Connected working: thinking together when we’re apart

While most of us are used to working remotely some of the time, we are now plunged into a situation where teams have been scattered into their separate locations and forced to try to find a way to make it work. Can we use this new situation to create better ways of being together, even when we’re physically apart? I think we can.

As a starting point, here is a way of turning meetings from ‘remote working’ to ‘connected working’.

This process will ensure everyone at the virtual meeting has an equal opportunity to contribute, regardless of role, hierarchy or personality type. It eliminates the inadvertent interruption that tends to happen when we’re trying to communicate virtually, and creates space for each person to think and to speak. The result will be better engagement, better decision-making and an opportunity to build trust and safety even when teams members are geographically separated.

Here are 10 ways to radically improve virtual meetings:

1.    Be clear on the purpose of the meeting: Sounds obvious, but having a stated purpose for the meeting, and reiterating it at the beginning of the meeting, is even more important in virtual meetings, where attention can so easily drift to other tasks, than it is face-to-face.

2.    Set clear commitments: Help the group to be present for each other by agreeing your own ground rules, such as no checking of emails or devices while on the call, always turning on the camera, giving full attention to whoever’s speaking, no side messaging etc.

3.    Create a virtual circle: Write the names of everyone who’s on the call on a piece of paper, in a circle, as though they were points on a clock face. Share with the group so everyone has the circle of names in front of them. Use this to take turns to speak.

4.    Use rounds to manage discussion: For each question or topic, ask for a volunteer to begin. Agree which way round the discussion will go (clockwise or anti-clockwise), to ensure everyone gets a turn to speak if they want one.

5.    Agree a ‘no interrupting’ ruleNo interruption means everyone gets to complete their thought, and others have the space to really listen before they get their turn to speak. In return, everyone agrees to be succinct.

6.    Look and listenManage attention by committing to look at and listen to each speaker in turn, just as though they were in the room.

7.    Start with a check-in: Ask each person to say (1) something that’s going well for them and (2) how they are feeling and what’s on their mind today. This is always a good idea, but particularly so at the moment. It allows people to focus on the positive, as well as to let the group know anything that may be worrying or distracting them.

8.    Use questions to generate thinking: Framing discussion items as questions creates more focused thinking. During open discussion, maintain the ‘look and listen’ and ‘no interrupting’ principles.

9.    Use rounds to confirm understanding and agree actions: At the end of each discussion item, do a round to clarify agreement, confirm any outstanding questions and agree actions.

10. End with appreciation: Have a closing round to allow appreciation of each other and the work you’ve done together, or simply to allow each group member to say one thing they’re looking forward to.

Using this process and these principles will focus discussion and deepen empathy – teams simply get more done, in less time, while building trust, even when they’re not co-located.