I spend a lot of time working with leaders to improve their employee town hall meetings, but the most important advice I can give is this: The most effective sessions occur when the leader goes to a location and meets with employees face to face.
Face to face is how company town halls originated before technology made it possible (at least theoretically) to bring every employee together virtually. (Theoretically, because it's almost impossible to include everyone because of time zones differences and the difficulty of pulling all employees--in call centers, retail, transportation and manufacturing--off their jobs at once.)
Meeting technology has certainly come a long way so today, you can do almost everything in a virtual meeting you can do face to face--from watching dynamic presentations to asking questions to allowing every employee to participate through polling and other tools.
Almost everything, but the face-to-face experience is still way better because:
- When leaders travel to a remote location, it signals to employees that leaders care about these people and this place. Employees know that leaders are busy. So they appreciate the effort required to make the journey and set aside time to meet.
- Humans prefer in-person experiences. Even Millennials, billed as the first completely tech generation, would rather get together in a room than use virtual devices. (The real reason Millennials text each other constantly is to make plans to meet.
- What employees want most from leaders is authentic contact. There are plenty of opportunities for employees to read carefully crafted messages and view edited video interviews. Employees crave the unpackaged experience: Leaders live and unplugged. Virtual is one step removed.
- When everyone is in a room (even a big room), everyone has the same experience at the same time. The hybrid approach many companies use--some employees get together in person, other locations view virtually--is the worst of both worlds. If you're going to have a virtual meeting, make everyone virtual.
- The value is almost never in what leaders present--it's everything else leaders say and do during the session. What matters most: how leaders answer questions. But everything else has significance, too--from what the leader wears to how he/she welcomes employees to how he/she interacts with other leaders. Employees drink it all in.
- The most important reason: When face-to-face town halls go well, they create focus. Increase employees' confidence in leaders. And motivate employees to do their best work.
Yes, you get credit for every time you meet with employees. But if you want to dramatically improve your communication, invest in face to face.