Keeping the show on the road in a virtual world

Topical News!

Virtual meetings are pretty much the only meetings in town!  With Corvid19 rampaging through the UK, we all need to get skilled at the art of virtual meetings as a top priority. Now is the time to show your value as a KM professional by providing skills and knowledge in the virtual meeting space.  Read on for help with this now!

Introduction – the age of disruption

This is a time when we all learn to live with digital disruption.   Processes and procedures that had lasted year upon year are suddenly subject to brand new ways of doing things.  One of these changes has been to meetings.  We no longer need to travel to go to meet someone.  We have the potential to have a virtual meeting, where wonderful technology means that geography does not stop us sharing live documents and possibly even admiring each other’s outfits!

It is interesting to see this become widespread as the health risks of face to face meetings grow all around us.  Using remote meetings are going to be a regular event for many of us.  Let’s put in the effort to do them well.

We can go to meetings with all the information we need in the palm of our hands, via laptops or smart phones, leaving all those cumbersome files and bundles of paper behind.  This opens a new world of opportunity for knowledge sharing and knowledge transfer.  These changes have many advantages but, as always, it pays to think carefully about the disadvantages too, so that we can take steps to reduce them.  We still need to build confidence that we all understand digital opportunities fully and are certain to get the best from them.

This article reports back from a NetIKX, (Network for Information and Knowledge Exchange), seminar where we spent a full afternoon grappling with the issues linked to Virtual Meetings.

Speaker: Paul Corney

Anyone who has sat through a meeting where many people are intently studying their mobiles, will know the frustrations that can cause.   And virtual meetings are notorious for the problems that technology can introduce.  Paul Corney, the President elect of CILIP, and an author and speaker of repute, took us to the heart of the issues for Knowledge Managers.  If meetings are one way that we share knowledge, it is essential that we, working as we do to ensure the best possible sharing takes place, will be in the forefront of establishing good practice.   As a lively and engaging speaker, Paul at once convinced his audience that he would be able to take us through the minefield of virtual meetings and help us take power over the essentials of good practice.

The potential range

We considered all the possibilities for a wide range of meetings.  Paul has a wealth of experience – he had been line managed by someone on the other side of the globe, 9,000 miles away – clearly virtual meetings would be required and when it is your boss on the line, you don’t want to have any distractions messing up communication. He also highlighted examples from the recently published KM Cookbook, including the International Olympic Committee whose Knowledge Management programme began in Sidney in 2000 and where significant amounts of knowledge is now organised and transferred.  This can allow learning to be disseminated to wider groups than ever possible before. It also highlights a variety of issues such as organising subgroups and breakouts.

An example

We did not just talk about virtual meetings – we invited one of our members, who could not attend because they were sick, to join us online.  True to form, in one way it was wonderful.  Conrad was able to talk to the crowd in the room from his sickbed.  (Please don’t worry, he has recovered now).  He spoke about his experience of virtual meetings, including bemoaning, in his memorable phrase: ‘survival of the loudest’.  But the technology only delivered half its promise! We could only hear Conrad, as the visuals refused to work.  That made the experience less rich, although as a demonstration that technology can let you down, it was very apposite.   If Conrad had been invited for a long speech, this could have been a disaster, as it is much harder for an audience to concentrate when there are no visual clues to keep their attention.  As it was, we only suffered from not learning what colour pyjamas Conrad wears!

Video mishaps

Paul took us through a short masterclass, aided by a stunning slide set, looking at the benefits and pitfalls; the good, the bad and the just plain awkward.  One of the resources he introduced to us was a short video clip (A Conference Call in Real Life) which portrayed a virtual meeting as if it was a traditional face to face meeting.  This had the impact of presenting what we know can go wrong but made hilarious when acted out.  For example: the times when people were talking but the sound had gone or the strange situation of ‘Pete has joined the meeting’ intoned several times as Pete’s link drops and he has to keep getting back up and running.  And of course, the ‘lurker’ who was in the meeting all the time but did not let anyone know he was there!  Believe me, that is very funny when you see it!  It certainly did highlight all the possible jinxes we can meet when we try virtual meetings.

Resources

As Knowledge Management advocates, we understand the importance of the media when messages are to be transmitted and it is vital that we don’t reduce our effectiveness in our ability to share when we embrace the most forward-looking technology.  The video clip was just one of the valuable resources we looked at during the meeting.  Since the seminar, NetIKX has collected a small set of resources that can be used to help understanding the issues, and they are available through our website.

Audience input

One great resource of a NexIKX meeting is that the attendees are all participants who contribute their own learning from experience.  As a result, we could pool our ideas about the different technologies we had used and stories and anecdotes from actual meetings we had survived.  One example that I loved was the dry comment about an internal team meeting with a home worker: ‘the meeting didn’t go well, but at least we all saw her sitting room!’  It brings back memories of the famous incident of the newsreader whose children toddled and crawled into view while he was broadcasting! It is a useful reminder for all video link meetings that you need to consider ensuring you have an appropriate background setting…

Technology

Paul provided us with a table outlining the pros and cons of different meeting software.   It was particularly helpful to get the facts, augmented by the experience of people in the room.  Of course, there are different ‘best choice’ options depending on the type of meetings you intend to support and the available resources. One well-resourced organisation uses Microsoft Teams, which will control social media use through that device, while others use Zoom, a simpler choice, or Webex, the more traditional option.  (This very useful table is available on the NetIKX website).  Once your software is chosen, you need to ensure that there are no problems with users having different software versions, or incompatible systems and remembering that simply because they have the software, this does not mean they know how to use it effectively!

