to bespoke series to peer-to-peer groups, Remote Daily focuses on year-round live experiences that solve the biggest workplace problems. You can join Felix and his team live every Friday when they host pioneers around the future of work, live music and mindfulness included.
Prior to Remote Daily, Felix co-founded Work Awesome, the first transatlantic conference on the future of work, and worked as a reporter all around the globe.
He was born and raised in Nuremberg and attended the German Journalism School in Munich. He lives in New York City with his family. You can find him on LinkedIn.
If you are looking for a job right now, join Felix and his team on March 30, 2023, for the Remote Daily Job Hour – a new kind of virtual show and networking event with guest speakers, live music, mindfulness, and breakout rooms. You can discuss with economists, CHROs, and leaders who were recently laid off to understand the economy, the do’s and don’ts of job applications and get tons of resources. The event is donation-based and we recommend signing up here now: So Where Are The Jobs Now? (And How Do You Get One?)
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