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Tips for better virtual meetings

Categories: tips, virtual teams

I was at the PMI Global Congress EMEA in Dublin last this week and I attended a presentation by Dr Penny Pullan about making the best of virtual meetings. In my last article I wrote about why we have so many virtual meetings – some people attending the presentation were spending over 20 hours  per week in virtual meetings – and also the frustrations project team members have when they are participating in virtual meetings.

If virtual meetings are so bad, but we have to do them for cost and other reasons, what can we do t make them better?

“If you put in a little bit of really focused preparation you can improve them,” Penny said. Here are some tips from her presentation to improve your virtual project meetings.

What time is it?

Don’t make project team members in India stay up late for a conference call with the USA contingent unless you really have to. If you do have to, find a way to minimise the impact – do it as early in the day for the USA people as possible. Use this meeting time calculator to find the most convenient time.

Is the technology available?

Penny spoke about working in West Africa when the only technology available to her project team was the phone network. Don’t organise virtual meetings when some participants won’t have the ability to participate because the technical infrastructure isn’t available or reliable.

Can the participants use the technology?

Even in places where the technology is available and reliable, you may have some project team members who are uncomfortable using it. If they don’t know how the web conferencing software works, they will slow down the meeting for everyone else and the project team members who are technically literate will lose interest. Ask a tech-savvy person to sit with anyone who is not comfortable using the computer or the video conferencing suite. It doesn’t have to be a project team member: their PA or a desktop engineer from IT would also be able to ‘drive’ it for them until they are used to it.

What would it cost to fail?

If the meeting is to discuss something critical, what would the impact be if the meeting is not a success? If you are trying to recover a failing project, or discussing bug fixes that will stop the next software release, or gaining agreement on anything that has the ability to have a significant impact on your project, stop and think about whether a virtual meeting is the right way to go. If the cost of failure is more than the cost of travel, bring everyone together and have the meeting face-to-face.

Can you split it?

“You can do short things quickly virtually,” Penny said. But if you have lots to do and meetings that will go on for a while, it is better to meet face-to-face. She recommended an hour and a half as the longest time to spend on a virtual meeting. If you need to meet for longer than that, factor in some breaks. Give people the chance to put down the phone and stretch their legs. It takes a lot of effort to focus in a virtual meeting, and long stretches will impact the productivity and energy levels of the project team.

What else do you do to manage the impact of virtual meetings?

Posted on: May 18, 2011 04:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Nice to (virtually) meet you

Categories: tips, virtual teams

I was at the PMI Global Congress EMEA in Dublin earlier this week and I attended a presentation by Dr Penny Pullan (@pennypullan on Twitter) about making the best of virtual meetings.

Meeting virtually means conference calls, webinars, video calls, and any type of discussion where you are not in the same room as the person or people you are talking to.

Travelling to meet someone face-to-face normally incurs a cost. In several of my previous companies we have had multiple buildings in the same town and the ability to walk between them – but even that takes time. And time is money.

A few years ago, there perhaps wasn’t the driver to cut down on travel, but now there are many reasons why project teams would choose to meet virtually.

Penny listed some drivers for virtual meetings from her research:

  • Off-shoring: working with India, China or cross-continent
  • Outsourcing
  • Saving time
  • Cuts in travel and expense budgets
  • Flexible working policies and legislation that have meant more people have the choice to work from home
  • General cost reduction across the board
  • Natural disaster e.g. the ash cloud which stopped many people travelling in Europe last year, and had a major impact on attendees to the London Book Fair (including to my publisher)
  • Technology improvements mean that it is possible now at quality that is good enough
  • Companies making collaborative products like webinar or project management tools who have to be seen using their own products
  • The desire for hiring managers to recruit people with the best skills, not necessarily those who live locally to the office
  • Organisations run with volunteer staff finding it necessary to fit meetings around the availability of the people involved

She summarised that more people are working virtually for a number of different reasons. So why do we all still fall asleep on conference calls?

Penny went on to describe the frustrations that project teams had raised with her when asked to attend a virtual meeting. They said:

  • There is no clear purpose or agenda for the meeting.
  • There are no breaks: we meet for over an hour without stopping.
  • The project team members from the USA are alert because it’s morning for them but in Europe we’ve already worked a full day: the energy states of the people on the call are not matched.
  • When I ask a question no one answers.
  • We always start late because someone has forgotten the code or got the wrong code or the technology isn’t working.
  • I can’t hear because there is too much background noise.
  • Nothing happens afterwards: we never follow up on any actions.
  • There are too many people on the call.
  • I get distracted by emails or other project work.
  • I don’t know why I’m there.
  • Our project conference calls are boring.
  • There is no level playing field: I’m on the phone while everyone else is meeting face-to-face.
  • Humour backfires without the context.
  • People never ‘get’ it: there are lots of misunderstandings.
  • There is nothing to look at.
  • I can’t get a word in.

With all those issues plaguing project conference calls and virtual meetings, it is a wonder that we get anything done on the phone or via video conference at all. Penny had some suggestions for how to improve virtual project meetings, and I’ll talk about them next time. In the meantime, what other reasons for conference calls or frustrations with virtual meetings do you have to add to these lists?

Posted on: May 14, 2011 05:39 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Save money: work virtually!

Woman on phoneDo you need to work effectively when you're not face to face?  Project teams are often made up of people who don’t work in the same office.  Travelling around for meetings is expensive, so project managers can cut costs by working virtually – for example, using conference calls and online meeting tools to make the most of virtual meetings.

You can learn how to do this better (and save your project budget) by joining The Virtual Working Summit, which runs from 28 June through to 9 July 2010.  

Managing a virtual team is a key challenge for many project managers these days so I'm delighted to join a group of experts in the first ever Virtual Working Summit. It consists of short, practical interviews over ten days this summer and is hosted by Dr Penny Pullan. You can join wherever you are, by phone or web.

Here are some of the topics that the Summit will cover:
•    Building Trust Remotely
•    Navigating Across Cross-Cultural Tripwires
•    Tools for Successful Virtual Working
•    Communication on global projects
•    Sustainability and Virtual Working
•    Negotiating Internationally
•    Social Media and Virtual Teams (this one is my presentation)
•    Conference Calls Made Easy

The Summit is free, and the first of its kind.  It will give you access to leading thinkers and practical tips to make you even more effective at working virtually – which has to be useful for project and program managers looking to be more efficient.

You can register online any time from now.  If you can’t make it to any or all of the presentations, Penny is recording the proceedings and they’ll be available to buy on CD, so you can listen to what you missed at your leisure.

Posted on: June 12, 2010 04:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

I've never heard of a relationship being affected by punctuation.

- Jerry Seinfeld