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How to make meetings less awkward with your remote team


In a post-COVID world centered around remote work, virtual meetings have become the new norm. While they offer undeniable advantages in terms of flexibility and accessibility, virtual team meetings can also be breeding grounds for awkwardness. From accidental interruptions to technical glitches, the virtual realm is rife with opportunities for discomfort. In this blog, we’ll delve into the quirky world of virtual awkward team meetings, exploring their causes and offering strategies to navigate them with grace and humor.

Unintentional Disruptors

One of the most common sources of awkwardness in virtual team meetings is unintentional disruptions. Whether it’s a noisy pet, a curious child, or a doorbell ringing, unexpected guests can turn a seamless video call or video conference into a comedy of errors. Remote teams are often used to home office background noise or the announcement of the latest potty triumph by a coworker’s toddler mid-presentation, and compassion and understanding is always the best way to lead your team, but let’s try to make the most of your remote meetings. 

The best way to do that is to establish some ground rules for video meetings. 

1. The mute button is your friend. One of the easiest ways to avoid unnecessary disruptions is to encourage everyone to mute their microphone whenever they’re not speaking.

2. Use the “raise hand” or chat feature to signal when you have something to say. This is especially useful for large groups. 

3. Set expectations about interruptions at the beginning of the meeting to minimize surprises.

Technical Breakdowns

Awkward online meetings wouldn’t be complete without technical difficulties. Video freezing, audio malfunctions, video camera glitches, and internet connection issues can lead to disjointed conversations and prolonged silences. And if you’re strapped for time and only have 30-minute meetings scheduled, losing a few minutes can create a big impact on productivity. 

To mitigate these problems:

1. Test your equipment and internet connection before the meeting.

2. Have a backup plan, such as using a different device or pivoting to a conference call. 

3. Be patient, and keep your sense of humor intact.

Multitasking Mayhem

With the lure of other open tabs and tempting distractions, mind wandering is more prevalent in virtual meetings than in-person meetings. Team members may not always be fully engaged in the meeting when a time-sensitive unopened email is staring at them on their desktop. When someone is multitasking, it can lead to disruptive pauses, a lack of participation, and a lot of time wasted. 

Address this issue by:

1. Setting clear expectations about active participation for meeting attendees. 

2. Encouraging the use of video so participants can feed off of engagement like body language, nonverbal cues, and facial expressions. 

3. Ensuring that meetings have a clear agenda.

4. Keep meetings as concise as possible. Scheduling shorter meetings is a great way to keep remote employees engaged.

Muted Misunderstandings

Muting and unmuting microphones are simple actions, but they can result in complex miscommunications. The infamous “You’re on mute!” moment is the quintessential experience for anyone who has utilized video conferencing.

To avoid these mishaps:

1. An easy way to keep mute from becoming a barrier or time waster is to encourage everyone to double-check their mute status before speaking.

2. Use non-verbal cues like waving or holding up a sign to signal when you’re muted or unmuted.

3. Be forgiving and use humor to move past this classic Zoom fail.

Awkward Goodbyes

Ending a virtual meeting can be an awkward endeavor. Everyone seems to fumble with the leave button at the end of a Zoom call. 

Here are some best practices to manage the exit strategy:

1. Have a designated person wrap up the meeting and guide the closing remarks.

2. Allow a few moments for small talk or informal farewells after the official conclusion.

3. Make it clear when the meeting has officially ended.

Virtual team meetings, despite their propensity for awkwardness, are a vital tool for modern work. While the quirks of remote communication can’t always be eliminated, they can be managed with finesse and humor. By establishing clear expectations, being patient with technical hiccups, and cultivating a sense of camaraderie, virtual awkward team meetings can become opportunities for growth and connection, rather than sources of discomfort. Embrace the unique charm of virtual interactions, and remember that we’re all navigating this digital world together.

If you approach these situations from a conscious leadership standpoint, it can lead to transformative solutions. Conscious leaders understand that these awkward video chat moments offer valuable opportunities for growth and connection, and they can turn awkwardness into a catalyst for positive change. 

Here are a few more solutions to awkward team meetings using the principles of conscious leadership.

1. Open and honest communication

Conscious leaders emphasize the importance of open and honest communication. Instead of ignoring or sweeping awkward moments under the rug, they address them head-on. By creating a safe space for team members to express their concerns or frustrations, leaders can unearth the root causes of awkwardness and work together to find constructive solutions.

2. Setting clear expectations

One of the primary reasons for awkward team meetings is a lack of clear expectations. Conscious leaders are proactive in setting the stage for each meeting, providing an agenda, objectives, and guidelines for participation. Clarity can help team members stay on track and reduce uncertainty, making the meeting focused on the most relevant information and productive.

3. Mindful meeting planning

Conscious leaders approach meeting planning with mindfulness. They consider the timing, duration, and frequency of meetings, ensuring they align with the team’s needs and priorities. Reducing the number of meetings and scheduling them at times that work for all team members can help prevent Zoom fatigue, burnout, and improve engagement. Successful meetings also take into account the humanity of their participants. Try out virtual icebreakers before jumping into the team meeting, and acknowledge the lives and emotional state of the group of people you’re collaborating with. 

4. Encourage active listening

Conscious leaders understand that active listening is a key ingredient for successful meetings. Team members must feel heard and valued. 

Encourage active listening by:

– Providing opportunities for team members to share their thoughts and concerns, including new team members.

– Practicing empathetic listening, and acknowledging the emotions and experiences of team members.

– Using reflective and clarifying questions to ensure a deep understanding of what’s being discussed.

5. Foster inclusivity

Awkwardness often arises when some team members feel excluded or unheard. Conscious leaders foster inclusivity by:

– Ensuring all voices are given equal opportunities to speak.

– Promoting diversity and inclusion in team dynamics.

– Encouraging the sharing of diverse perspectives and ideas.

6. Acknowledge and normalize awkward moments

Conscious leaders recognize that awkward moments are part of human interaction and growth. One of the best ways to move past an awkward moment is to acknowledge and normalize them. When an awkward situation arises, try using humor or a gentle redirection to ease the tension, creating a more compassionate and understanding environment. Don’t underestimate the power of a good laugh. You can create a human-centric company culture that acknowledges the imperfection of both technology and people by laughing at an accidental cat filter. Turn awkward moments into team-building moments. 

7. Continuous self-reflection and learning

Through their commitment to continuous self-reflection and learning, conscious leaders recognize that leadership is an evolving journey. Regularly seeking feedback from team members and self-assessment can help you adapt and refine your leadership skills. By modeling a growth mindset yourself, you encourage team members to do the same, and establish that your work environment has a culture of learning and improvement.

Conscious leadership transforms awkward team meetings into opportunities for growth, connection, and positive change. By prioritizing open communication, setting clear expectations, planning mindfully, encouraging active listening, fostering inclusivity, normalizing awkward moments, and embracing self-reflection, you can create a collaborative and harmonious team environment.

As a conscious leader, you have the power to turn awkwardness into a catalyst for growth, learning, and strengthened team relationships.

Photography by Kelley Raye //

Dr. Caneel Joyce is a CEO Coach and social scientist who helps people break out of the invisible traps and make whole-life changes easily and naturally.

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