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Engaging Remote Workers in Meetings

December 13, 2019

By Anthony Kaylin, courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE 

For remote workers, meeting engagement can be a challenge.  If the meetings are mixed live and virtual, it may be difficult for the remote worker to participate or identify the signs of the atmosphere of the meeting, even if a video feed is used by the entire audience. 

A video feed keeps the remote worker honest in that other work needs to be put to the side in order to participate in the meeting.  Everyone is looking at everyone else.  Yet with a video feed, it may be difficult for a remote worker to appear engaged all the time. Other participants may think they understand facial and body language, but what appears on the screen may not be what reality is.  Never assume someone is not engaged simply by their video feed.

On the other hand, the video feed check can prevent multitasking by participants.  Instead of participating, remote workers may be reviewing emails, doing other projects or assignments, be on the phone with other people, or even be away from the desk figuring no one will miss them.  These same issues present themselves with online training.

Another recommendation is to open the meeting early.  Many times, participants will enter the meeting early and communicate with each other, creating a more personal atmosphere prior to the meeting.  It allows meeting participants to get to know each other or simply ask questions about current or ongoing projects as they catch up with each other.  This small-talk allows more personalization among participants.  Back-to-back meetings need to be scheduled appropriately to allow for this chit-chat.

Further, meeting leaders should identify ways to engage all participants from ensuring speak time to various other icebreakers so the participants will be more relaxed and willing to respond.  Moreover, ground rules should be established, such as no interrupting a speaker, hands up tool, or other ways for the leader to identify order of speakers. A seven second rule for the leader before speaking when asking a question of the participants can also be useful.  It has been found that it takes longer for people to speak up in a virtual setting than a face-to-face one.

Another way to engage the remote worker is to develop protocols and requirements for virtual meetings, whether live feed or simply a call.  This can range from a dress code (do you really take seriously the participants in t-shirt and shorts…) to phone etiquette.  Many of the virtual meeting tools, like in Microsoft Teams, which ASE uses, have a chat function as well. 

One of the other issues in meetings is the mute button.  Although debatable, having people off mute listening keeps them honest and allows participation without additional movement, e.g. turning off mute.  It then allows for more natural conversation flow as opposed to a disjointed discussion.  The flip side is the issue of extraneous noise.  Mute does work to mitigate that noise, though it does leave a question of how engaged the participant is.

Remote workers will be the norm as more employers want to reduce their physical footprint to reduce costs, especially in these days where recession talk is continuous.  Therefore, employers need to prepare now to identify tools, processes, procedures, and policies for remote meetings.

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