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Virtual Meeting

Page history last edited by Marlyece Blum 10 years, 4 months ago

What is a virtual meeting?


Virtual meetings are interactions that take place at multiple locations.  They are unlike traditional meetings in that they do not occur face-to-face and are dependent on the use of technology.  A meeting can occur synchronously, where all members participate at the same time, or asynchronously, where members attend at different times.  Synchronous virtual meetings are more common and more effective than asynchronous virtual meetings.  A virtual meeting can take place online, via e-mail, using chat tools, videoconferencing technology, telephone conferencing, or in a variety of ways.  The overall goal of a virtual team is to collaborate in the same manner as a traditional team, yet the team must recognize that they will have many obstacles to overcome in making a virtual meeting successful.


Significance of virtual meetings


Many organizations today require an affordable means of uniting people who live in disparate parts of the world.  When members of a team are not close in proximity or their schedules make it difficult for team members to agree on a specific place and time to meet, a virtual meeting may become an option worth considering.  Virtual meetings will never eradicate the need for traditional face-to-face meetings, but they often provide the least expensive means of bringing people together. 


Many people believe that "the ability to involve more people, save travel costs and time, increase flexibility (meet from home, on the road, etc), and make meetings happen that would otherwise be impossible to schedule are the major reasons" that growing businesses choose to meet virtually (Nilssen & Greenberg, 2006).  Virtual meeting participants have the option of connecting with colleagues no matter where they are located or what they are doing.  A virtual meeting can save an organization money and can help unite all the essential people and get them involved. 


Who is using virtual meetings?


Ten years ago virtual meetings were considered a novelty, today they are mainstream and widely used.  "The technology has become scalable and reliable, attributes that when combined with the growth of the Internet, now enable users to connect with virtually anyone, anywhere, anytime" (Nilssen & Greenberg, 2006).  Many smaller businesses have reported a significant increase in the usage of web conferencing, whereas larger companies tend to meet in person.  This could be attributed to the fact that smaller companies are quicker to adapt to change and try new things, whereas larger organizations are more reluctant to do so.  Data shows that web conferencing has become the most popular method for small, growing businesses conducting meetings (Nilssen & Greenberg, 2006).


Wainhouse Research conducted an online survey in 2006 to determine why growing companies use videoconferencing technology to hold meetings.  Almost 3/4 of smaller businesses use web conferencing to include participants who were previously unable to attend meetings, and close to 2/3 use it to conduct meetings that could not be conducted before.  3/4 of people surveyed reported a significant increase in their usage of web conferencing (Nilssen & Greenberg, 2006).


Similarities between virtual and traditional meetings


The basic fundamentals of a meeting are the same in a virtual meeting and in a traditional meeting.  Both types require that the goal or purpose of the meeting be established before the meeting takes place.  Virtual and traditional meetings both involve the sharing of information, the generating of ideas and the sharing of opinions (Pennsylvania State University, 2005).


The primary difference between traditional and virtual management is in the way a manager communicates with team members (All, 2007).  The lack of non-verbal communication requires the PM to change the communication methods used by the team.  Virtual team members can tend to feel withdrawn from the group and might not understand the unique role they play within the team environment.  The PM must maintain in frequent contact with team members, otherwise "the virtual worker loses his or her peripheral vision of what is occurring on the team and within the organization" (All, 2007).


Advantages of Virtual Meetings


Videoconferencing is one of the many tools that enable people to meet virtually despite geographical boundaries.  This tool fosters frequent communication between individuals on opposite ends of the word and helps boost productivity, thus allowing a company to offer a competitive advantage over others (Stofega, 2007). Virtual meetings can reduce costs in traveling and can help minimize the amount of time employees spent in transit to traditional meetings.  They are the best option when no other viable option for meeting is available.


