Virtual team members are always at risk of getting marginalized. It’s human nature. People tend to focus on those that are physically present versus those sitting in cyberspace. Even if all the team members are virtual then the vocal minority usually get the attention. The downside for more introverted or quieter virtual team members is that they may become less valued over time. To avoid this situation, I encourage virtual team members to create a virtual presence with these easy tips:
- Plan. Spend at least 5 minutes preparing for any upcoming team meeting you have. Block it out on your calendar if you have to. If you’re like me, you get invited to dozens of conference calls or virtual meetings and most of them have no published agenda. Usually I have to infer what the purpose of the meeting is by the subject line in the meeting invite. Write down what you think the purpose is and the 1 or 2 things you want to get out of the meeting. If the meeting organizer doesn’t offer up an agenda or purpose at the beginning of the meeting, then be the first to jump in and say something like, “Hey, I’m not sure about anyone else, but what I would like to understand by the end of today’s call is…” You’ve just made your first contribution to the team meeting and made everyone else realize you are engaged.
- Be vocal. If you’re the type of person that likes to hear or see all the information first, digest it, and then provide feedback, virtual meetings will force you out of your comfort zone. Otherwise, other team members may misinterpret your silence as disengagement. In their minds you may either be multitasking or just aloof. Even if you can’t offer immediate feedback or recommendations, ask clarifying questions. I have found that people tend to ask more questions if they are in person versus on a conference call. Perhaps some people feel awkward interrupting if they think they are the only one with a question. After all, they can’t see the confused looks on the faces of other coworkers. But chances are at least a few people in the meeting want answers to the same questions. Also, don’t be afraid to recap or summarize what is being said. At least you will make sure you are on the same page as everyone else. The bottom line is that other team members need to hear the sound of your voice.
- Be on video. Whenever possible, turn on your webcam. The benefit is obvious – it’s hard to ignore you if you are right there staring back at your fellow team members. (Check out my videoconferencing tips and benefits of videoconferencing from my posts last May). Sure, you may have to actually get dressed prior to attending the meeting, but consistently turning on your webcam, even if not many others do, insures you don’t go unnoticed.
- Follow up. Do you get drowned out by the more vocal participants? Follow up after the meeting to ask questions, clarify, or make suggestions. I usually hate the email chains this causes so use discussion boards or social media if your organization uses it but send an email to the group if you have to.