Laura Brandao is the Chief Growth Officer and a partner at EPM (Equity Prime Mortgage). She has been in the mortgage business for over 20 years and is well known as a passionate and committed advocate for the promotion of women in the industry as well as championing the values of diversity, equality, and inclusion for everyone who wants to feel the empowerment of home ownership. Laura sits on the boards of many organizations that promote women and diversity in the mortgage industry and is a published author of her Say YES Everyday series of motivational books.
The business world has been offered a huge opportunity and I believe we all need to embrace and take full advantage of it. Virtual communication unexpectedly became a necessity as opposed to an option in the past couple of years, but the change should be viewed as one which can benefit us professionally and personally by allowing us to expand our networks and connections and maintain the ones we have so carefully cultivated.
It is vital to recognize that social media is our friend. The way we vet our new connections has changed significantly with the advent of social platforms. We can now get to know a new contact before we ever meet them in person. We can access their social pages and find out about them on a personal level. By the time we meet either virtually or in person, we already have an idea of the person we are talking to beyond what they do for a living or what title is on their business card.
It is also important for us to remember that others will be vetting us in this way too. So curating your public pages with care and being aware of the fact that first impressions can be lasting ones is something we all need to remember when sharing a meme or posting a personal opinion online.
I want to share with you some of my thoughts on how the methods of organizing and accomplishing our virtual business can help to avoid some common pitfalls. There are ground rules to follow that will make conducting your work virtually smooth and successful.
There are many different formats for virtual communication. We have online meetings, chats, text, email, and the telephone. Some of these have been around for years and others are new. Whatever format you are using, it is always important to ask the person or people you want to meet with what format they prefer. It is not only polite but it can also lead to a more productive and comfortable working environment for everyone.
Think about the energy you want to bring to the virtual “room”. Meeting in a boardroom or meeting room in an office setting is different from meeting online from your home office or even sitting in your car. Energy is contagious and if you are enthusiastic and projecting a positive and energetic vibe into the discussion, that will translate even across the screen or telephone connection.
Active listening and carefully reading body language cues are as crucial in a virtual meeting as in person, and maybe even more so. Speaking to others in a screen environment means that you are not necessarily as aware of the physical energy being injected into the conversation.
Running a meeting online requires some preparation the same as it would in an office setting but the spontaneity of popping into someone’s office and asking them to join is not part of this equation. It is important to make sure everyone is given a copy of the meeting agenda well in advance and that the scheduled time for the meeting includes a few minutes at the end for questions and comments from the participants.
Making sure everyone has a say and can follow the conversation is a bit trickier in a virtual venue but asking that participants use the onscreen “raise your hand” features in most meeting software can ensure that the meeting is orderly and all those present can have their say in a clear and fair manner.
Equally as important is the follow-up to a virtual meeting. Again, we don’t have the option to approach a colleague or manager in person to reiterate a point or ask for clarification. Following up on a virtual meeting needs to be done in writing and in a timely manner after the meeting has concluded.
Sending out a written synopsis of the agenda items covered, comments made and what the next steps for each person are, is critical to maintaining workflow and keeping everyone in the loop. It also opens another avenue of discussion should anyone have corrections or additions to make after receiving the follow up documentation.
Preparation of your work environment prior to an online meeting is something that must be done in order to show respect for your fellow meeting attendees and for their time.
Working from home has become our “new normal” but providing yourself a space that is quiet, neat, and organized is essential to conducting and participating in a professional and productive online meeting. It can also help to put you in the right frame of mind to concentrate on the task at hand and not be distracted by things in your home that need to be done or that are going to divide your attention.
It is necessary to make sure you are not interrupted by pets, children, or others in your household (unless there is an emergency, of course). You should be able to focus on the meeting and what is being discussed without continually having to excuse yourself to deal with something going on behind you or outside of the room you are in.
Also, as tempting as it may be to check your phone when it buzzes, it should be avoided as much as possible. Active listening requires focused attention on the speaker. If you wouldn’t do it in the boardroom, don’t do it in the virtual room. It’s a good rule of thumb and one that I make every effort to follow myself.
The same rule applies to your personal appearance. Make it a point to look the same as you would if you were stepping into a meeting room at the office. Truth be told, you can probably get away with fuzzy bunny slippers in an online meeting, but the parts of you your fellow attendees can see should represent the professionalism you want to reflect.
These are just a few of the rules of the road for working in a virtual environment and ensuring that your productivity and professional connections are not compromised by the environment you are working in.
I choose to look at this change as a huge opportunity for us all to expand our professional networks and grow our business in many new and exciting ways using the amazing technology we have. I can honestly say I have experienced this personally as I have formed many positive and rewarding relationships through online connections and virtual communications with people I might not otherwise have even met.
Following some basic, common sense ground rules can make the virtual experience rewarding and beneficial for all of us today and as we head into the future.