There are few things more closely associated with the times we live in than the fact that Zoom has become the default way we do, well, everything. It's where we hold team meetings, family reunions, piano lessons, and even virtual school. Millions of people who had never heard of Zoom, and never once participated in a video meeting, now work and live with both as a normal part of their everyday routine.
When you think about it, Zoom meetings are an interesting way to collaborate. I mean, it's pretty incredible that we're able to stay connected despite not being able to be physically in the same place. At the same time, there are unique challenges that come with not being in the same room.
Video meetings are different. They just are. You lose many of the non-verbal cues that would otherwise help you "read the room," when you're all sitting at the same table.
I've spent a lot of time, over the past few weeks, observing my four children, all of whom are participating in virtual school. If you can imagine how much fun it is to try and keep a team of adults engaged in a meeting on Zoom, imagine the same, only with 26 first-graders.
If that thought gives you a headache, I understand, but there's actually an important lesson you can learn from how a teacher keeps an entire class engaged.
Here's why: Most meetings are bad. That's not primarily a function of the fact that they mostly take place virtually right now, it's because meetings often get in the way of actually getting things done. If you ask the people on your team, I suspect most of them (if they're being honest) will tell you that most of their meetings are a waste of time.
One of the biggest problems is that meetings, in many cases, force people to stop what they are doing to get together and talk about what they're supposed to be doing. That was true long before we all had to figure out how to do them online. All of the bad things about meetings are just worse when you make them virtual.
Don't get me wrong, planning is good. It helps us all make sure we're headed in the right direction. But I think there's a natural tendency for managers to overestimate the effectiveness of most of their meetings. I'll explain why, but first, an illustration:
The other day I had to help my first-grade son with an audio problem he was having. The simplest solution was to unplug his headphones, which allowed him to talk to the class, but also meant that I could now hear everything that was happening in class.
Before I go on, let me just say that teachers are saints, and my son's is no exception. Wrangling first-graders is a challenge no matter what room you put them in, virtual or otherwise. As she was attempting to walk them through some sort of lesson, every 20 seconds or so, a student would interrupt.
On Zoom, as you know, when someone unmutes their microphone and says "Mrs. Teacher," it's not only the only thing you can hear, but their video takes over the screen. It's a total disruption. After this happened a few times, I actually had to make my son put his headphones back on--I couldn't listen anymore. But, before he did, I heard the magic words:
"Don't be a speed bump."
The message to the students was pretty clear--let's get through this thing we're doing without interruptions, and I can address any questions later. It was a friendly way of reminding the students to stay engaged, and not keep their fellow students from being able to learn.
I think that's brilliant, and I think it applies to every virtual meeting you have with your team. Hopefully, you aren't suffering from an onslaught of interruptions every time you hold a virtual meeting, but the truth is, your team very well might be.
Virtual meetings, by their very nature, require very little effort to plan. In the non-virtual world, meetings require a little more effort since we all have to be in the same place at the same time. On Zoom, (or Microsoft Teams, or Google Meet, or Webex, or whatever) we can all jump on a meeting at any time we have our laptop and wireless connection. The problem, for your team, it that all of those meetings start to add up and keep them from actually getting anything done.
That doesn't mean you shouldn't have virtual meetings, but it probably means you should have less of them, and they should be short and focused. Your team member's time is easily the most valuable asset you have, and you should be very careful about how you ask them to use it. Otherwise, you might just find yourself being a speed bump.