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How to make the transition from face-to-face to virtual meetings: Business Development and Marketing Subcommittee guide, June 2021
Madelon van Breemen
LVH Advocaten, Rotterdam
Particularly in the legal profession, having face-to-face meetings are essential to build up and maintain a relationship with clients, members of staff and other persons important to your practice. For most of us this has changed drastically overnight when working from home became the norm. We needed to adapt the way we work and find a substitute for all the elements that are we are used to in face-to-face meetings and find alternatives in virtual meetings.
This guide will first identify what has changed and how it has changed and second, will give you some tips and tricks going forward, as I suspect virtual meetings are here to stay.
What has changed?
Human beings communicate verbally and also non-verbally. The most important change is the loss of non-verbal communications before, during and after face-to-face meetings. This represents a large part of how we communicate with others. The good news is that we are versatile human beings and we adapt quickly to new situations.
Our brain needs to make the shift from replacing non-verbal communication in virtual meetings. The communication in virtual meetings is conscious communication, whereas face-to-face communication is mostly subconscious. This is very tiring for the brain as it is now doing both and our brain needs to make this transition.
Other aspects that we all need to find alternatives for are, for example, the coffee moment before or after face-to-face meetings, physical movement during the meeting (this activates the creative part in our brain), the shift from work office to home office and compartmentalising this. The energy in both environments are different, as well as the tasks. There are also external factors that we cannot always control, such as failing technology or private (and sometimes unwanted) issues seeping onto the screen.
Below I will set out some practical steps that can be taken in order to make the switch from face-to-face to virtual a lot easier.
How can we make the transition and survive and thrive in a virtual environment?
- Define the communication rules and rituals, such as live screen; removing self-view; raising questions by Q&A or the ‘hands up’ feature; pausing five seconds before speaking; always appointing a moderator; sending out a clear agenda beforehand setting out what the purpose of the meeting is, the results needed and which issues need to be addressed in order to get there and limiting the time to 45–60 minutes.
- Create an informal connection at the start of the meeting for about five minutes and try to create an informal setting, such as asking each participant what made them happy that day, to say how they are feeling in a couple of words, allowing some personal details into the virtual meeting such as showing the actual background. This makes the persons involved in the virtual meeting feel comfortable, and is a good replacement for the pre-meeting communication that we are so used to.
- Always appoint a moderator who can make sure that each participant has the opportunity to have an opinion. The main reason is that the person leading the meeting can no longer sense the needs of others so this needs to be structured in order to ensure that each participant feels comfortable enough to speak and apply the same hierarchy and/or formality as you would in the office, if any. If your office communicates informally then keep it that way in the meeting.
- Create a safe environment for all by communicating clearly, avoid misinterpretation by clarifying what you think was said by a person. Virtual meetings, just like emails, can be easily misinterpreted and repeating the message you received is a good way of avoiding misinterpretation. Practice what you preach and create moments for informal social connections.
Virtual meetings are here to stay and by following the above-mentioned suggestions, you will find that virtual meetings can partly replace some of the subconscious communication that we are so used to with new skills and rituals. Once this switch is made and a new routine is established, it will enable you to survive and thrive in a similar way as before. Good luck!