Virtual team meetings now represent a significant part of the work for anyone involved in a non-location-dependent job. While technology has allowed many organizations to remain productive during the pandemic, virtual meetings have brought their share of cons and pros. Chief among the latter is the ability to gather colleagues and clients from all over the planet at a minimal cost. Although many of us enjoy travelling for business or other, we can all agree that virtual meetings allow us to save considerable time which we’ve reallocated towards essentials such as family or relaxation. Nothing like avoiding jet lag when meeting with colleagues overseas! But just as we carefully consider various aspects when we physically travel abroad for business, we need to transfer these considerations in the virtual environment. Here are 3 key considerations when leading a multicultural virtual team meeting.
With 1.13 billion speakers, English is considered the top language used in the global business world. The operative word here is “speakers.” This means a colleague or client may speak English, but it may not be their first language. This can lead to communication breakdowns.
First language English speakers (or of any other language, for that matter) tend to think that if their audience speak their language, they understand everything. That is not the case, and for some, not at all. Therefore, it is crucial that when meeting with multicultural and multilingual participants, the meeting leader leaves time for all to grasp and understand the notions and words being shared.
In a virtual context, the thought process requires more time than when meeting in person. Adding language diversity increases that time yet again – say for instance, when the meeting leader translates some notions simultaneously. Here are a few tricks to avoid miscommunications:
- Slow down your speech debit
- Add visual aid – e.g., summarizing slides or whiteboarding
- Repeat, in various forms if necessary. Slides are one way to repeat but so is using the comment box to underline specific points.
- Ask questions to ensure comprehension. Note that answers may be voiced or written in the comment box as some participants are more comfortable writing than speaking their thoughts.
Humour is a favourite tool for many (including me) when leading meetings or facilitating workshops. However, if helpful in many cases, it is also a dangerous tool in a multicultural environment. Every culture expresses humour differently. What is funny for some may be insulting to others.
Ethnicity is not the only cultural group where using humour may be tricky. Gender diversity may provide slippery slopes we want to avoid as well. One way to prevent discomfort related to ill-fated humour is to observe body language. Unfortunately, non-verbal language is even harder to perceive in a virtual environment, especially when some participants are off-camera.
As delightful as it is to reunite colleagues worldwide while saving on travel fees, virtual meetings add a challenge to the equation: managing time zones. When you travel for business meetings, you automatically adjust to the time zone because you are physically in the environment. In a virtual meeting, you consider time zones when scheduling.
Try scheduling a meeting gathering participants from Los Angeles (U.S.), Montreal (Canada), London (U.K.), Mumbai (India) and Sydney (Australia). Chances are you will pick noon GMT, which appears the sensible thing to do. This means your colleague in L.A. will be enjoying (or not) a very early morning coffee while the one in Sidney might be sipping an after-dinner digestif.
When hosting global virtual team meetings, it is wise and considerate to alternate times. For example, your colleague from L.A. might be the one enjoying (much more fun indeed) red wine rather than getting up before the birds. You can also call for separate meetings, but that may not be as productive. Worse, you can miss out on perspective diversity, a significant added value to multicultural meetings.
To enhance your capacity to lead multicultural virtual meetings, get more info on ACCULTURA’s Leading Hybrid Teams with Cultural Awareness program.