For a lot of companies, virtual meetings have become their primary, if not their only, form of communication.
While typical, in-person meetings still do exist, due in large part to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of those meetings have turned virtual. A few other factors have influenced the rise of virtual meetings in recent years as well: the development of new technologies like VOIP telephony, globalization, and easier access to the best talent regardless of location, courtesy of outsourcing and offshoring.
Virtual meetings are definitely here to stay. The challenge that many of us face now is, how can we make virtual meetings more effective and successful?
Common Disruptions to Virtual Meetings
Virtual meetings are convenient and efficient, but they can be plagued with problems. Connection problems, faulty hardware, and background noise are just some of the things that can disrupt these meetings. And there’s more:
- Virtual meeting participants can be distracted by other things such as work, email,and social media, or become disengaged especially if the meetings take too long.
- Meeting start times can be delayed due to setup issues.
- Participants can be confused or unaware of who else is in the meeting, or who is speaking at any given time.
- There can be a lot of dead air in these meetings, especially when the speaker asks a question to the entire group.
These issues can make virtual meetings ineffective. Thankfully, there are a number of steps you can take to minimize them, and make the most out of your virtual meetings.
Step 1: Be prepared.
Preparation is key to optimize virtual meetings. This involves a number of things:
- Choose the right video conferencing tool. There are plenty of video conferencing tools you can choose from nowadays. Make sure you pick the right one that fits your needs, your budget and your industry.
- Make sure all participants have the right video conferencing tool installed and that they know how to use it. Having a practice conference call ahead of time is good practice, as this will not only allow participants to get a feel for the tool before the actual meeting, but also check for any issues with the tool itself.
- Set a schedule. Send a calendar invite for the meeting well in advance, so participants have time to confirm their attendance, prepare what they need to, and plan and organize their week accordingly. If your meetings need to happen on a regular basis, decide on a consistent schedule (weekly, bi-weekly, post-project wrap-up, etc.) and stick to it. This allows everyone to anticipate and prepare for such meetings.
- Structure your meeting. Set an agenda, have a clear objective, and coordinate discussions based on key topics. Remember that you are taking up people’s valuable time. Stick to your agenda so you can keep your meetings focused and more efficient, and keep meeting times shorter.
- Establish clear roles. Make sure you assign a facilitator, timekeeper, scribe, and other necessary roles within the meeting beforehand. Assigning certain topics for discussion to certain people should also be done ahead of time.
- Establish ground rules. Mute when not speaking, ask questions only after the speaker is done talking, be respectful– these and other rules should be clear before your virtual meeting.
- Share information ahead of time. If you have a presentation, recording, or other things you’d like to present during the meeting, it would be a good idea to share these with your team members ahead of time. Doing so will shorten your meeting time (and lessen the risk of losing engagement), and allow people to focus on any questions or suggestions they may have.
Step 2: Keep people engaged.
This can be quite difficult to achieve, but there are several small ways to keep your members engaged:
- Have a mandatory “video on” policy. While some team members may appreciate not having to be camera-ready for a meeting, turning those cameras on is vitally important. It keeps multitasking during a meeting to a minimum, and opens up your communication to non-verbal cues, which often convey more intent and meaning. It also humanizes your virtual meetings, making them feel more real and genuine, and consequently help to forge genuine relationships. And lastly, it’s just a good excuse for everyone to dress up and look presentable once in a while, even when they’re all working from home.
- Acknowledge everyone in the meeting. Make sure everyone has a chance to speak. You could ask for updates, get their opinion, ask if they have anything to add, or if they need help with their current task.
- Use different tools. People become more engaged when their senses and imagination are put to use. So if you can, show some graphs, maps, slides, and pictures. Tell relevant stories (but of course, try to keep it brief), and keep people involved. Use video conferencing features like virtual hand-raising, or simply ask questions and get people’s perspectives.
- Keep the ball rolling. Your meeting is like a bus carrying everyone to its destination, and the facilitator is the bus driver. The facilitator must make sure that the bus is heading in the right direction at all times, and doesn’t make unnecessary stops or side trips. The facilitator must also make sure that the bus is going within the “speed limit”: not too fast that it feels rushed, but not too slow that everyone becomes disengaged.
Step 3: Agree on the next steps.
It can be more difficult to get people to take action after a virtual meeting compared to an in-person meeting. To ensure that action is taken, have all action points written down, all deadlines set and agreed upon, and all tasks clarified and assigned by the end of the virtual meeting. Also agree on when you will be following up on what’s been discussed, and when your next meeting will be.
More and more companies are choosing to outsource staffing, allow work-from-home setups, or have international offices that need to be in contact. As long as these exist, virtual meetings will be indispensable. By taking these steps, you can be sure to get the most out of those virtual meetings, and help your team be more productive.
What are other steps you’ve taken that have been effective in making your virtual meetings a success? Tell us about it in the comments below!