**In this new normal of remote work, how can you help connection thrive and maintain team performance?  Over the next two weeks we will share effective strategies to boost engagement taken from our Minding the Gap Master Class that are just as helpful in this new virtual world, where the “Gap” can be very evident.

Companies and teams are several weeks in now to this new reality of virtual meetings.  If you were not used to them before or find yourself going a bit crazy after five hours of staring at Brady Bunch-like views of your colleagues, the three ideas below may help.

1. Begins Before it Begins

Remember how much work could often get done before the meeting, pre-shelter-at-home?  You would have important conversations, you would create or examine an agenda, you might have passed someone in the hall and told her you look forward to hearing her ideas?  This is vital stuff, so don’t stop now with this basic strategy.

How are you prepping yourself and others for the meeting?  This is an important step that helps orient people towards the goals or the meeting’s purpose, rather than away from each other and the objectives.

If you are running the meeting, some good ideas include:

    • sending a calendar invite that has all the details about how to connect

    • an agenda inside the invite or an easily accessible link

    • an invitation to respond to the agenda (yes: this may open a ‘can of worms’ and you may have to put somethings off until later, but asking for feedback on an agenda is a great way to give people a sense of being valued, a key Best Self metric).

    • a rich appreciation/acknowledgement for everything people are juggling to participate

    • instructions on how to join (there are several of these logistic-friendly tips online on the tech stuff to keep an eye on.  If this is your first virtual meeting, start with this one from the Harvard Business Review).

If you are participating in the meeting, be sure to check out the agenda and respond – even if it is a ‘thank you!’ and test your tech!

2. Create a Shared Intention

As a part of your pre-work, share an Intention for your group’s time together (put it directly on the agenda or the invite).  An Intention is generally not the same as your Outcomes.  It is a bit more encompassing and aimed at the 10,000′ view.  It gives you a chance to identify your purpose for the meeting and lets others line themselves up with it and see how it fits.  Imagine if you were hosting a meal and the mischief that might be caused if everyone came to a meal with different ideas and expectations of what it would be like: some are expecting breakfast, others a hearty soup, some a formal dinner, etc. Reviewing the “meal” to come and thinking about what end result is desired allows for the possibility of alignment and collective action.

But don’t stop there!  The real value of an Intention is letting people share out loud how it fits for them.  Within the first phase of your virtual meeting ask people to share their thoughts and reactions to the Intention.  What works for them?  What is missing? What is valuable about it and why?  (Notice these are not ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions – you are looking for real responses that stimulate dialogue and participation).  

The responses you get to these questions give people time to align themselves to the work ahead, and creates a spirit of mutuality and belonging – key performance metrics for groups.  Adjust the Intention as needed and return to it during your meeting as a truing device if needed.  Read more about Creating a Shared Intention here…

3. Ask Yourself: “Am I Available?”

No, we don’t mean do you have time on your schedule!  This question gets to the heart of the “Gap” that exists in all relationships: the willingness or disposition of one or more people to move towards a relational environment or away from it.  The more available you are, the more available will be the other participants in the meeting.

This question inserts a purposeful and mindful pause into the busy doing of the meeting.  Whether you are a participant or the meeting leader, take a deep breath and ask yourself this question.  If the pause helps you assemble a jumble of thoughts in your head and then gives you room to proceed on, great!  But we also recommend giving yourself permission to answer “no”.  It may be very likely that you are not available!  You may be calling in from your home, with kids running around, no hopes of any home-schooling and your boss still expects the same performance objectives.   Sometimes simply acknowledging this is enough to orient you towards your ‘self’ and helps you become more available.  Or it may give you a good reason to check in with a friend or partner and vent a bit.

There are underlying contexts and connections to each of these tips and we will continue to add to them in our next posts.  We know there is no magic wand, but after working with diverse groups in 20 countries around the world for the last 25 years, we have figured out some pretty effective ways of helping people “Mind the Gap” and create effective relational environments that work – even virtual ones!