Even in the best of circumstances, fully engaging the attention of team members can be challenging for leaders and managers. This is true for in-person meetings, and even truer when meetings are held virtually. During the COVID-19 pandemic, online meetings have become increasingly commonplace, making it possible for teams to maintain operational productivity while adhering to social distancing guidelines. A number of technology platforms make these meetings possible; combined with the right strategies, these platforms empower leaders to facilitate productive meetings.
Preparing for Virtual Meetings
Determining the right software solution is an important first step toward effective virtual communication. However, to ensure that meetings are as productive as possible, leaders and managers should also make other preparations.
Set the Ground Rules
Be sure that all team members know the basic expectations and rules of conduct for the virtual meeting; you might send out guidelines in an e-mail to all participants or even include them in your employee handbook. Some examples include the following:
- Be on time.
- Make appropriate use of the video, chat, and raise hand features.
- Mute audio except when presenting or asking/answering questions.
- Avoid distracting activities, such as eating or smartphone browsing.
- Use laptops instead of phones, ensuring steady images.
Team members should be aware of the rules of conduct, but also your expectations for participation. Consider these examples:
- Send out a proposed meeting agenda in advance, and ask if there are any suggested changes or additions.
- Make sure that employees know if and when they’ll be expected to present, and for how long.
- Assign tasks to your employees in advance, such as facilitating discussions, managing slides, or taking meeting minutes.
- Open opportunities for all employees to speak, ensuring that nobody feels left out or overshadowed.
Test Your Technology in Advance
Nothing derails virtual meetings faster than a technological snafu. Be sure to test your technological set up in advance; make sure that you have no trouble getting audio, video, and chat functions to work appropriately. Encourage all your team members to do the same, testing both their technology setup and Internet connectivity.
Set Up Your Meeting Space
Even in virtual meetings, your physical space matters. Find a place in your home office where you have good lighting, limited noise, and minimal distractions. Be sure that it also offers a good Wi-Fi connection.
Enable Communication Channels Outside of the Meeting
It’s important that your team members be able to talk together even when they’re not in a meeting; so-called watercooler chat can be important for team cohesion and overall morale. Set up dedicated groups, such as a team Slack channel, where members can interact.
If you have employees working from different parts of the world, make sure that you consider their time zones when planning meetings. When possible, avoid asking anyone to jump on a Zoom conference when it’s 3 a.m.local time.
Learn More About Preparing for Virtual Meetings
As you think about your next virtual meeting, these additional resources may come in handy:
- Yonder, “4 Tips to Prepare for a Virtual Meeting.” Get a few actionable suggestions for effective meeting preparation, such as ensuring that all team members have access to the right technology setup.
- Forbes, “12 Tips for Making Your Virtual Meetings More Professional.” Discover some smart ways to boost professionalism in your next remote meeting.
- The Balance Careers, “How to Develop an Effective Meeting Agenda.” Learn some of the key components of an effective meeting agenda.
Running Effective Virtual Meetings
By being diligent in your preparation, you can lay the groundwork for a successful meeting. Even once the meeting begins, you can take further steps to ensure that it’s productive, engaging, and on topic.
Tips for Effective Virtual Meetings
Some best practices for running an effective online meeting include the following:
- Do something to break the ice. To get people comfortable talking, ask some questions, request introductions, or plan another icebreaker activity, such as using Kahoot to have participants play a quick interactive quiz game.
- Take turns. Encourage participants to take turns answering questions, which can minimize awkward silences.
- Use visual assets. One of the best ways to engage meeting participants is through visual components. Shared screens, a virtual whiteboard, and slideshows can all work well.
- Refer to your agenda. Make sure that the meeting agenda is visible on the screen, and use it to guide your meeting from one topic to the next.
- Dress professionally. By wearing appropriate workplace attire, you can send a visual reminder that this is a business meeting, not an informal hangout.
- Look directly at the camera. Virtual platforms make it difficult to maintain “eye contact,” but you can at least look directly into the camera to show that you’re fully engaged.
