Author: Kevin Taylor, PMP
Projects that require a virtual component can be complex. This is especially true if related meetings are carried out in more than one country. Two areas come to mind when dealing with virtual projects: technology and people.
For technology, phone and internet bandwidth limitations can make virtual collaboration quite difficult. Picking the right technology for your virtual meeting may require an elaborate review of what is available and perhaps the lowest common denominator in terms of internet bandwidth. Yet this is really only part of the issue.
Even with telecommunications systems functioning properly in the countries you wish to operate, you must still decide which collaboration software your participants will be using. There are at least 14 types of web conferencing services. And an additional 13 or so webinar services.
Recognizable names such as GoToMeeting, WebEx, and Office 365 are ranked lower in some reviews due to functionality and features differences. Some webinar providers like MegaMeeting is based entirely online and does not require any software installation.
Microsoft’s Skype became one of the most popular web conferencing software due to its simplicity and compatibility. If you just used Skype, there is still a human element involved. Assuming all the technology works, then what is the best way to conduct a virtual meeting?
Preferably have your first meeting face-to-face – This is your chance to observe your team members in a more personal setting. And shaking hands and sharing activities together make for better collaboration later on in the process when meetings become virtual.
Expect confusion – Cross-cultural communication can be difficult for participants whose native language is not English. This may result in off-line or side conversations that can be perceived as rude to other participants on the call. The reality is that someone may need to explain an idea or concept in their native language in order to have everyone “on the same page” in a meeting. Just as a thought, does the saying “on the same page” directly translate in other languages?
Know your audience – Try to do some research on your team members and the culture in which they live. In Thailand, there are many customs and courtesies beyond the typical instructions a tourist may receive. According to leading theories Thailand is reported to rank relatively high on “Uncertainty Avoidance” where, if a future outcome of a situation is not known, complete avoidance of the respective event may occur. Imagine how such behavior may affect the participation of an initial virtual meeting.
Consider expert help – One way to overcome some of these obstacles is to use a professional meeting facilitator or to appoint one from your team. It may be difficult to coordinate the meeting and actively participate at the same time. You can facilitate your own meetings but you may not have time to actively pursue your vested interests on the issues. Or, more likely, your own opinions may overshadow those of others on the call and make the meeting less effective. Participants may be less likely to attend future meetings if they do not feel like they have any real influence.
To recap, try to meet face-to-face first, expect confusion, know your audience, and consider using a skilled facilitator. So plan ahead for your successful virtual meetings! Be sure to review this article’s footnotes for more great information on virtual communication.
Kevin Taylor has worked in a variety of Silicon Valley’s tech companies for 17 years. For the last 10 years he has performed legal support and customer support roles with related projects for companies including Yahoo! and Google. During the last 4 years he was living and working in Singapore. He recently returned to the USA to further his international career.
Kevin is a PMP certified project manager with a BA in Behavioral Science from San Jose State University. He has also earned a Master of Project Management from the University of Adelaide, a Certified Scrum Master (CSM) certificate, and a Project and Program Management certificate from UC Santa Cruz, California.