How to Make Your Virtual Meetings More Productive
The modern workforce is increasingly spread out across multiple locations. While many of your coworkers may still work in the same location as you, others are operating out of remote sites or working from home. Virtual meetings were already common solutions for meeting with remote workers when the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, resulted in even more people working from home.
Like face-to-face meetings, virtual meetings can be highly productive: when properly organized and executed. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. A number of issues can interfere with the efficiency of virtual meetings. Almost everyone’s been in a virtual meeting where:
- The presenter drones on with no opportunity for participation
- The entirety of the meeting is on long, complicated PowerPoint presentations
- Bored participants are obviously performing other tasks instead of focusing on the meeting
Virtual meetings don’t have to fall into these common traps. The following tips can make your virtual meetings more engaging, more productive, and more rewarding for all concerned.
Limit Your Objectives
Trying to pack too many topics into a meeting is a common temptation for both in-person and virtual meetings. The reasoning tends to go like this: “as long as we’re here, let’s discuss X as well.” Somehow discussing X leads to talking about Y, which segues into a discussion about Z, none of which was on the meeting agenda.
Adding items to an agenda is frustrating enough in a real-world meeting. In a virtual setting, it’s sheer torture. People can only focus on so much at a time. Limit your agenda to one to three topics, and cover them in depth. If other topics arise, make a note of them for future meetings. Limiting topics also helps you control meeting length: no-one wants to sit through a two-hour Zoom meeting.
Design a Streamlined Meeting
A well-structured meeting agenda keeps your meeting on track and engaging. Avoid presenting information for the entire meeting. Instead, assume at least a third of the meeting will involve active discussion and plant accordingly. Share your agenda, key talking points, and all relevant files or documents well ahead of time, so everyone comes to the meeting ready to participate (nothing slows down a virtual meeting like the first reading of a document).
Remember to Consider Time Zones
Remote workers often occupy very different time zones. Try to schedule meetings so no-one’s having to get up at 4.00 in the morning (or have to interrupt their evening for work). This may present some scheduling challenges, so arrange meeting times well in advance.
Set High Expectations For Participation
If your meeting participants are accustomed to lecture-like meetings where the presenter talks and everyone else listens, they may be uncomfortable with active, meaningful discussion. Providing clear expectations at the start of the meeting helps everyone understand what’s expected of them. Include information such as:
- The desired outcome of the meeting
- How the meeting will be organized
- What subjects will be covered
- The roles expected of each participant
- How to use any relevant web meeting features
Understand Your Technology
Virtual meeting tools include a range of tools designed to make meetings more engaging and dynamic. Take time to familiarize yourself with such tools, such as polling systems, chat, instant messaging, and virtual whiteboards. Your meeting app should also allow you to share documents, spreadsheets, and other files.
Create an Informal Space For Connecting
In a physical workspace, coworkers connect and bond over coffee or at the watercooler. Quick visits to each other’s offices or short chats in the hallway often spread important information while allowing workers to bond and grow closer together.
Consider creating a “virtual watercooler” where coworkers can meet online outside of meetings, such as a Slack channel or a private social media page. Such spaces help employees get to know each other, making meetings less intimidating.
After a virtual meeting, send a summary of the meeting to all participants, including information concerning:
- Deliverables for the next meeting
- A list of participants responsible for following up on items or tasks
- Steps to take based on the meeting
- The date of the next meeting
At the same time, ask for feedback on the meeting, either through one-on-one discussions or a short, anonymous survey. Feedback can help you identify what works, and areas to improve upon before your next meeting. Before you know it, you’ll be hosting vibrant, productive online meetings, and wondering how you ever functioned without them!