Up until recently, videoconferences were a relatively novel way to collaborate with co-workers far away or stay in touch with friends and family. The pandemic and improvements in technology changed all that and made virtual meetings as ordinary as smartphone texts. But just because we use them every day, doesn’t mean we’re good at them. With remote working here to stay and more teams spread across countries or regions, knowing how to make the most of our virtual meetings and communicate effectively with people across cultural and geographic barriers is more important than ever.
Here’s how to make long-distance virtual meetings more effective and productive:
1. Research the local culture
If we were planning to visit another country to meet with work colleagues or customers, we would likely research the customs of the local culture beforehand to make our trip more successful. How often do we do the same before a virtual meeting with a colleague from a different culture or one located across the globe? A little information can go a long way to overcoming cultural barriers and making your encounter a success.
2. Be mindful of time differences
Factors that might influence participants’ ability to focus and engage, especially if working from home, like a meeting held outside of ordinary work hours, can have a huge impact on the quality of a virtual meeting. It’s important to keep time zones in mind and find the best time for everyone involved, regardless of where they are located.
3. Avoid technical difficulties
Video makes for more effective virtual meetings. But if poor bandwidth causes glitches, try allowing voice-only. Sometimes simple audio is the best way to have a virtual meeting.
4. Don’t get too casual
Do participants expect formality when interacting professionally? A videoconference might seem informal, but people from some cultures prefer to address each other with titles and last names, especially in larger meetings.
Be aware that communication tones, the way people speak to others and treat subject matter, can also differ based on age and experience with other cultures. This can be a crucial factor to make meetings more inclusive.
5. Be considerate and don’t forget to include everyone
Have mechanisms in place to include all attendees. In cultures that are more direct in their communication, people may be more assertive about participating in a discussion. By contrast, people from high-context cultures—where direct verbal messages take a back seat—may wait for their turn. Make sure everyone is included in the conversation!
If people have small children and are working from home, be conscious of any limitations. Your consideration, or lack of it, says a lot about you and can go a long way toward making your team meetings more productive.
6. Break the ice
When starting a meeting, make a personal connection. Seeing someone on a screen doesn’t allow the same non-verbal communication that can make people feel comfortable and connected so try making up for it by engaging in some small talk. If there are too many people to involve everyone, pick one or two people and try asking about an important (non-controversial) event in a specific region like an important sports win or weather event. Sometimes an icebreaker can be a useful way to get people to loosen up and engage. But be careful not to take too much time away from the meeting agenda to keep the meeting productive.
7. Make sure people can understand
If the call involves non-native speakers of the language used, make sure audio speed and volume are appropriate. Speak slowly, enunciate words well and avoid slang, jargon, or complicated language.
8. Tools that can help increase participation
Participation can be a crucial element of any meeting, virtual or otherwise. If you want as many people as possible to share ideas and opinions in a large, virtual group, try using the breakout options available on services like Teams or Zoom. This allows the meeting to be divided into smaller groups for discussion before returning to the larger group with feedback.
9. Start with a clear agenda
What does a productive meeting look like? It starts with a clear agenda that is sent to everyone so they can prepare in advance. Ask people for input beforehand to optimize time. Set a specific amount of time to be spent on each item during the meeting and stick to it. Above all else, keep in mind that 65% of people surveyed spend time during conference calls doing other work. If you have a hard time coming up with an agenda, you might want to ask yourself if you need a meeting at all. Maybe the issue could be resolved with an email.
At Ria, the diversity of our multi-cultural team is one of our key strengths. We provide money transfer solutions to customers in more than 160 countries. Our team, which is made up of people from more than 80 nations, shares our vision to help create a world in which people are empowered to build the life they dream of. Learn more about opportunities at Ria on our careers page.
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