Seven social principles for online meetings

Date 6 Apr, 2020

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Physical distancing does not (need to) mean social distancing – but how do you manage your online connections in an effective and meaningful way? At DRIFT, we have been experimenting with online meetings. Over the coming weeks we will share some insights on different topics in different ways. In this illustrated summary, Flor Avelino and Maria Fraaije synthesise and visualize 7 social principles for online team meetings.

Physical distance does not (have to) mean social distance. But having online meetings in a meaningful way does require different ways of doing, thinking and organising. Why are some still treating online meetings like a 19th century conference call? In a recent blog on the art of connecting online, we argued that unlocking the potential benefits of online meetings is currently more a matter of social innovation than technological innovation. In this illustrated summary, Flor Avelino and Maria Fraaije synthesise and visualize 7 social principles for having online team meetings.

None of these principles are entirely novel or surprising. Indeed, social innovation is never only about discovering novelty – it is also about remembering and re-using forgotten, lost or abandoned ways of doing, thinking and organizing. Having online meetings as frequently and as extensive as we currently do during the Covid-19 pandemic is a novel situation for many of us. Making these meetings meaningful (and bearable) requires us to recollect and uphold some basic principles of human connection. Principles that most of us know, but still many seem to forget when entering the online zone. This illustrated summary might help us remember.

1.  Be fully present.

If possible, turn on your video. Never underestimate the power of non-verbal communication. It might be tempting to keep your pajamas on, turn off your video, pick your nose and check emails while attending an online team meeting. Don’t. This is one of the things that makes online meetings exhausting and cumbersome for everyone involved.

2.  Treat it like a face to face meeting.

Make sure there is an agenda, a clear purpose, clarity on roles and facilitation style, and – if longer than 1/ 1,5 hours – a short break. Don’t assume online is quicker than offline – it might be quite the opposite. Strive to arrive a few minutes before the meeting starts and take responsibility for your own physical and mental needs: ask for a break if you need one!

3. Check-in and check-out.

Start with a ‘check-in’ round for all to arrive and connect. This can be very quick, like everybody just says where they are located and how the weather is. It makes a huge difference for the atmosphere and it often saves time: when people feel connected and heard from the start, they feel more at ease and less of a need to over-explain themselves. Try to have a check-out round as well, possibly everybody just saying 1 word.

4. Share responsibilities.

If you are organising an online meeting, make sure to share roles and responsibilities with others for chairing, presenting, facilitating, note-taking and time-keeping.

5. Share your screen/slides/notes.

If you refer to slides, tables, visuals or documents, make sure all participants can see these. Take notes in a live document where all can follow what kind of notes are being taken, possibly enabling people to add.

6. Be flexible and trust human creativity.

Online meetings usually involve unexpected glitches, ICT-related or otherwise. Go with the flow and make do with what you have. If you or somebody else gets frozen or cut off, trust that you/(s)he will be reconnected later one, if not during the meeting, then afterwards via the notes/email/a next meeting.

7. Go offline.

Choose your online moments carefully. Being in too many online meetings is an exhaustive joy kill for anyone. Not all meetings that cannot happen face to face (due to Corona or otherwise) need to become online meetings. Some of them may become emails, documents, postponed, or simply cancelled.

Beyond the principles

Of course, there might be reasons why you cannot always follow these principles, e.g. because you are in transit or have your children or other housemates running around your working space. If this is the case, and you still want to join part of the meeting, just communicate this to the organizer and check whether it is ok to listen to (a part of) the session while taking a more spectating backseat position.

And do you want to read more about the 7 principles and their background? You can read the complete blog here.

Flor Avelino, Maria Fraaije