With the sudden shift to remote work last March, virtual meetings have become the new way of doing business. Idle chit chat on the way to a meeting, sitting side-by-side around a large conference room table, and physically whiteboarding during in-person brainstorming sessions have been replaced by countless hours in front of a computer screen. Virtual meeting fatigue has consumed the workforce. Calendars are packed with virtual meetings and employees are finding themselves completely drained after long days of back-to-backs. Since employees spend significant portions of their days in virtual meetings, you would think by this point in the pandemic that virtual meetings would have been perfected, that they consistently accomplish their objectives and run smoothly every single time. While we would love for this to be true, given how much practice we have had, we all know it’s not the case.
Ineffective virtual meetings continue to pose challenges for the workforce, including lost productivity, technical issues, and lack of engagement, leaving attendees wondering why a meeting may have been scheduled or feeling like their time has been wasted. But this doesn’t need to be the case. It is possible to facilitate effective virtual meetings. Through our own transition to 100% remote work, helping our clients navigate their new normal, and best practice research, we have identified simple strategies that work. And the good news is, none of these strategies are new to the workplace. You have probably used many of them at one time or another. They didn’t evolve in response to our virtual environment, but when combined and thoughtfully executed can result in great virtual meeting success.
- Chose technology wisely. There is nothing worse than a virtual meeting starting 15 minutes late because participants are troubleshooting the technology, downloading the software, or trying to get their camera or audio to work. When setting up your virtual meeting, keep your attendees in mind. Make sure to select a platform people are comfortable with and know how to use. If you are facilitating a meeting with employees from multiple organizations, having a plan B is a good idea since you never know how the technology will work across different firewalls and security settings. In these instances, consider having a dial in number set up for attendees who experience technical difficulties.4
- Develop and circulate an agenda with clear objectives. Distributing an agenda in advance can help to establish expectations before the virtual meeting starts. A clear set of objectives also provides a framework for the discussion and lets attendees know what will be covered. Once meeting objectives have been determined, make sure the technology you have selected is conducive to accomplishing them (i.e., it has the necessarily functionality). For example, does the team need to collaborate and finalize a document? Does the team need to view a presentation or watch a video in real time? Are any key stakeholders unable to attend/should the meeting be recorded?1
- Encourage the use of video. Now more than ever, employees are craving personal connections. Using video can create the intimacy of an in-person meeting and help people feel like they are in the same “room”.3 Video can help keep participants engaged and focused on the discussion at hand instead of multi-tasking as well as personalize the conversion. Being able to physically see the facial expressions, emotions, and reactions of your team members can go a long way, especially when it comes to making key decisions, reaching consensus, or discussing tough or sensitive topics. That said, not all participants are comfortable using their camera, so making the request for people to join with their camera on (either in the agenda or meeting invitation) can give people time to prepare or state their preferences in advance.
- Create opportunities for informal conversation. Employees desperately miss the small talk that occurs so naturally in the workplace. Dedicating a few minutes at the beginning of a virtual meeting for an icebreaker or informal chit chat is key. This not only eases employees into the discussion but also reinforces personal relationships and connections. It can also help people to feel comfortable if they haven’t met or don’t know each other very well.2
- Set ground rules. Ground rules not only establish good virtual meeting etiquette, they also ensure all attendees are on the same page. Reminding participants to avoid multi-tasking and being disrespectful of each other’s opinions may seem unnecessary to communicate, but it’s important to articulate that these behaviors are unacceptable. Full attention and engagement, as well as respect, are essential for a virtual meeting to be effective so communicating these expectations can provide a standard for participants to live up to.
- Leverage virtual collaboration tools. Collaboration can be tough in a virtual setting. Gone are the days of mapping out improvements to a workflow on an actual whiteboard or facilitating the prioritization of actions using dot stickers and flipcharts. However, these same types of interaction and collaboration can be replicated in a virtual setting using the right tools. FMP Consultant, Autumn Thomas, recently spotlighted two such tools – Miro and Mentimeter – in her blog post on virtual collaboration.
- Make sure all voices are heard. Creating opportunities for all attendees to participate and contribute may be one of the most challenging aspects of facilitating an effective virtual meeting. Providing multiple ways for people to voice their opinion is essential. This not only allows participants to contribute via the method they feel most comfortable, but increases the chances that everyone will have an opportunity to participate and no one is excluded from the conversation. Calling on team members directly, encouraging the use of the raise hand and/or chat feature, and facilitating a round robin discussion are all ways to ensure everyone can contribute.
- Recap next steps. Outlining next steps and action items, including due dates and owners, before wrapping up a virtual meeting is important. Asking team members to confirm they can commit to their specific action items by the identified due date can increase accountability and ensure actions are completed in a timely manner.
While the country is slowing preparing to return to normal, remote work doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon. Even when workplaces are fully open again, there will likely be a continued need to facilitate virtual, as well as hybrid meetings and, when used together these tips can result in effective and productive conversations.
What have you found to be the keys to successful virtual meetings? What strategies are you currently using? Share them with us on LinkedIn!
Jessica McCrerey is an Engagement Manager in the Learning and Development Center of Excellence at FMP. Jessica is from Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania and enjoys working out, cooking, and spending time with family and friends.
- DeBara, Deanna. “The ultimate guide to remote meetings.” Slack, 21 January 2021, https://slack.com/blog/collaboration/ultimate-guide-remote-meetings.
- Ferrazzi, Keith. “How to Run a Great Virtual Meeting.” Harvard Business Review, 27 March 2015, https://hbr.org/2015/03/how-to-run-a-great-virtual-meeting.
- Frisch, Bob and Cary Greene. “What It Takes to Run a Great Virtual Meeting.” Harvard Business Review, 5 March 2020, https://hbr.org/2020/03/what-it-takes-to-run-a-great-virtual-meeting.
- Pullan, Penny. “The seven secrets of successful virtual meetings.” Project Management Institute, 10 May 2011, https://www.pmi.org/learning/library/successful-virtual-meetings-skills-improvement-6267.