It is much easier for a Project Manager to arrange ad-hoc virtual meetings on demand.  These meetings don't require someone to reserve a conference room, nor do they require that anyone make travel arrangements.  Team members can participate via a simple keystroke on their computer.  In many situations it has been found that participants often feel more comfortable sharing their thoughts and ideas virtually than they do in traditional meetings.  For example, a text chat can be much less intimidating and more direct when discussing certain issues and can reduce the emotional variables that might come into play in a traditional meeting.  In some circumstances a virtual meeting can also improve the quality time that employees have with members of senior management.  Virtual meetings give every team member equal footing and equal opportunity in terms of sharing.  Virtual meetings tend to make team members more productive because when individuals have less face-time they feel the need to prove themselves by working harder (All, 2007).


Challenges of Meeting Virtually


There are many challenges a virtual team must overcome if they want to hold successful and mutually rewarding meetings. It is much more difficult for virtual team members to establish meaningful relationships that are required to achieve certain goals.  There are an infinite number of distractions a virtual team will face, both from internal and external factors.  It is much more difficult for members to remain engaged and actively participating during virtual meetings.  There is also a steep learning curve when learning new technologies required for virtual meetings (Nunamaker, Reinig and Briggs, 2009).


Given that members of a virtual team aren't meeting at the same physical location, more meeting preparation is typically required.  The PM typically assumes the role of preparing team members and providing necessary documentation to them prior to meetings.  The PM is responsible for disseminating the meeting agenda and other relevant information in advance, or can rely on using tools like a chat client or e-mail to send information during a meeting, but should understand this will require more valuable meeting time than it would in a traditional meeting.  If team members receive information mid-meeting, they need time to read the material, process it and offer a response.


When projects require synchronous collaboration, the matter of time can pose a problem.  If a team is comprised of members across the world, a significant time difference may make it difficult to schedule appropriate meeting times.  One or more members might be forced to work outside of his or her normal work hours.  This can create tension amongst team members (Nemiro, Beyerlein, Bradley & Beyerlein, 2008).


Distance is one of the biggest challenges for virtual teams because it limits or removes face-to-face interaction needed for  "building trust, monitoring performance, inspiring team work, maintaining cultural norms and understanding cultural differences" (Nemiro, et al., 2008).  It becomes harder for members to identify with one another virtually.  Members have to make a concerted effort to be disciplined about maintaining in contact and sharing information with one another.  It is more common for virtual team members to feel isolated from others and as a result productivity and team organization may suffer (Nemiro, et al., 2008).


Technology is required to make virtual meetings possible.  This creates a unique set of challenges in that team members must become familiar with the technology being used, prior to the meeting (Nemiro, et al., 2008).  Team members may also opt to use technology that isn't best suited for their needs just because they are more comfortable using it. In addition, the use of technology can cause communication lags when using video or audio conferencing tools.  These technological glitches can make it easy for people to talk over one another without even realizing it and may result in frustration.  This could potentially affect rapport among team members if they feel that they are being interrupted or talked over. 


Cultural differences can impact the way team members interact with one another.  When teams are comprised of members who live across the glove, management styles, ethics and values may differ between members.  Some may tolerate certain behaviors, while others may not (Nemiro, et al., 2008).  These cultural dissimilarities can make it more difficult for members to relate to one another on a personal level, thus it could have a detrimental effect on the overall success of the team.


It is more difficult for virtual teams to establish trust because it requires that each team member have a basic familiarity with other team members (Nemiro, et al., 2008).  Team members will need more time to gain confidence in one another and to establish rapport and trust.   Virtual team leaders have more responsibilities than traditional team leaders because they are obligated to motivate and inspire team members from a remote location.  They have to make sure that quality and performance doesn't suffer as a result of physical distance.  Virtual team leaders serve as mentors and must be empathic (Nemiro, et al., 2008).


The biggest disadvantage to meeting virtually is the lack of access to non-verbal communication.  In the case of videoconferencing, you may be able to see other team members, but you typically do not have the ability to view their body language, unique mannerisms or facial expressions.  It makes it easier for team members to miss or misinterpret nuances in speech, body language and tone. (Pennsylvania State University, 2005).





Comments (1)

Bobby Pulinat said

at 11:37 am on Sep 15, 2010

where does this go

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