- Avoid multitasking. When you’re in a meeting, be in the meeting. You won’t get as much out of it if you’re also trying to check e-mail or scroll through Twitter.
- Don’t get upset about glitches. Technological issues can happen, and there’s no point in beating yourself up. Just be sure that you learn from the mistakes for the next
- Close meetings with follow-up steps. Provide a clear list of action items, including projects that need to be delivered. Also, specify the time of the next meeting.
- Follow up. Send out a feedback survey after the meeting, and offer to clear up any outstanding questions or points of confusion.
For some additional insight into running effective meetings, try some of these resources:
- Slack, “The Ultimate Guide to Remote Meetings in 2020.” Dive into this comprehensive guide to hosting effective online meetings.
- Fast Company, “How to Have a Virtual Meeting That’s Not Painful (and Actually Productive).” Consider these guidelines for keeping meetings on track.
- Entrepreneur, “5 Ways to Lead Effective Virtual Meetings With Your Remote Teams.” Brush up on your skills managing meeting participation.
- HubSpot, “How to Host an Inclusive Virtual Meeting, According to HubSpot’s Remote Work Manager.” Get some insight into hosting online meetings where all parties are included.
- Harvard Business Review, “What It Takes to Run a Great Virtual Meeting.” Find out what’s involved in keeping meetings productive and engaging.
Virtual Meetings Platforms
Even before COVID-19, virtual communication and collaboration tools made it possible for teams to engage one another virtually, including members from all across the globe. These platforms are all the more significant now, and they vary in the capabilities they offer. Some allow for standard meetings with minimal interaction, and others are more collaborative in nature.
Commonly Used Virtual Meetings Platforms
Some of the most popular options for virtual meetings include the following:
- Zoom. Zoom has become the go-to virtual meeting platform of the COVID-19 era. Some of its top features include the ability for meeting attendees to “raise their hands,” share whiteboards, and share their screens.
- Google Meet. Similar in many ways to Zoom, Google Meet provides screen sharing, video captions, and robust encryption technology.
- Skype. Skype can be used to host fairly large groups and also allows for easily recording an entire meeting.
- Microsoft Teams. Microsoft Teams is connected to other Microsoft Office 365 applications, including Outlook and OneDrive. It offers chat, file sharing, and many other features.
- Slack. Slack’s enterprise features enable a number of communication options in your team’s dedicated channels.
- Whereby. Whereby is a simple virtual meeting app that works in your browser—no app or software downloads are required.
- GoTo Meeting. GoToMeeting is a platform that’s best used in larger groups or for hosting webinars.
- Cisco Webex. Cisco Webex is a prime option for hosting global meetings and presentations, particularly when larger groups are involved.
More Information About Virtual Meetings Platforms
As you consider your options, these are a few additional resources that may prove helpful:
- Business.com, “15 Things to Look for When Considering Virtual Meeting Technology.” Discover some of the key considerations to make as you browse different software solutions.
- The HR Director, “A Guide to Privacy and Data Protection Issues Concerning Video Conferencing.” Find out more about human resources issues that surround virtual meetings, including potential privacy concerns.
In addition to these virtual meetings platforms, other tools can facilitate easy collaboration. Some top options include the following:
- Lucidchart. Lucidchart allows your team members to work together remotely to create visual data points, including graphs and flowcharts.
- Miro. Ready for a team brainstorming session? Try out Miro, an online whiteboard tool that your team members can share.
- Jamboard. Jamboard is a Google program that provides virtual whiteboard options with built-in photo features.
More Information About Collaboration Tools
In thinking about these collaboration tools, these are some additional resources that may help:
- Conceptboard, “10 Tips for Successful Virtual Collaboration.” Discover insights into using virtual collaboration tools as effectively as possible.
- Harvard Business Review, “How to Collaborate Effectively If Your Team Is Remote.” Get tips for how virtual teams can cooperate effectively and efficiently.
Find Success in Virtual Meetings
In the unfolding pandemic, virtual meetings have become a fact of life. While these meetings aren’t necessarily ideal, they can be productive, engaging, and meaningful. It all starts with proper planning.