Ever had this experience as a virtual member of a face-to-face team meeting? You dial into a conference phone. You can’t hear what people are saying. You can’t see the documents, slides, or whiteboards people are referencing, and there is no easy way for you to get the group’s attention to ask a question or clarify a point.
As a virtual team member, unequal access to information and a feeling of being left out can erode your trust and lower your emotional commitment—two critical factors for overall team success.
Yet when you are a dial-in participant, pushing for inclusion without sounding like a whiner usually isn’t worth the effort. As a result, unless they are called on to participate, many virtual team members give up and simply listen to the meeting while they read and answer their email.
Don’t let this happen to the virtual members of your team. Here are three ways to keep your virtual teammates engaged:
- Go completely virtual. Meetings where everyone is virtual will force better habits such as “around the room” input and sending reports in advance so everyone has access. Make sure each meeting agenda deliberately includes time for everyone to participate in the lively chat necessary for this social team approach.
- Use a buddy system. If you must have some in the room and some out, assign every virtual team member a “buddy” in the room. Set up additional communication modes such as instant messaging or chatting between buddies. This way, the virtual team member can ask questions without disturbing the whole group and each person calling in has an advocate who can send last-minute documents, describe what is happening, or intervene when necessary for clarification.
- Consider creating a cardboard Carl/Caroline. One creative team leader I worked with created large, cardboard-backed photos of each virtual team member. The visibility of a cardboard Carl or Caroline in each meeting provided great humor and increased engagement. “Caroline looks like she has a question.” “Let’s ask Carl what he thinks!” These are fun and natural ways to ensure all team members stay visibly engaged and emotionally committed to the team. Other teams use an empty chair with a name, or a name tent—but there is something about a photo that adds life to the meeting. Be aware, though, that your virtual team member may ask for a cardboard photo of you and the rest of the team—that’s a good thing!
We all have attended deadly team meetings, and most of us probably have neglected a virtual team member, inadvertently, at least once. Keep your virtual team members engaged. Try one or more of these strategies and bring life and energy to your next virtual engagement!
About the author
Carmela Sperlazza Southers is a senior consulting partner with The Ken Blanchard Companies. Her posts on increasing organizational, team, and leader effectiveness in the virtual work world appear on the fourth Monday of every month.