5 Effective Strategies for Virtual Meetings
The future of work is hybrid. Whether we like it or not, hybrid and virtual work is here to stay as the workforce becomes more distributed. As a result of forced virtual work during the pandemic, many companies realized employees don’t need to be in a physical office to be successful or have successful meetings. In fact, multiple studies show remote work actually boosts productivity. Therefore, companies like Twitter, Slack, and LinkedIn made the decision to offer permanent virtual work options. As remote and hybrid work become the new norm, it will be increasingly important that virtual meetings are productive. To help make your virtual meetings more effective, we’ve curated 5 best practices you can apply today to improve virtual meetings within your team.
Best practices to run an effective virtual meeting
1. No Purpose, No Meeting
Meeting rule number one, whether it’s in a virtual or in-person setting, is to have a worthwhile reason to bring people together. During the pandemic, many teams got into the habit of jumping on a Zoom call whenever they wanted to discuss anything. This can be helpful in some cases, but not necessary for every little thing. Why do you want to have a meeting? What exactly do you need to accomplish? You must have a clear purpose if you want to have a productive meeting. Without one, the discussion will be vague and unfocused. You can’t work to meet a goal that you have not first identified.
- Ask yourself why you want to have the virtual meeting in the first place:Are there decisions that need to be made?
- Do new concepts or processes need to be developed? Is there an important deliverable you want to talk through?
- Are you seeking advice from your team?
Only when you have the concrete answer should you schedule a meeting. Matters that aren’t worth scheduling a collective discussion for can be addressed with an email or via Slack. You don’t want to waste anyone’s time, not to mention the money that is lost to unproductive meetings–$37 billion annually. Schedule with purpose!
“The majority of meetings should be discussions that lead to decisions.” –Patrick Lencioni, author and President of The Table Group
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2. Create and distribute an agenda
Prepare an agenda beforehand to outline what needs to be discussed and decided. As a best practice, only include essential topics to avoid wasted time. This will block out any unnecessary discussion that isn’t central to the objective and keep the meeting focused. An important aspect of an agenda, especially for a virtual meeting, is a realistic timetable with roles and responsibilities. If topics and/or tasks have (or should have) specific people owning them, include that information in the agenda for clarity. What will be discussed when, for how long, and by whom? Map these details out and follow them as closely as possible.
With that being said, timing and attention are much different in a virtual environment. Things take longer online because of the tools you must use and the need to get everyone on board. That means you must include time in the agenda to set people up in whatever tool you use (more on that later) as well as buffer time to troubleshoot any technical issues that may arise. Realistically, there will be lags and time-sucking overlaps that wouldn’t otherwise happen in an in-person meeting. That’s why it’s crucial to be concise with your schedule in content and timing. Be strategic. But also be flexible – working from home has additional distractions that don’t typically occur in the office, such as family members, pets, and all those Amazon deliveries. The virtual meeting space is a novelty for most. It will take trial and error to get your meeting prep recipe down just right, but following these virtual meeting best practices will help you get there!
“If we have a clear agenda in advance and we are fully present and fully contributing, the meetings do go much faster.” –Arianna Huffington, co-founder of Huffington Post website
Once you have created your agenda, send it to all attendees in advance (ideally 24 hours before the meeting, if possible). This will ensure that everyone is on the same page and ready to participate when they log in to the meeting. Another beneficial aspect to consider is the need for any pre-work. Remember, you want to be ready to hit the ground running and only focus on your objective during the meeting, not spend (and waste) time preparing attendees during the scheduled time. Doing the work in the meeting is another one of our Meeting Mantras. Is there anything that needs to be assigned to participants before the meeting in order for everyone to be fully prepared, in order to have the most effective and successful meeting possible? If so, send that along with the agenda so that everyone is ready and aligned from the start. This will save time and increases engagement and productivity.