Security

 Of course, the best meetings have help and support from technology expertise; a strong reason for keeping good relations with our counterparts in the IT department!  Firewalls may have to be negotiated without leading to security risks.  It may be that in your eagerness to facilitate knowledge sharing you forget to consider the dangers of ‘leaking’.  There are many technical issues to negotiate to get the best possible solution to your virtual meeting needs.

Etiquette

And so, we come to the non-tech questions.  What differences do we have to manage with a virtual meeting compared to traditional meetings?  Do you need different rules? Will there be alternative ways to enforce them? Are there timing issues, or cultural issues and how do you get feedback to learn how well things worked and where you can improve?  One issue that we considered carefully was whether a good meeting chair would automatically be a good virtual meeting chair or if some different skills were needed.   A solution could be to have two chairs:  One to manage the meeting content and another to monitor and confirm Protocol.  This could solve all your problems – or possibly lead to utter confusion and conflict!

Paul suggested an interesting resource could be a book by Erin Mayer, which includes a chapter called ‘The most productive ways to disagree across cultures’, in ‘The Culture Map’.  He suggested the words: ‘that is really interesting’ which from an English person with a dry turn of phrase can have an idiomatic meaning contrary to its general meaning.

Takeaways

The meeting highlighted lots of useful ideas.  We then considered these in table discussions so the participants, (not including the virtual entrant – we let him retire early,) were able to pull together the ideas they had found useful.  NetIKX meetings always include a time for table discussions, so that people have a chance to embed the ideas in their own context and pick up ideas from networking with people from other workspaces.  In this case, we all considered what was the most useful tip from the meeting in our small groups.  We then amalgamated the ideas from all the groups into a main list and the voted for the best of all!  This was fun, and perhaps a little frustrating as the results were left for me to reveal in this article.  I will give our full list as they were all deemed useful.  Here are the TOP TEN in reverse order of popularity.

10.Consider security – don’t overlook this when tackling the technology issues.

9. Consider if the meeting needs to have small groups, or specific break-out groups.

8, Ensure the participants understand the established etiquette.

7. Ensure participants are confident and competent with the technology before the meeting starts.

6. Consider how the role of Chair will need to adapt to the virtual format.

5. Consider if you can build on face to face meetings to supplement the virtual ones.

4. Decide if you need to have two people taking lead roles: Chair of Content and Chair of Protocol?

Are you ready?  Drumroll please! Now for the top three:

3.Consider cultural issues as these may be emphasized and exacerbated by the virtual format

2. Preparation is vital: IT compatibility and time issues etc. need to be thought through.

Yes, in top place!

The recommendation that reminds us all that virtual meetings will ultimately have the same dynamic as any other meeting:

1. It is most essential to have a clear purpose and outcomes that are understood by all participants.

Conclusion

When the NetiKX meeting ended, the conversations did not.  Refreshments helped the chatter flow and we continued for a very satisfactory networking session with wine and soft drinks, finger food and chat.  All in all, it was a highly successful NetIKX meeting with a dazzling speaker and plenty of learning for all concerned.  I hope this summary of what went on has been useful for you.   If you want more here are three valuable resources:

Buy (or win) Paul Corney’s book:

Paul has a new book available to buy.  It is called: The KM Cookbook : Stories and strategies for organisations exploring Knowledge Management Standard ISO30401  By  Chris J. Collison , Paul J. Corney and  Patricia Lee Eng

NetIKX has two copies and is running competitions on their website for them. The first was won by one of our members who works with Plan International.  The next competition will be later in the Spring.  Watch out for this at www.netikx.org.uk. The book is published by CILIP

Website resources linked to this meeting

Each seminar has a page on our website where we collect resources relevant to that meeting.  However, this may be for members only. Look at the page for January 2020.  This includes up-to-date information on Zoom, Microsoft Teams etc.

Issues Checklist

For our members, we have compiled a simple checklist, bringing together all the ideas from the meeting.  It could be a useful starting point for thinking through the issues so that you have expertise in identifying how to prepare for the best possible virtual meetings.

To join NetIKX and so gain access to this material, please go to our website and use the joining form – or alternatively come to our next seminar. This will be a virtual meeting using Zoom and led by someone with considerable experience in running virtual meetings, David Gurteen.  Please look at our website for details.   Contact us via the website for an opportunity to attend as our guest to enjoy a chance to talk with our members, as a taster to see what NetIKX could offer you or your organisation.   We look forward to you joining us then.

This article is compiled by Lissi Corfield, based on the presentation by Paul Corney and the contribution of attendees at the NetIKX seminar in January 2020.