By Ariana Friedlander
It's hard to believe that we are approaching the year anniversary since the pandemic turned the way we live and work upside down. Even with the vaccine rolling out, remote work and video conferencing continue to be incredibly prevalent. In fact, some leaders anticipate that managing remote teams will be a new norm even after the pandemic ends.
With that in mind, it's important to continue making an effort to have quality, fun and engaging virtual meetings. This is especially true if you're feeling Zoom fatigue.
I get it. I, too, miss gathering with people for events and running into colleagues at coffee shops. To act like video conferencing is the same as running an in-person meeting (or wedding) is a disservice.
Both in-person and virtual gatherings have their pros and cons. It's important for leaders to acknowledge the mixed bag of feelings. That way people can process and move on rather than sweeping the malaise under the rug, which only causes the negative feelings to fester.
Before you jump into using these 5 things when energy wanes in a virtual meeting, you might want to determine if there's a pervasive attitude problem. If people are just checked out of virtual meetings, deal with that first. You might find that such a conversation builds camaraderie as whenever we experience suffering we tend to think we're alone.
Even after you've addressed such underlying issues, it is likely you'll experience times when there's a lack of engagement or other signs that energy is waning. Here are five things you can experiment with doing to re-energize and re-engage your team.
1. Celebrate an accomplishment -- As a society, we tend to discount accomplishments, in order to push onto the next big mountain that needs to be climbed. And right now, there's no shortage of challenges to overcome. Celebrating accomplishments is a great way to revive a group. This tactic works in big or small ways. Whenever I facilitate a meeting, it's always helpful to celebrate what we've accomplished throughout. It's also powerful to acknowledge and celebrate accomplishments that happened outside of the meeting. Using the reactions features, or GIFs can greatly add to the celebratory tone. When in doubt, be a cheerleader (pom-poms optional), it truly lifts people's spirits.
2. Ask an open and honest question -- I was recently facilitating a team meeting where there was a consensus that engagement had been low. When I asked if we should broach this subject people said yes. Then there was silence. It was not surprising, yes or no questions rarely elicit discussion. So, I asked an open-ended question with genuine curiosity, "what would make these meetings feel more engaging to you?" What followed, was the most engaging discussion we had in a while. But not before there were a few moments of awkward silence. When asking an open-ended question, one that requires someone to give it some thought before they can respond, it's important to allow for some silence. People often need space to collect their thoughts before speaking up.
3. Encourage reflection or writing ideas down -- Speaking of people needing space to collect their thoughts, another great technique for re-energizing your team is through reflection and writing ideas down. This approach is especially helpful for engaging introverts or people that are less likely to voice their thoughts and opinions. One of my favorite ways to utilize this technique is with an activity I call Write & Reflect, Pair & Share. By giving people space to write their ideas down first, then share with a colleague instead of in a larger group, you're slowly teasing out ideas and suggestions that might otherwise stay hidden in the recesses of their brain. In addition to giving people the space to collect their thoughts, it also helps re-energize a team by breaking into smaller discussion groups. Speaking up in a large group, whether in-person or virtually can be quite intimidating for many professionals.
4. Get people to move around (bonus points if they also make noise) -- There gets to be a point in any meeting where being too sedentary results in a pervasive desire to nap. For many, the act of staring at their screen for video meetings is even more tiring. Getting everyone to stand up and move around together on screen not only gets people's blood circulating and stimulates the brain, it can also offer some pretty fantastic comical relief. You might choose someone on the team to lead people through stretches, play a game of Simon says or have a dance party (note put one person in charge of playing the music from their computer).
5. Take a break -- Perhaps I have left the most obvious for last, but taking a break during a virtual meeting is like rebooting your computer when it's lagging along. When you have a set time to break as a team you're not only giving people permission to take care of their bio needs, you're also ensuring that you get maximum engagement when you are meeting. It can help to encourage people to step away from their computers during breaks (i.e. not check emails). Breaks are a chance for everyone to listen and respond to the needs of their bodies. Make sure you allow a sufficient amount of time for the break so that people come back fully rebooted and ready to engage.
So, the next time you feel your own energy waning or notice that your team is less engaged in a video meeting do not despair. Take a deep breath and experiment with one or more of these techniques for re-energizing your team. Take note of what your team responds well to and remember that one of the important roles of any leader or facilitator is managing people's energy. When energy wanes, so does the quality of the discussion. With a concerted effort to manage people's energy, you'll notice a cascade of positive effects.