Virtual Teams

Have online meetings made some conversations easier?

One of my colleagues made an interesting observation last week that he had found that cross functional and cross-hierarchy discussions in client organisations had become easier in recent times now that the conversations were happening through technology and people had more mechanisms for being heard.

Collaborating through technology does tend to reduce the signals of status. When we work in a traditional office there are lots of triggers and indicators of hierarchy from office contents to dress and behaviour and people in most cultures do tend to behave differently around people who are more senior.

Perhaps when we are working through technology, the absence of these signals makes conversations easier. It’s also the case in collaboration tools like MS Teams, WebEx and Zoom that we all have the impression of being in a one to one conversation with whoever we are talking to.

In larger group online sessions, we have found that people are more willing to share their comments and questions by text than they would be if asked for questions in a collective setting.

When working across functions it seems that this way of collaborating has enabled individuals to connect with other individuals laterally to get things done without necessarily needing to involve the hierarchy.

As one of our participants once said “why talk to someone with a job title, when you can talk to someone with a solution?”

It may be that this way of working has served to equalise collaboration by giving a broader range of individuals a level playing field in participation.

It may also be that certain personality types and cultures or people with different levels of language fluency have found it easier to contributes through chat than through speech.

We’ve also heard from a number of sales participants that they feel that customers now get to the point more quickly and also raise issues that could be critical or cause conflict more directly. Obviously there are some positive aspects to this and some negative. It may be harder to deal with conflict through technology.

It reminded me of an incident when I was due to have a face-to-face appraisal meeting with one of my people in France. Both of our travel schedules changed at short notice meaning we couldn’t get face to face and had to do the appraisal through video conference. I was very reluctant to do this as I felt it showed a lack of respect for an important issue, but we had no choice due to a fixed internal deadline.

After the meeting I was surprised to hear that he felt it was one of the best appraisal discussions he’d ever had, he felt we got to the point much more quickly and clearly.

What has been your experience? Which types of conversations have been improved by communicating through online meetings and which are more difficult?

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