During this challenging time, the environment industry and organizations across the country are having to change the way they conduct their business and connect with colleagues, members and clients. Many important industry events have been cancelled or rescheduled while some are switching to virtual formats where possible.

Environment Journal is currently connecting with environmental experts and representatives of the environmental industry in Canada to provide updates on how they are coping and carrying on their activities. We will be rolling these reports out over the coming weeks with an emphasis on new procedures and evolving expert advice and strategic resources that are helping us all maintain our productivity during this unprecedented pandemic.

For starters, we thought it might be practical to acknowledge that many of us, apart from the essential service workers, are working from home and participating in virtual meetings – some for the first time.  Sure, making virtual meetings work involves several adjustments but once these are in place, there’s no reason why they can’t be an effective way to communicate with each other.

According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), there are some basic strategies on how to get the most out of virtual meetings:

  • Ensure everyone understands how to use the technology.
  • Absent the usual social cues, those running meetings must be careful to include everyone – and to limit speechifying.
  • Encourage participants to give a quick tour of their surroundings.
  • Icebreakers and introductions are important for fostering inclusivity and communication.
  • Keep attendees and meeting length to a minimum.

For further information from the WEF, click here.

The Harvard Business Review also provides some comprehensive tips for effective virtual conferencing:

  1. Use video – To make people feel like they’re all at the “same” meeting, use video conferencing rather than traditional conference dial-ins. Technology such as Zoom, Skype, and GoToMeeting helps to personalize the conversation and to keep participants engaged.
  2. Provide an audio dial-in option – Video conferencing can work very well, but it relies on a strong internet connection that may not always be available. People need the ability to participate via audio, but make it clear that video-first is the new norm.
  3. Test the technology ahead of time – Nothing kills momentum at the start of a meeting like a 15-minute delay because people need to download software, can’t get the video to work, etc. Prior to a virtual meeting, all participants should test the technology and make sure they are comfortable with the major features.
  4. Make sure faces are visible – Video conferences are more effective when people can see each other’s facial expressions and body language. Ask individuals to sit close to their webcam to help to recreate the intimacy of an in-person meeting.
  5. Stick to meeting basics – Prior to the conversation, set clear objectives, and send a pre-read if appropriate. During the session, use an agenda, set meeting ground rules, take breaks, and clearly outline next steps (including timing and accountabilities) after each section and at the end of the meeting.
  6. Minimize presentation length – The only thing worse than a long presentation in person is a long presentation during a virtual meeting.  Meetings should be discussions. Background information should be provided beforehand. If someone needs to present, use screen sharing to guide the conversation, so attendees can literally “be on the same page.”
  7. Use an icebreaker – Although we’re not big fans of them, it’s important to use every tool to reinforce interpersonal relationships when people may be feeling isolated.  Also, it’s important to know if a participant may have a close friend or relative fighting the virus, so some type of “check in” is in order.
  8. Assign a facilitator – It’s usually harder to manage a virtual discussion than an in-person one. It can be helpful to assign one individual to guide the conversation, allowing the other participants to focus on the content. The facilitator can also use a polling system to “take the pulse” of the group on certain questions and ensure that all voices are heard.
  9. Call on people – Getting everyone to participate without talking over each other is one of the more challenging aspects of running a virtual meeting. To forestall this, we recommend periodically calling on individuals to speak, even by virtually “going around the table” before a decision is finalized. Some software packages even allow attendees to “raise a hand” if they want to.
  10. Capture real-time feedback – Gathering and processing high-quality input during a virtual meeting can be challenging, especially since visual cues are harder to read.  Use a survey tool to collect on-demand feedback from attendees on specific topics in real time. Keep the polling open, separate from the video conference to avoid disrupting the conversation.
  11. Don’t be afraid to tackle tough issues – Meeting virtually is a learned behavior, and you’ll be amazed how much you can get out of it once you and your team begin to be comfortable working this way. It may seem natural to wait to discuss tough issues until everyone is in person, but that may not be an option.
  12. Practice once or twice while you’re still together – Hold your next staff meeting virtually, with each participant sitting in their office and hooking into the meeting with no assistance. After the meeting concludes, gather and debrief about the experience.  What went well, and what didn’t?  How can you evolve your virtual meetings to make them as productive as when you meet in person?

To further information from the Harvard Business Review, click here.


Environment Journal Editor Connie Vitello
remotely from her home office in
Toronto, Ontario and looking forward to the
next Zoom video conference.


Featured image courtesy of Glenn Carstens-Peters@glenncarstenspeters.

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