Three Ways Virtual Meetings Can Save Your Summer

Europeans know that there are a lot better things to do in the summer than work. But apparently, Americans haven’t gotten the message. Instead we perpetually forfeit our vacations out of fear that we’ll be so far buried under when we return, we’ll never find our way out.

The summer season is the perfect time to reconnect with our families and to renew our own energy if we’re able to take advantage of it. Sadly, in a recent work-life study by Ernst and Young, millennial managers reported that “finding time for me,” “getting enough sleep,” and “managing personal and professional life” were their three greatest challenges. And while the old-fashioned family vacation can be a great way to tackle these issues, enabling you to successfully make time for downtime – sometimes stepping fully away from your work is unrealistic.

Can Virtual Meetings Be A Tolerable Middle Ground?

A client of mine owns a beautiful cabin in the Berkshires where her family spends most of their summer. I worked on a project with her for almost two months (June and July!) before I realized she spends every other week working lakeside. 

During our many virtual meetings, there were no barking noises, dishwasher sounds, or accidental child interruptions. As far as I could tell, she was in an office conducting business as usual. Little did I know that she had constructed a summer routine of working from 6am to 2pm while the kids were at a day camp. She then spent the afternoons hiking, swimming, enjoying the summer and making a lifetime of memories with her family.

When I marveled at how lucky she was, she told me that luck had nothing to do with it. “In fact,” she said “I have proven that I get more accomplished working from the lake than I do from the office. I’m just as available to my team and because I’m not surrounded by distractions, I am much more focused and creative.”

Once she said it, it made perfect sense. One of the most elusive resources in today’s organizations is the time to think and plan and do focused work. Offices are a hotbed of distraction, especially those that have transitioned to an open floor plan. Workers find that their days just get away from them, consumed by constant interruptions.

Working remotely makes it much easier to carve out time and space for deep work. It used to be, however, that working remotely came at the cost of being out of touch, mired in awful conference calls, or labeled a shirker. My client found a way to create the best of all worlds by overcoming those downsides through effective virtual meetings. She expertly uses videoconferencing to advance collaborative work, give coaching and direction to her team, and to participate in cross-functional team meetings. She’s mastered videoconferencing such that the team hardly notices that she’s not there in person.

What does she do differently to make virtual meetings work? There are three things that really stand out:

    1. She holds daily office hours via videoconference by setting up a recurring meeting to which all her team members are invited as optional and the time is marked free. During these times, she joins the call and does her work. If her team needs her, they “drop by,” just as if she were in the office which eliminates the need for formal meetings, while creating regular opportunities for a quick chat.
    2. She uses the full range of videoconference capabilities – from sharing documents to chat to fully interactive whiteboards. She makes the meeting highly interactive by giving participants multiple ways to engage.
    3. She creates high-quality dialogue by being super clear on what she is trying to achieve in the conversation and stating the purpose upfront. This helps everyone understand their role and prevents tangential conversations from derailing the meeting. She never multitasks and expects the same from others. As a reward for that, her meetings are often shorter and better than the norm – adding to her reputation for effectively moving work forward, even from her sunny back deck.

While virtual technology is getting easier to use, it will still take time to master it fully. Having reliable Internet is also essential, as is having a quiet, well-lit space where interruptions are rare. The cost of these investments, however, seems pretty low if the return is the freedom to take back your summertime. Even if your employer doesn’t offer Summer Fridays, you might be able to create your own flexible Fridays (and all the days that end in Y) by mastering the art of great virtual collaboration!

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