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8 Tips to increase effectiveness of multidisciplinary remote teams

Search Remotely 8 Tips for Effective Multidisciplinary Remote Teams 1

Remote first employers, remote team leaders and remote workers themselves deliberate on the effectiveness of remote team meetings. Some wonder, why schedule virtual team meetings anyway?  A few employers might succumb to pressures by cancelling remote work policies altogether; all because of the dreaded energy drain caused by the constant scheduling of remote meetings.

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To solve this dilemma, it has been suggested that high impact meetings should be held ‘in office’ only. This would necessitate a possible one to two days requirement to report to work in office.

Those who are shrewd, relishing in the increases in job satisfaction, lower costs, higher productivity and reduced employee turnover; look for a better solution. They exclaim, “surely, if we modify our virtual team meeting procedures,’ perhaps we can keep our remote employees, freelancers and remote team managers happy!”

Let’s take a look at the data. If you would like to skip to the eight tips, scroll ahead to the last page of this article.

Virtual meetings and the dreaded energy drain

The Cleveland Clinic cites research demonstrating that video conferencing suck the energy right out of virtual meeting participants because it forces the brain to multi-task. Doctors warn us that when we think we are multi-tasking (doing many things simultaneously) actually we aren’t. Rather, our brains are performing individual tasks, s-e-p-a-r-a-t-e-l-y, albeit very fast.

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Separate mental processes involved with virtual meetings

If you think about it, in the act of participating in virtual meetings and video conferencing; several mental processes take place. Participants much manage many mental sets simultaneously: listening comprehension, oral expression, interpreting visual cues, reading non-verbal cues, typing and using fine motor skills (chat boxes) as well as recalling and responding to actual messages conveyed. Remote workers much manage these tasks effectively while also trying to impart knowledge or gain understanding of the relevant subject matter content. We must do this all while trying to maintain diplomacy, problem solve, remain cordial and responsive to corporate hierarchy, management styles, individual personality types and policy.

Multitasking leads to cognitive overload

When we force ourselves to multi-task,  we are placing our cognitive functioning abilities at risk  (cognitive overload) which can lead to long term memory lapses. Multi-tasking has also been associated with increased depression and anxiety and the inability to distinguish between important and unimportant interruptions.

Compounding multi-tasking is the desire for top tier remote talent to be seen as highly capable regardless of the mode of communication. This may cause undue stress related to internal and external pressures of  effective communication when attending and participating in virtual meetings.

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Video conferencing and ineffective communication

Further,  psychologists and communication coaches encourage participants (remote workers)  engaging in virtual conferencing, video chats and meetings to, in some cases, accentuate their mannerisms for greater effect. Psychologists warn us that we must modify and adapt our behaviors:

  • Videos can magnify the non-verbal messages our bodies subconsciously send
  • Refrain from hesitating to demonstrate active listening by  making occasional head nods and head tilts to show interest
  • Maintain a perky facial expression, upright sitting posture to show that you are engaged

A British study on Multidisciplinary Teams (MDT)

The British Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery  recently published an article, “Advent of the virtual multidisciplinary team meeting: do remote meetings work?” based upon a study of the attitudes of head and neck surgeons and their roles.

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Pros of virtual MDTs

Here are the pros of virtual MDT:

  • 70.1% of the respondents felt that decision making was not negatively impacted,
  • an even split opined that organization and time efficiencies were good (42.3%) versus (40.2%) not good,
  • 84.5% assessed the resources in technology and cyber security to be satisfactory

Cons of virtual MDTs

Here are the cons of virtual MDT

  • 58.8% of the participants felt that communication during virtual meetings was worse than in person meetings,
  • 38% expressed that chairing and recording the outcomes as the MDT remote team lead was more difficult than when meetings were conducted in person,
  • 69.1% suggested that interpersonal relationships and teamworking deteriorated,
  • 43.9% believed that there was less MDT engagement with individual team members overall, and
  • 47.7% saw an impairment in professional development, training and education.

Given this data from one study, what are the possible remedies to combat the fatigue associated with virtual multi-disciplinary meetings?

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8 Tips Employers, Managers, Remote Team Leaders and Remote Workers can use to Improve Virtual MDT Effectiveness

Stanford University researched this topic and made a few discoveries. The full paper can be read here. The physical and mental fatigue associated with virtual meetings can be offset in the following ways:

  • Reduce the size of MS Office Team Meetings/Zoom meeting window and the facial images. This can be done by refraining from using full-screen mode. This technique has the effect of reducing eye strain as well as mitigating the automatic physiological  ‘fight/flight’ response when one’s brain must interpret the large face implanted on the window screen as a friend or foe.
  • Click the ‘hide self view’ button. Why? Believe it or not, in the era of ‘me, me, me’,  self promotion, narcissism and the encouragement to constantly self reflect is unhealthy and unnatural.  Researchers say that when we are constantly forced to look at ourselves, we can become overly critical.
  • Keep moving. Bailenson, one of the primary Stanford researchers strongly advises MDT virtual team members participating in online meetings find ways to become to more mobile. Even during sessions.  He argues, “there’s a growing research now that says when people are moving, they’re performing better cognitively.”
  • Take off camera breaks. It is suggested by the researchers that employers allow virtual meeting participants to take a few intermittent breaks off camera. This practice is to reduce the visual and cognitive load discussed at the beginning of this article that can lead to increases in memory lapses, depression, and anxiety.

In addition to the above tips, a few recommendations from the Cleveland Clinic  are summarized below:

  • Advocate for shorter meetings and whenever possible take a walk, meditate, participate in deep breathing exercises or vocalizing personal mantras to relieve the stress associated with virtual meetings.
  • Resist the urge to multitask.
  • Turn on speaker view. This tactic mimics in person conversation and reduces the tendency for your brain to mentally process each participant’s image, background, and body language.
  • Refrain from scheduling a virtual meeting when a simple phone call or email will suffice.


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