As remote work emerges as perhaps the greatest “new norm” of our current national predicament, organizations of every size and stripe are adjusting to a landscape in which in-person, face-to-face communication has been largely supplanted by some sort of digital alternative.
And while the remote setup is surely helpful in terms of preventing further spread of COVID-19 (and, according to recent studies, may even increase productivity for many workers), it is an adjustment nonetheless, and one that must be navigated with care in order to keep professional teams properly connected, on the same page and on the right track.
So once you’ve got your WFH setup and routine down pat, consider the following 11 tips for making sure that your virtual meetings run smoothly and produce effective results.
It’s hard enough to keep people engaged in a virtual meeting, harder still when you’re spending a big chunk of it going over stuff that could have been sent out in advance. A little prep work will go a long way in terms of assuring your time is spent productively. Send out a clear agenda and any pertinent materials in advance of the meeting, letting your team know what they should brush up on beforehand so that you can use your time together to ask/answer questions, discuss the material and make decisions. The more clearly you outline things ahead of time, the smoother and more effectively everything will run.
Additionally, beware of roping in team members who don’t actually need to be in the meeting. One, because an attendee who doesn’t have a clear reason to be there tends to be (rightfully) disengaged and thus a bit of a drag on the proceedings. Two, because meeting fatigue is a very real thing and you want everyone primed and ready to go for the ones in which they’re really needed.
Whenever possible, try to use a video platform to conduct your meeting. Some people may gripe, but at the end of the day, there are important benefits to your team members being able to see each other. It humanizes the meeting, makes people feel more connected and encourages accountability. Speaking of which …
In order to keep the meeting on track and everyone engaged/productive, it is important that you set ground rules. First, issue a moratorium on multitasking, which tends to be much easier for most people to do in a virtual environment than it would be in person. Encourage everyone to turn off notifications on both their computers and phones to minimize distractions, and let people know to keep their microphones muted unless they’re speaking — nothing makes it harder to pay attention than a big dose of background noise, and many times people aren’t even aware they’re causing it until it’s an issue.
This is actually just good practice for any meeting, but of particular importance in a virtual environment, where your team doesn’t have the benefit of “sitting down together” and collectively focusing. Beginning with an explicit statement of what you hope to accomplish in the meeting sets the overall tone and helps everyone get in the right headspace. Before you do that, though …
Virtual meetings can be a little awkward and formal at the outset, so it helps to start with a little small talk to break the ice. It’s helpful to have a prompt ready to encourage less loquacious folks to get in on the action, even something as simple as “What’s the last great thing everyone watched?” Not only will some good-natured chit-chat help to relax everyone and set a friendly tone for the meeting itself, but it also helps with your overall company culture in the long term — something that can very easily start to suffer in the absence of face-to-face interaction. Added benefit: it gives you time to wait on any stragglers and deal with any connection issues people may have.
In a virtual meeting, participation is key to maintaining collective focus. The goal is collaborative problem solving rather than a collection of “report-outs,” which, if we’re being honest, are boring and a drag and kill everyone’s motivation. If you did your pre-meeting prep correctly, your team should be able to use this time to work together, offer information/insights and most importantly, view each other as sources of insight and aid in overcoming challenges.
As the meeting’s facilitator, it is not only your job to move everyone through the agenda in a clear and focused manner, but also to call on various team members to solicit their thoughts and opinions and keep things interactive. Pay particular attention to the introverts, who often have great insight but are nervous to share it unless you coax it out.
Attention tends to drift in a virtual meeting more easily than it would in person, and thus it’s helpful to break your meeting up into segments (as outlined on your agenda) to maintain focus. The end of each segment is also an excellent opportunity to check in with each individual team member, get any final thoughts, and make sure everyone is aligned before proceeding.
As the head of the meeting, it is imperative that you lead by example in terms of the meeting’s energy — a focused, engaging leader leads to a focused, engaged team. If you’re feeling a bit sluggish prior to kickoff, consider foregoing your normal cup of coffee in favor of a can of Monster Energy — you’ll get all the energy with less caffeine (Monster has about half the caffeine of your average cup of premium coffee shop joe) plus the added benefit of vitamin B-12, riboflavin, niacin and vitamin B-6.
As for which can to grab, you can’t go wrong with the original Monster Energy, beloved by professional athletes and CEOs alike for it’s tried-and-true performance boost. For the calorie-conscious, Monster Energy Ultra has zero sugar and comes in a variety of flavors, all supercharged with the signature Monster energy blend.
Many platforms include a “breakout” feature where smaller groups can get together outside the main group. If issues arise during the meeting that don’t require the entire team’s input, encourage these breakout groups afterward and avoid killing the meeting’s overall momentum and focus.
Another danger of the virtual meeting is that it is very easy for it to end with a bit of a whimper. Before everyone logs off, give a brief summary of what you’ve covered and highlight the next steps for each attendee. Not only will this serve to foreground action items in everyone’s mind, but also foster a greater sense of collaboration and teamwork, as each person hears how their role relates to the whole.
With an in-person meeting, team members have the opportunity to linger afterward to bring up questions or share a bit of feedback that they might not have been comfortable surfacing with the whole group. Since this isn’t really possible with a virtual meeting, take the time to follow up with individual team members afterward to check in and make sure they’re good to go. This also gives you the opportunity to solicit feedback on the meeting itself and use it to optimize the next one.