With distributed workforces and flexible workstyles, virtual team meetings are becoming commonplace in the internal audit function. Many times, though, virtual meetings aren’t taken with the same level of seriousness as in-person meetings are—namely because we’re hidden behind screens and a layer of technology. However, with the right tools and tips, you can make your virtual team meetings just-as, if not more, productive than your face-to-face gatherings. Here are four strategies to leverage virtual team meetings for maximum impact.
The Kick-Off and Video Conferencing
In some situations, you may never get to meet the people that you’re interacting with to conduct your audit in person. In this case, it’s essential to establish a strong rapport with some sort of virtual kick-off meeting. Prior to starting work with any virtual team, have your first meeting done via video conference. This allows each person on the team to be able to “put a face to a name” and establish a visual rapport with each team member.
As a side effect, when you have people on video during a virtual meeting, they are more likely to remain focused on the meeting instead of checking emails, answering texts, or any number of other activities, as being on video provides a bit of accountability.
Especially in the internal audit function, and definitely if you’re not familiar with a new group you’re auditing, this video-based virtual kick-off is even more essential, as you don’t have an established culture with the group already. Set this standard early. You can do this as a kick-off meeting to introduce everyone involved, establish responsibilities, and celebrate the mutual goal that the team will work towards achieving together.
My personal favorite video conferencing tool is Zoom (zoom.us). You can easily have a full team on video simultaneously, share screens, documents, and chat, and it also provides easy recording-to-cloud options so no information is lost and those who can’t attend can watch the replay.
Agree on Communication Standards and Technologies
Agreeing upon communication channels and expectations during the kick-off meeting (or, if you’ve missed the boat on a kick off meeting you can definitely bring these up mid-stream) will set clear guidelines and make your virtual teamwork more efficient.
Here are some questions to think about:
- When do you use phone/email/chat/text/etc.?
- What are the channels that you agree to monitor?
- What hours do you agree to make yourself available?
- Where are shared files stored?
- Who sends the agendas?
- What is the post-meeting protocol?
- What project management software are we using if any?
Establishing communication norms and rules in the beginning will save time and frustration later in the process.
One mistake that many on both sides of the audit commonly make is withholding information. This is sometimes done unintentionally and with good intent behind it, as you don’t want to inundate your group with unnecessary information. However, sometimes that withheld piece of information is what will actually make a difference!
Setting up a culture of transparency and information sharing and creating an easy way to facilitate sharing of documentation, will help your virtual meetings be more productive and have less information lost in translation.
Create a shared file site (Google Docs, Basecamp, Dropbox, etc.) where any and all relevant information may be stored. Title or categorize the documents clearly so information can be easily accessed. Communicate this to the relevant parties, and then if they want resources or additional intel, they know where they can find it.
Better to put it all there at the onset and give relevant parties access than to keep it to yourself and have a less-than-optimal solution generated because not all available information was used. You can present this to your clients as a place where they can easily put information they feel will be relevant, and make this a simple and streamlined part of the process.
Accountability, Responsibility, and Action
In any meeting, virtual or in person, you should have clear expectations, agendas, and outcomes. Unlike in-person meetings, virtual meetings are often easily recorded so you have a record of all proceedings. This can help your groups and teams be more accountable, take more responsibility, and generate faster action.
Start off each meeting allowing every group member to report their progress. You can either do this via video/audio or make it a standard rule that whenever everyone logs into the meeting, they go immediately to the chat area and type in their progress and completed actions/tasks. Aside from getting this documented, you are getting a holistic picture of where each part of the audit is at.
At the end of each meeting, every person should report (via video/audio or chat, as above) their action items and responsibilities. Again, this allows everyone to see/hear what each member is doing, and gives a full picture of the audit in progress.
If you really want to leverage technology, you can use tools like Temi.com, that will transcribe your meetings for ten cents a minute, and send that transcript to the team and upload it to the shared file area. Newer and smarter AI tools, such as Voicera, are even now “taking notes” and “assigning tasks” during virtual meetings—it’s like having a virtual assistant documenting each step.
No matter what, each and every virtual meeting should end with some type of summary emailed to all parties involved, and a link to a recording provided for those who were absent.
Leveraging technology, and savvy communication practices, you can make the most of every virtual minute and work smarter, not harder, during your audit.