A voice from a distance

By Allen Fazio, Chief Information Officer, Houlihan Lokey

For over a decade, I was the voice from a distance. I was the sole person in a remote office teleconferencing into meetings with my peers. While they had the advantage of interacting face to face and keeping a real-time collaborative focus, everything was about discerning the context for me. Being a voice from a distance, identifying communication nuances such as body language, facial expressions, voice inflection, and knowing the appropriate time to engage over a web conference posed an ongoing challenge. It created a sense of disconnect and a feeling that common ground had diminished.

It wasn’t until the onset of COVID-19 that the playing field leveled and the common ground turned completely virtual for everyone. As a result, organizations across the globe were forced to implement creative digital solutions for business operations to function remotely. Due to this digital transformation, employers and employees were confronted with my communication complexities. Yet, even after two years of working in a remote environment, many organizations still find their virtual communication efforts ineffective. Moreover, as various companies are now sustaining a hybrid work approach with staff more geographically disbursed – instilling a set of virtual communication protocols is vital to stay ahead of this digital shift.

Since digitizing operations impacts every facet of a business, organizations don’t have ample time to develop new communication strategies; they need it now. Therefore, to successfully balance participation in a virtual meeting, defining a set of communication rules to promote inclusion and engagement is necessary. During my years of working remotely, even before the pandemic – I have found that employee engagement can be much more effective by implementing the following basic communication protocols:

Appoint a Remote Advocate

A remote advocate should be appointed who can help instill an environment of trust. They would be responsible for encouraging input from all team members while being especially cognizant of the remote staff. The meeting leader must ensure that all perspectives are valued so that overall team engagement persists.

Rotation of Input

To prevent meeting discussions from devolving into “in-room” only conversations, the remote advocate should pose questions and then call for a rotation of input from on-prem and remote staff. This will create a more collaborative setting for all meeting participants. In addition, to ensure that remote staff stays engaged, the conclusion of each question should end with the phrase, “would the remote team like to respond first”? This will prevent a perceived power imbalance among the team and keep the group dynamic positive and productive. 

International Team

For team members residing in different countries, it is essential to consider cultural implications and give them more time to respond. This will allow international team members to take in the information being covered more effectively, ask follow-up questions, and formulate meaningful responses, especially if the translation is required.   Be aware of those individuals whose English is not their first language, as they often need more time to formulate their responses.  This may only take an extra second which can be noted when they are in person through non-verbal cues, but can get lost when on video.

Meeting conclusion – Time with the Leader

The few minutes that follow the conclusion of a meeting are invaluable. It is during this time that In-room attendees often vie for a quick conversation with the leader.  This is true for remote staff, but it is up to the leader to level the playing field.  Too often, the video is turned off at the end of the meeting, eliminating the ability to have a semi-private “hallway conversation”.  Leaders should make themselves accessible at the end of a meeting by permitting on-site staff to depart in order to allow the remote team to spend time with their leader. This allows remote participants to share insights on current topics or give brief updates on anything not covered during the meeting. These are compelling interactions that help to bolster the engagement of remote staff.


Don’t forget about the camera.  Too many meetings have the in-person room trying to keep everyone in the picture.  This makes the leader the smallest furthers person on screen, yet they are often the ones speaking the most.  Try moving to the front of the room so that you have to look over one shoulder to speak with everyone in the room, and the other to speak to the camera and with everyone remotely.  I must admit, this takes some getting used to. At a minimum, zoom the camera onto the leader during agenda items that the leader is the primary speaker.  You can move the camera if needed, but when you are remote, it is easier not to see everyone if it means you can actually see the facial expressions of the primary speaker.

It takes discipline

Although there are many lessons that can be learned during the communication process, implementing the right communication model is crucial in order to cultivate effective relationships. By developing and clearly defining a set of rules, it helps to improve emotional intelligence, motivation, and confidence on an individual and organizational level. Virtual meetings are now a part of today’s modern business. Therefore, it is up to organizations everywhere to put a strategy in place to achieve successful communication outcomes.