Blog | March 25, 2020

Practical And Psychological Tips For Virtual Conferencing During COVID-19

Source: Life Science Leader
Rob Wright author page

By Rob Wright, Chief Editor, Life Science Leader
Follow Me On Twitter @RfwrightLSL

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When I wrote, “Working From Home While Living In A Coronavirus World,” I wasn’t yet working from home full-time, but I am now — and it’s not business as usual. If you were used to working at home in a serene and quiet environment, you now may be interrupted with the noise of your new stir-crazy office mates (e.g., kids, spouses, or in-laws).  And if you’re used to a more "traditional" work environment, suddenly working from home all the time and participating in virtual meetings can be unsettling. As such, executives need to maintain connection and engagement with their teams despite the current approach of social distancing to “flatten the curve.” Life does go on, and for those of us fortunate enough to have positions where we can work from home (and get paid), we need to find ways to try to be as productive as we were pre-coronavirus.

Last week, I received an email with some additional suggestions on working from home. Steve Van Zuylen is the managing director and head of global markets at YSC Consulting, an independent provider of leadership strategy services. Van Zuylen recently had to reschedule what was intended to be a two-day off-site meeting with colleagues from around the globe as a virtual meeting. Based on this experience, he outlined some practical and psychological tips for connecting virtually and maintaining engagement with employees, which I thought you might find useful.

Practical Tips

  • Use your camera: Video conference (VC) beats phone, all day, every day! It is always better to see each other. At a basic level it encourages focus and presence, it enables connection and facilitates effective verbal and nonverbal communication, most obviously through tapping into facial expression.
  • Get to know your tech: Whatever VC or platforms you use, really draw on its functionality. Most have breakout room features, screen-sharing, polls, whiteboards, voting buttons, and “raise hands” options.
  • Be mindful of time zones: Be respectful of your colleagues in different territories. Spread the ”burden” of early mornings and late evenings. Encourage colleagues to buddy-up to cover and share with each other if time zone differences are too extreme.
  • Be prepared and stay disciplined: Maximize prereading to ensure time spent together in virtual meetings is as useful as possible. Stay on time, have clarity on purpose and outcomes. And remember, over-running carries the risk of unwanted participants inadvertently joining your virtual meeting. Finally, share the load, ensuring a range of colleagues take ownership for various segments of your session.

Psychological Tips

  • Principles: Agree to clear ground rules, be razor-sharp and transparent on owners. Doing so will maximize psychological safety and minimize annoyance at any perceived ”wasted time.” A period of working in this way may even enhance your normal meeting disciplines. Alongside this, make it fun. Use periodic energizers to lift the mood and build connection and don’t skip the small talk. Time and focus on relational connection becomes more (not less) important when we are not able to be together physically.
  • Celebrate ”embarrassment”: Colleagues may have worry provoked at the prospect of joining extended sessions via VC. They may not have a suitable space at home, or young children and pets may make a guest appearance. Rather than allowing this to create awkwardness, create safety around this, enjoy it and use it as an opportunity to get to know each other more deeply. You can create a sense of connection by asking people to orient you to where they are and tell you something about their home working environment. This can be especially useful in global meetings so you know what time of day it is for people.
  • Manage energy: Work in short, sharp bursts or “sprints” (maximum 90 mins), with plenty of breaks – both virtual, where colleagues can connect and network, and offline, where colleagues can have downtime or check emails.
  • Create dialogue and minimize group-think: You may need to work harder to surface and explore perspectives. Watch out for closed questions (such as “Does this make sense?”) and instead prioritize truly dialogue-creating open-ended questions (such as, ”What does this make you think/feel?”). Doing so will help to ensure colleagues feel cared for. Equally, as part of this, ensure all voices are heard. The risk of group-think can be pronounced when working via VC. Really challenge yourselves to tap into all perspectives before converging on action.

Please feel free to share any suggestion you have on conducting a virtual conference or working from home during this COVID-19 crisis in the comments section, and thanks for reading.