High-Impact Executives Must Master the Art of the Virtual Meeting

August 06, 2020

Many C-suite executives have been forced to adopt video calls as a replacement for face-to-face interaction. Those who treat this development as merely a temporary annoyance risk becoming a casualty of the remote work revolution. Leaders invested in creating high-performance cultures must understand how poor video meeting execution can breed misalignment. In this Q&A, Lindsay Guzowski, Partner at Falcon, discusses best practices for leading through video.

What are the biggest adjustments leaders face in the move to virtual meetings?

The number one rule for working with your team via video is to avoid anything you wouldn’t do in a face-to-face meeting.

If you were all together, you wouldn’t be looking at Twitter or typing out an email while someone else is talking. Technology has gotten us so accustomed to multitasking that it’s very easy to fall into those same habits during a video meeting. That behavior sends a message that’s destructive to team culture, and it’s painfully obvious when it happens.

Preparation for video meetings may have been less extensive at the start of Covid-19 because people assumed they were just a short-term solution. Today, if you’re not at a level where you and your team are entering these meetings just as prepared as you would be in the office, you’ve fallen way behind.

You may need to even overcommunicate between formal meetings because it’s now more difficult for people to gain that ‘water cooler’ knowledge of what’s happening and how things are going between scheduled touchpoints. These encounters are not just for small talk – that quick communication can actually be very important to continued alignment.

In a physical environment, leaders can scan a room and gauge non-verbal cues. How does that translate to video?

If you have more than three people on your video meeting, you should really be using that Brady Bunch-style view where you can see everybody at once. In Zoom, it’s called Gallery view.

Many people just stick with the view that only shows themselves and two or three other people. In a larger meeting, that view will cause you to miss the reactions of the group. You need to be able to figure out, ‘Okay, Mary looks like she totally gets this.’ Or, ‘James looks a little confused.’ That non-verbal feedback can be extremely valuable.

Another thing a lot of people will do is stare at themselves the entire time. That’s truly useless. I know it can be difficult not to focus on yourself, but a lot of these technologies have options to block the view of yourself so you can focus on everyone else.

It’s also important to provide breathing room so people have time to digest and react to something in both verbal and non-verbal ways. Presenters or speakers can feel the need to move very fast in video meetings, and many folks are afraid to interrupt. Leaders should be cognizant of that. Rather than just plow ahead, build in pauses to allow your team to think and provide them a chance to come off mute and say something.

Those additional touchpoints outside formal meetings – the coffee breaks or stopping by someone’s desk – can those truly be replaced?

There needs to be a proactive effort to overcommunicate.

After any external or client-facing meeting, hop on a video call with your team immediately afterwards to discuss how it went. Don’t lose those crucial touchpoints that occur organically inside an office just because you’ve gone remote.

Technologies like Slack are great for checking in with people and have what I’ll call ‘drop-by’ conversations. I’d recommend something like Slack or even texting, if your team likes to text. Those methods feel a little less formal and more akin to those water cooler conversations. An email still feels very formal to many people.

Tone can be more difficult to judge in written communication. How can leaders ensure messages meant to be a little more casual come across as such?

Many people may need to start using more exclamation points and, potentially, emojis.

It sounds odd, but part of the reason those drive-by conversations are effective in an office is because they’re done in a collegial, casual way. You’re building rapport as you exchange information. Exclamation points and emojis can be important in translating that tone to written communication.

In writing, straightforward messages can unintentionally come across as somewhat hostile or aggressive. You don’t want people to take it the wrong way. If your message gets misinterpreted, that can cause undue stress, and that stress can linger for longer in a remote work environment where the opportunities to gauge someone’s attitude or demeanor are fewer compared to being in an office.

The assumption is younger employees will always be better with these newer technologies. Is that misguided?

You have a generation of professionals who may have never video-chatted before and the first time they’re doing it on a consistent basis is in this professional context.

Then you have a group of people, more Gen Xers, who tend to have a bit more experience with technology, but they certainly didn’t grow up using it.

Then there are millennials who have more or less grown up with iPhones and who are accustomed to using these technologies in a very social way. While they may be comfortable with the functionality, they may not be as comfortable using these technologies in the professional context.

So, I don’t think it’s as simple as the younger a person is, the more effective they are with these remote work technologies.

Frankly, it’s the Gen Xers who may be most comfortable in this environment. They know technology well enough to quickly master most functionalities, they’re more accustomed to using tech in the workplace, and they don’t have the baggage many millennials do where they’re being asked to use something inside the workplace that was previously very social for them.

Falcon provides C-suite talent solutions for middle market private equity firms across North America. Follow us on LinkedIn.