Constraints of time and travel expenses combine in all business to make face-to-face meetings less frequent and virtual get-togethers more popular.
It is no different in bookkeeping businesses.
You need to speak regularly with your clients and on-line meetings work more conveniently into both of your days. You may find yourself meeting with not only the company owner but the chief executive officer (if it is not one and the same) and the company accountant among others.
How do you ensure that all of these individuals from their different locations communicate effectively during a teleconference or video conference?
There are four strategies you can use to ensure that these on-line sessions are beneficial and effective.
Strategy 1. Emulate the best parts of face-to-face meetings
A good approach is to consider what you can do to employ the normal good practices used to establish productive face-to-face meetings.
Plan a formal agenda and have a defined objective.
Note that virtual meetings cannot turn into all-day or all evening affairs and still be effective. Instead, be conscious that 90 minutes is the scope of the virtual attention span.
Ensure that your meeting facilitator is aware of these structures before the meeting starts and has the skills and experience to keep the program on track. Have an advance discussion on how much interaction and communication among participants will be necessary for the objectives to be fulfilled.
Consider carefully who needs to be at the meeting and how the group dynamics can be managed effectively. Virtual meetings cannot endure the large around-the-table format of a summit, for example. Instead, try to keep participants to a minimum.
Ensure that one person is appointed to take formal minutes of the meeting and to be able to detail assigned tasks and responsibilities following the session, to expedite follow-up. Or, if it makes more sense logistically simply record the meeting.
Send meeting invitations in advance that require responses as to intentions to be present, and have the facilitator follow-up one week and one day before to ensure everyone is on board. Virtual meetings require even more advance facilitating than in-person sessions since no advance planning to travel is needed and they can be forgotten easier. Most of the popular virtual meeting tools, such as Zoom or Go To Meeting will send out the reminders for you automatically.
It is better to have several short meetings of small groups of participants on line than one massive session involving everyone.
Strategy 2: Ensure that you are using the best possible technology
Should you use video conferencing, audio conferencing, instant messaging or web conferencing for your virtual meeting?
Do not make a mandatory choice. Instead, consider the meeting’s objectives again and determine which form of technology would expedite it.
For example, will participants be giving or receiving a presentation? Will they need to see the writing on a smart board? Will they need the technology for quick polling or for recording the meeting? Will they be given detailed instruction on some matter?
Once you have a list of your technological needs, look at the available programs to consider which of them will deliver what you require.
Every day it seems as if new free or inexpensive webs conference vehicle is offered on the Internet, so if you can’t find a program that fits your needs and budget, look again.
Strategy 3: Don’t forget the basic details and distractions
There are two other strategies, one before and one after, that will enhance your virtual meeting.
Beforehand, do as much pre-work as possible to ensure that information that will be discussed at the virtual meeting has been prepared and delivered to participants, and that they have taken the time to review it.
No virtual meeting should start with the release of a new 30-page document that will be discussed at that time. It just won’t work, just as it won’t work at a traditional meeting.
If you want your tech time to be productive, everyone has to start the session at equal stages of preparation and being in the know. This will require building the culture that makes pre-work mandatory for any meeting.
To avoid having to re-schedule meetings because participants are not prepared, or to have to move forward without them, the facilitator must start doing their job prior to the start of the meeting by contacting the participants to ensure they have received and read any materials and that they are ready to participate.
Once the meeting begins, the facilitator should ask each person to identify themselves and either speak about their participation in the project at hand or a little about themselves. Not only is this an ice-breaker, but it gives a chance for participants to build up some recognition of the other participants’ voices.
The facilitator should ask each member to remove distractions and be free to give the agenda their full attention. Especially if the virtual meeting does not have a video component, it is easy for the participant to multi-task. To keep their attention in the meeting, it is a good idea for the facilitator to ask each person in random order a question periodically.
When opinions are being expressed, the facilitator must also find tactful ways to ensure that no one participant dominates the response time. Ensuring full participation of all participants is one of the toughest challenges of the virtual meeting facilitator, and it is only made more difficult if one person wants to dominate.
If you are facilitating, make sure that you use your voice effectively to engage your listeners. Do not speak in a monotone. Rather, change your tone to match the message that you are giving.
Strategy 4: Make use of social networking tools for follow-up actions
Supposing the meeting goes well and everyone is assigned their follow-up actions. Keep thinking virtual and again consider which of the many social networking tools available will best meet your needs.
For example, if you have a team working to create the content for the client’s annual report, you might want to use some great online tools like Google Drive, OneDrive or Dropbox to encourage collaboration by allowing all team members to communicate, edit or update their individual contribution.
If a lot of information sharing is needed, you may want to use a tool like Slack where people can join and share common information to keep moving the project forward.
Regardless of the approach that you select, make sure that the morning after each virtual meeting, the members in attendance all get a note from the facilitator summarizing the key goals, objectives and any individual action items resulting from the meeting.
It should also seek feedback from the participants as to how the meeting went from their perspectives.
In this way you can see what worked and what might need adjusting before the next session.
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