5 tips for more effective remote staff meetings

We are on a mission to rid of the world of horrible meetings–the too long, unproductive, unfocused, boring, and cringey. Why? Because when done right, staff meetings of any kind are essential bridges to do meaningful work. They allow us to productively and effectively solve problems, gain consensus, exchange ideas, resolve conflict, cultivate connection, and fulfill our goals. The power of meaningful meetings is lost on many, as the typical meeting climate is wildly dysfunctional. And now with the new virtual landscape, it’s been a proven challenge for many businesses to conduct successful remote meetings. The stereotypical staff meeting, both in-person and remote, is one that lacks structure, purpose, direction, and consideration of people’s time–a reality for many organizations. 

If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be “meetings”. – Dave Barry, American Writer

We love to hate meetings. It’s a strange type of camaraderie. We connect on our meek anticipation for the next painful staff meeting, like horrible meetings are completely unchangeable, and we are left to endure and survive them together. But what if we were jazzed up by staff gatherings instead? Imagine looking forward to meetings for their productivity, creativity, connection, and clarity. It’s possible! And we’re here to tell you how. We have the strategies you can easily apply to your team for better remote staff meetings.

From Cringey to Connection

We’ve been listening and talking to people across industries over the past several months about what they’re experiencing with remote work in the new virtual landscape. There has been a lot of discussion around how to foster human connection virtually, specific to remote teamwork and virtual meetings. Remote teams don’t have the benefit of in-person team-building experiences like seemingly simple yet vitally essential watercooler conversations. This lack of connection is a critical factor that leaders should not overlook. Now, we must create intentional space for connection to maintain team cohesion. A virtual environment does not allow for usual employee side conversations on lunch breaks or between meetings, which are imperative for team bonding and therefore team collaboration.

A virtual environment does not allow for usual employee side conversations on lunch breaks or between meetings, which are imperative for team bonding and therefore team collaboration.

The Great Pause has highlighted the necessity for genuine connection. In the business world, relationships build company culture. Quality connection builds trust and community, which lays a foundation for effective collaboration.

As people have experimented with how to run successful virtual staff meetings and keep team members engaged and connected, they’ve evaluated and tweaked meeting structures. We’ve heard that many companies have begun to incorporate different tools and strategies to create more connection with their remote teams. Huzzah! Peep our Virtual Work Guide for dozens of said tools and processes for navigating virtual meetings–from productivity hacks and how to navigate remote design sprints to how to better organize and facilitate remote teams. Below, we highlight some of our top tips for addressing the human side of successful staff meetings to help you build authentic connection with your team and ultimately do more meaningful work.

Tips For Effective Remote Staff Meetings

The following are some of the methods we use in our remote staff meetings. They’re simple, easily applicable, and make a huge impact on successful virtual meetings.

1. Start with music

Prepare a playlist for the team to enjoy upon Zooming in to your next virtual staff meeting. It immediately sets a playful and friendly tone and serves as an icebreaker in itself. Greeting your team virtually is still a novice custom for many. It can be awkward and uncomfortable, especially at the beginning. “Who speaks, when? Can they hear my stomach growling? Shoot, I forgot to brush my hair. What do I do with my hands…?” A musical entry gives everyone something to connect to, comment on, dance to, and engage in before things get rolling. At the very least, it is a breath of fresh air from the traditional meeting setting. And because we’re in the business of transforming meetings, why not spice things up with a musical element?

2. Kick off with a thoughtful question

No one really likes small talk, especially when it feels forced. Some of our friends and fellow facilitators have told us that they have experienced “forced” watercooler moments during remote staff meetings. In other words, dialing into a meeting can feel more like an awkward first date. Where are the ice-breakers going wrong? Many opening questions at staff meetings fall flat; they’re too vague or too dull. A genuine interest in the answers is low; it takes away from the goal to create connection among team members.

Start with a thoughtful question that provokes interest and provides useful insight. For example, ask team members how they are feeling about something specific: a project they’re working on, the dynamic of the team’s collaboration that week, or if there is anything top-of-mind that they’d like to discuss with the team. Team members will not only feel seen and valued, but they will also have the opportunity to communicate their needs and celebrate accomplishments with the group.

In the absence of in-person interactions, there is an increased importance placed upon creating human connection, both within and outside of remote meetings. We fill the gap of human contact when meeting virtually by way of various other remote work tools and processes.

3. Incorporate energizers

Sometimes you need a little extra energy in the (virtual) room, something to mix up the dynamic and add a stimulating oomph. Energizers are effective for both in-person and virtual staff meetings. They are bite-sized activities that get people moving, encourage a dose of fun, and keep the team’s energy high. Just think about a long meeting that drags on and on. As the clock ticks away, so does your attention span and liveliness. Energizers, or energy games/ice breakers, spike participation and quickly evaporate any stale air to increase productivity. Include them at the beginning of a staff meeting or somewhere in the middle to brighten up the workflow.

We have found energizers particularly helpful in remote meetings; they are a welcomed burst of physical and mental play and creativity. Here are some of our go-to’s:

  • Giffy Dance–Dance break! Put on a tune or jam to your own beat and have everyone do a dance. Capture it as a gif (we like to use Snagit) and then share it with everyone.
  • Guess the Shoes/Desk–have everyone (anonymously) upload a picture of their shoes or their home desk space in a MURAL template. Take turns guessing which pair of shoes/desk belongs to who.
  • Creative Color–Choose a specific color and ask all staff meeting attendees to pick an object near them of that color and show it on screen. Knight the person with the coolest object the winner. The winner then chooses the next color and you repeat the process.

4. Take active breaks

A simple “stop and stretch” can go a long way. We often find ourselves chained to our desks when we work from home. It’s easier to stay idle all day when everything you need to accomplish is accessible from your screen. There is no walking to and from meetings or lunch breaks. So intentionally scheduled breaks in staff meetings are a beneficial dose of movement, especially during long sessions. Team members may feel uncomfortable stretching and wiggling out their limbs with everyone’s eyes on them. Encourage everyone to turn off their camera and microphone for a few minutes to stretch, grab a drink, use the restroom, and do whatever they need to revitalize themselves before you get back to work. They will return refreshed and ready to jump back into work mode.

5. Always Debrief

It is essential to debrief at the end of each staff meeting for durability and retention. You’ve made an effort to connect everyone during the meeting, how will you maintain that connection after? Recap critical points and make sure everyone knows what they will be responsible for completing after the meeting is over. Debriefing is an important key behavior for managing remote teams, as your interaction with team members will be less frequent. It also provides an opportunity to clear up any confusion or lingering questions that may exist and ensures that everyone is on the same page and ready to hit the ground running. If done effectively, a debrief can improve team effectiveness by up to 25%. Always circle back with your team.

As you plan your next staff meeting, ask yourself what kind of environment you’d want to be a part of as an attendee. What would make you feel more connected to remote team members? What kind of activities would you find fun and stimulating? Designing meetings with your team members’ needs in mind makes for the most effective and productive gatherings.

Looking for a Virtual Meeting Facilitator? We Can Help. 

Voltage Control facilitates remote design thinking workshops, innovation sessions, and Design Sprints. Please reach out at info@voltagecontrol.com for a consultation.