Working effectively in virtual teams

Virtual Team Teleconferences

Common concerns in weekly virtual team teleconferences

It’s Monday, and every Monday I take part in a virtual team teleconference. Part of me appreciates this regular contact but another part of me really doesn’t like these meetings as much as our face-to-face ones. Why? Roughly speaking, it’s because they are so different.

I can’t see anyone

This is obvious, but it is so frustrating. If we can’t see who is speaking, who wants to speak, or people’s reactions, the emotional side of the meeting has pretty much gone.


I never know when it is my turn to speak, and it feels as though no-one else does either. This means they don’t say much.

Being on the stand

When it is finally my turn to say something, I feel as though I am on the stand. There is silence, I can’t see or feel any encouragement or interest, I have no idea if anyone is actually listening to me, and if they are listening, are they judging me? Am I wasting their time?

The straight-jacket effect

When I compare our face-to-face meetings with our virtual team teleconferences I feel as though I have a straight-jacket on in the teleconferences. In the face-to-face meetings, everything is more fluid, and we chat and joke around more – essentially there is a warm, encouraging environment.

Virtual team teleconference

As we train companies in how to make their teams work effectively in virtual teams, we set an example in our own teleconferences and follow all the rules in this checklist.

Keys to an effective virtual team conference

  • Plan the meeting
  • Determine time and length of conference
  • Set objectives
  • Develop a realistic agenda that reflects the objectives and available time
  • List specific results to be achieved
  • Prioritize topics to be discussed
  • Identify who must be present
  • Confirm attendance and availability
  • Appoint a leader for each site
  • Distribute meeting materials
  • Begin on time
  • Open by introducing participants
  • Review objectives and time allotted for meeting
  • Encourage participation
  • Ask questions
  • Keep meeting focused, direct non-agenda items to future meetings
  • Conclude on time, allowing a few minutes for wrap-up and good-byes
  • Speak naturally in the direction of the microphone
  • Identify yourself, as necessary
  • Pause occasionally so others may make comments

Such a thorough list doesn’t usually apply to a face-to-face meeting, but is logically necessary to ensure successful results in the virtual environment. I’m on board with the logic part, but can anything be done to reduce the straight-jacket effect? I’ve highlighted “encouraging participation” above, because if participation is encouraged effectively the straight-jacket might loosen and eventually fall off.

Using active listening in virtual team teleconferences

If we listen actively we focus fully on the speaker, we build rapport, acknowledge the speaker’s concerns, show understanding, relax the environment and transform it from the “on the stand” scenario into a warm, supportive and encouraging one. The main way of doing this is through language.

Here are some phrases we try to use in our virtual team teleconferences:

Showing understanding and interest
  • What made you choose ……?
  • Why did you decide……?
  • How important is that for you?
Supporting, offering help
  • What can I do to support you?
  • What would you need in order to….
  • Can you suggest any ways for me to help you there?
Acknowledges speaker’s concerns
  • I see
  • I can understand your concern.
  • That must be very difficult.
Asking for clarification
  • When you mention XXX, what do you mean exactly?
  • I didn’t catch exactly what you said – could you say that again?
  • Could you tell me more about XXX?
Developing the conversation
  • You mentioned ….. – how are you going to……?
  • When did you last…?
  • That’s interesting what you said about…

For most of us, a virtual team teleconference is never going to be the same as a face-to-face meeting, but if we are aware of how others are feeling, focusing on the language we use will help to create a more supportive and productive environment. Do you have any tips or phrases that have worked for you?  Let us know in the comment area below. Click here to improve your virtual team teleconferences with Target Training.