3. Pick your tool
At Voltage Control we use and recommend Zoom, Google Hangouts, and Butter as core tools for hosting virtual meetings. They all have slightly different features, but all three support video conferencing during virtual meetings. Pick whichever platform best meets your needs then make sure everyone knows how to use it. While most people know how to use them by now, consider sending out a how-to for any newbies and plan for an extra few minutes at the beginning of the meeting for everyone to join and get connected. Even the most advanced users can experience technical difficulties!
Pro-tip: use our custom-built Control Room app to engage and inspire groups of any size like a master facilitator.
Some additional best practice tools for virtual meetings include:
- Krisp: Mute background noise during the call.
- Google Slides: Free tool to create presentations or slides to share prior to and during the meeting.
- Google Docs: Take notes during the virtual meeting.
- SessionLab: Dynamically design, organize and share workshops and training content.
- Trello or Asana: Project management tools to help keep track of assigned work and priorities following the meeting.
- World Time Buddy: World clock, time zone converter, and online meeting scheduler to coordinate and plan across different time zones.
- Mural: Digital-first whiteboard with collaborative templates for visual collaboration including planning, brainstorming, and designing.
- Figma: Collaborative design platform to design, prototype, and gather feedback in real-time in one place.
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4. Keep everyone involved and engaged, and prioritize human connection
Making sure all participants are engaged is much more difficult when people are ON their devices. Encourage the use of video (pro tip: review the best practices of video conferencing etiquette here) and silenced phones to optimize participating during the virtual meeting and to get the most out of it. We also recommend you include periodic opportunities for everyone to work asynchronously and have key moments of high engagement where the entire group is involved at the same time. Doing so will keep people from disengaging.
Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, remember the necessity of human connection. This best practice is especially important in the virtual era. Tending to your remote team’s health is essential for team connection and for employees to succeed. Intentionally create opportunity for connection outside of the meeting agenda itself, as virtual work lacks the ability for attendees to meet, mingle, and have watercooler conversations before and after the meeting like in-person meetings offer.
Team conversations outside of the meeting can be just as important as they are during the meeting. They build trust, connection, and rapport with team members. You can make up for this by scheduling an extra few minutes before and/or after the meeting to have free chat. Or schedule a team happy or coffee hour to mingle and connect–it doesn’t have to be a full 60 minutes! Another idea to spark some friendly competition and engagement is utilizing Kahoot! during your virtual meeting. Any time spent getting the team together to breathe, check-in, and network is invaluable to overall team performance and happiness when you’re back in work mode.
5. Debrief, Debrief, Debrief
Allot time at the end of the virtual meeting to debrief with the group. Summarize the major decisions and takeaways, and outline tangible next steps. Ask and answer questions to align as needed. Assign owners (with clear deadlines) to each task or action item so there is no confusion or clarification needed on who is responsible for what following the meeting.
Finally, consider ending on a light note with small talk or a joke to boost everyone’s mood and energy before heading out to tackle responsibilities! Send a meeting follow-up with the notes and action items shortly after the meeting via email, Google Docs, or Slack so everyone is on the same page and has all information readily accessible.
The inability to meet in person doesn’t mean we can’t have purposeful and effective meetings! We just need to adapt to the virtual environment, help one another, and roll with the punches. Consider hiring a professional facilitator to help navigate this shift to virtual and set your business up to experience positive results. A facilitator’s job is to actively guide teams through the decision-making process to reach goals and desired outcomes. They are unbiased leaders removed from emotion about office politics, which allows them to objectively lead with a clear vision of the sought-after goal. Their purpose is to ensure that a team meets its objectives, has fruitful conversations, and that the group gets what they need and want from the gathering. We also developed various downloadable resources and guides on Magical Meetings, Remote Design Sprints, and Hybrid Work to help you and your team navigate this unique time. We’re all in this together!
Want to learn more about our virtual services?
Voltage Control offers virtual services including Virtual Facilitation, Virtual Transitions, and Virtual Meeting Design. We also offer online courses, training, and workshops on Magical Meetings, Design Sprints and Design Thinking, and Large Virtual Meetings. Please reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in learning more and for a consultation.