3 Virtual Meetings Hard to do with Zoom

I use Zoom synonymously for all other virtual meeting technologies, including Google Meet and Microsoft teams. Most of you are getting used to virtual meetings because of COVID-19, and the technology largely works well in many situations requiring teams and people to collaborate.

In fact, some of you have gotten used to handling virtual meeting disruptions and issues.

  • Noise from kids, other family members, and pets disrupting calls
  • Ramblers who take over the session and provide little room for others to contribute
  • Introverts struggling to find how to step into the discussion
  • Handling things when someone says or shares something that's inappropriate

Virtual meetings have been around for a long time. The technology continues to improve, and people and teams are learning best practices.

But there are still some meeting types that are hard to replicate as virtual meetings.

1. The watercooler discussion

Some of the best innovations and discussions start by walking to the watercooler, coffee machine, or lunchroom and drumming-up a conversation with a few random people that just happened to be around. I find it extremely valuable to go out of my way and seek these conversations as it's often difficult to schedule time with everyone. 

But simulating a watercooler with virtual tools isn't easy. You can create meetings with different topics and schedule them, but you lose the spontaneity of the random run-in and discussion.

Some watercooler-like virtual discussions are possible. See how to create a virtual "Water Cooler" and another on creating watercooler moments.

2. The big meeting to collaborate on decisions

How many of you work for organizations that invite dozens of people to meetings so that everyone has a voice in making decisions, or that there is buy-in from everyone about a decision that needs making?

Trying to replicate this meeting virtually is challenging. It's hard to run virtual meetings that require participation by more than nine people without a facilitator. Protocols are also needed, for example, using virtual hand waving, emoji overlays, or chat functions to signal a need to speak.

But big meetings like this really don't work in-person all that well and decisions often don't materialize from them. Organizations struggling with this problem should aim to fix how decisions are made rather than trying to use technology to replicate a lousy process.

Consider challenging the organization with these questions

  • How can you make decisions faster and course-correct when necessary?
  • Where do decision-making authorities lie?
  • What happens if you have fewer people at these meetings? What's the impact? 
  • How can you make decisions, document and share the results, and enable feedback or constructive objections afterward?

3. Meeting to coordinate agile team dependencies

Many scrum meetings work well virtually, though it takes time for teams to adjust to the technology and meetings mechanics.

One reason virtual agile meetings work is when scrum teams are structured to minimize dependencies. These teams are then efficient using sprint planning to develop a shared understanding of requirements and priorities. They then use standups to resolve blocks, sprint reviews to share results with stakeholders, and retrospectives to improve their process. Using agile planning can help these teams manage releases and longer-term roadmaps.

But some business priorities require implementations that cross-cut through many agile teams. Many agile teams support legacy business processes, monolithic architectures, and software with significant technical debt. Sure, you can use scrum of scrums, Slack channels, design diagrams shared through wikis, other techniques to coordinate the work across teams.
But let's face it, coordinating this work through virtual meetings isn't trivial. One option agile teams should consider is to challenge the priority and scope of this work. Perhaps some of the work can be simplified? Teams using agile estimation based on story points should increase the points of work that requires significant cross-team collaboration.

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We're all adjusting to remote work and virtual meetings. The technology will improve. For now, teams should continue to experiment with how to conduct virtual meetings and define protocols that succeed with remote working.

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About Isaac Sacolick

Isaac Sacolick is President of StarCIO, a technology leadership company that guides organizations on building digital transformation core competencies. He is the author of Digital Trailblazer and the Amazon bestseller Driving Digital and speaks about agile planning, devops, data science, product management, and other digital transformation best practices. Sacolick is a recognized top social CIO, a digital transformation influencer, and has over 900 articles published at InfoWorld, CIO.com, his blog Social, Agile, and Transformation, and other sites. You can find him sharing new insights @NYIke on Twitter, his Driving Digital Standup YouTube channel, or during the Coffee with Digital Trailblazers.