Virtual Meetings Can Be the Medicine We Need

Graphic of a laptop screen showing a virtual meeting with six avatars of people in boxes and a chat box on the side

The Giving Practice consultants have helped lead a dozen “Making the Most of Virtual Meetings” online sessions recently to help you stay effective at collaborating even if you’re not in person. See our tip sheet of seven strategies to help you improve your virtual meetings, whether you’re a facilitator or participant.

These sessions have modeled how it’s possible to have a video call where work gets done and we grow the trust and openness needed to offer one another witness and comfort. This braiding of the personal and professional has served to deepen connection at a time of such disruption.

As TGP was doubling down on the critical need for compassion and connection, we felt distressed as we observed some conflicting takes on appropriate behavior for video meetings such as suggestions for everyone to switch off their video so that others could avoid seeing the interruptions of warmth and humanity represented by children, pets and domestic partners in sweats.

Another emerging issue has been impatience with those who are less tech-savvy or practiced — a new nuance on the digital divide. As Zoom becomes a new town square, we need to make sure everyone feels invited and confident to participate. And we also need to be sure people feel respected as “zoom exhaustion” takes hold — it can be okay to turn off your video camera, especially if the call is more of a presentation than a conversation.

With so much unknowable and on the line, we don’t believe recognizing our screen-shared humanity is a distraction from the work at hand. Far from it. Now is the time to recommit to one another. Now is the time to lean into working in networks, to check in with communities and people whose feet are on the ground in places we can’t leave our home to visit. Now is a time where urgency can open space for innovation and changed practice.

The payoff for inviting full-hearted participation in the solitude of this crisis is that we may prototype a trusted space where diverse voices can be amplified, and we can begin to better harvest the collective wisdom available. Some of you are already noticing advantages as we begin to meet virtually. Morning team huddles are creating alignment and greater intimacy. Managers are finding they listen in a different way during one-on-ones with fewer distractions.

During our sessions, we also saw goofiness in the face of the day’s news. One foundation leader kept giggling after discovering she could change her screen background to outer space. An expert in family homelessness pretended to be a ventriloquist with a doll he spied in a basement corner. We’ve seen reticent colleagues become more comfortable talking about themselves, a reflection of the new unexpected intimacy we have of seeing folks working from their homes. Brené Brown spoke to this spirit of showing up broken and whole:

"The pandemic experience is a massive experiment in collective vulnerability. We can be our worst selves when we’re afraid, or our very best, bravest selves….We don’t have to be scary when we’re scared. Let’s choose awkward, brave and kind."

Awkward, brave and kind is a necessary redefinition of business-as-usual. We have an opportunity in the fever of this crisis to slough off behaviors and norms that no longer serve us. Let’s choose what helps us bring our best selves individually and collectively to the table. That, in turn, will help build the authentic community that will sustain us, our colleagues and the communities we care so deeply about.

Dawn, Lisa, Mark, Sindhu and Ted