In our fast-paced and distributed world, geographical constraints often play a role in the timeliness of report compiling and information gathering. With increased access to cost-effective and user-efficient digital communication technologies that allow people to intentionally or spontaneously connect from any place, at any time, we have opportunities to collaborate like never before. Yet, I find that many internal audit teams are not using video conferencing and virtual meetings to their advantage. When they're set up for success, research actually shows that virtual teams can be more effective in solving quick, simple problems than face-to-face teams. Let’s dive into five steps necessary to ensure if and when you use virtual team meetings, that they’re set up for success.

Step 1: Selecting the Technology

Many companies already have a tool in place (GoTo Meeting, WebEx, etc.) but many may be selecting a new tool to facilitate easier meetings (I find that Zoom is the best and most cost-effective video conferencing solution, and it now even has transcription services built in…more on that later). No matter which tool you use, don’t assume that everyone knows how to use it. Before any call, make sure that the leader or coordinator sends a link with information about the product, any necessary downloads or equipment needs, and instructions necessary for successful use. This should be sent out with any meeting invite and agenda. For example: “If you’ve never used XYZ before, be sure to log in at least five minutes early to test your audio and video settings.”

Setting Up Audio and Video: Encourage team members to practice with their audio and video equipment before logging into the team meeting. Most laptops have webcams built in. But if you’re at a device without one, I’m a big fan of the Logitech HD Webcams. Audio is perhaps more important than video in virtual meetings, so having a headset will help you not only transmit your ideas more clearly to your teammates but will also increase the quality of your conferencing experience. Even a simple headphone set with a mic that you’d use with your phone is better than not having any microphone at all. Using the computer’s built-in mic is rarely a good solution, as they pick up a lot of background noise.

Step 2: Levering the Technology

In face-to-face meetings there is often someone designated to take notes, or multiple people are furiously writing or typing trying to capture what’s being said. Some teams are moving to recording audio of each meeting and having it immediately transcribed (I use and for easy transcription services, which cost between $.10 and $1.00 per minute). The ability to easily record virtual meetings and have a record of what was said and documented is a major benefit. And, as noted above, if you select a tool like Zoom that has transcription options built-in, you’re one step ahead. You can even take it a step further and use a tool like Voicera, which not only does transcription but also proactively suggests action items! As artificial intelligence evolves, these tools will become mainstays in any organization. No matter which route you choose, your participants are able to use their minds at a different level of functioning without worrying about note-taking, freeing them to be fully present and contribute in a bigger way.

Step 3: Setting Clear Expectations

Just like any meeting, it’s important to set clear expectations for the meeting. I’m a big believer of having what I’ve termed “dual-purpose meetings” which means that each meeting has an immediate purpose (related to the current project) and then a bigger purpose (relating to the bigger mission, vision, values, and/or purpose—MVVPs—of the organization). At the beginning of each meeting, state these dual purposes, clarify the desired outcomes, and then share the agenda.  Then, state the rules for engagement. Depending on the technology that you use, you may be able to enable raised-hand functions, chat capability, polling, live document mark-up, screen sharing, etc.

Communication Expectations: Make the communication expectations during the meeting clear at the onset. Is everyone expected to be on video? Or is audio-only acceptable? In general, the more complex the task, the more visual cues should be available to a team. So with a simple task, you’ll likely be able to resolve it quickly via email. For a slightly more complex task, perhaps of phone call. But for regular team meetings, especially when building relationships is important, elevating the meeting to a video call will not only provide nonverbal cues to help everyone understand context, but it will also provide a channel for the team members to strengthen relationships.

Step 4: Confirming R&A…Responsibilities and Accountabilities

A smart practice for any meeting, but especially in virtual environments, make sure that each team member knows his/her responsibilities and accountabilities before wrapping up a call. Sometimes that means going around the proverbial table and having each person get on camera and speak these aloud to the rest of the team. Or, using technology, you can simultaneously have each person write their responsibilities and accountabilities (due dates, etc.) into a chat area to be more efficient. Checking to ensure that everyone leaves each meeting on the same page is essential, and it will save a lot of time from managing misinformation in the future.

Step 5: After the Meeting

For virtual meetings, it’s easy to record them and share them with any team member not available to attend. It’s also a great practice for record-keeping in case new team members come on—they’ll have a way to get easily caught up. After each meeting send a recording link to the team, along with a transcript. If you had team members enter their R&A in a chat area, you can copy/paste that into the email as well to reaffirm commitments.

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