Remote work is here to stay, and teams everywhere are finding new ways to navigating through this business normal to ensure that team efficiency and communication does not skip a beat. As a result, more organizations are investing in methods to conduct better virtual meetings to drive maximum output.
At its core, virtual meetings are just another form of meeting and hence, all the standard tips for a productive meeting still holds true. These tips include:
- Share meeting agenda and any reading material ahead of the meeting
- Assign a note-taker to capture meeting minutes
- Kick-start the meeting with an icebreaker or introduce meeting attendees
- Set the meeting context and review expected outcomes
- Capture and assign action items
In this article, we have curated some best practices specific to remote meetings and to help you make your meeting more engaging and effective.
Best practices for virtual meetings
1. If the attendees are expected to be on video, inform them in advance
Whenever possible, minimize surprises during the meeting so that attendees can focus on the discussion without any distraction. This includes, letting the meeting attendees know if they are expected to be on video. This gives them the opportunity to prepare for the meeting and prevent any awkward situation or embarrassment associated with switching on video on a short notice or even worse, being the only person not on video due to other constraints.
2. Reduce video fatigue by limiting video calls
While video calls are a great way to build human connection with your team, it should not be overused. Video calls have been known to induce stress, since people are more conscious of their facial expressions, behavior and the perception of their actions compared to attending the meetings in person. Researchers at CMU found that for certain meetings videoconferencing can impact the quality of the discussion:
“We found that video conferencing can actually reduce collective intelligence. This is because it leads to more unequal contribution to conversation and disrupts vocal synchrony. Our study underscores the importance of audio cues, which appear to be compromised by video access.”
3. Keep the attendees engaged by making the meeting more interactive
Since you are not physically in the meeting room, it is natural for attendees to try to multitask and get done with low leverage tasks if they have nothing to add to your meeting or find the discussion irrelevant. However, since you are the meeting owner, you value their inputs. A good way to nudge attendees to stay engaged and participate in the discussion is by asking leading questions. A few questions or prompts that can be raised are –
- What would you say are some drawbacks of taking this approach?
- Does this mental model align with the leadership thought process?
- What are other alternative approaches that we can take?
- Is there any other viewpoint from the group?
- Are we overlooking any potential blockers by taking this approach?
- How would we measure success for this project?
- Can you expand on your idea?
- Can you provide context on your idea for the larger audience to understand?
- Matt, looks like this topic is related to your area of expertise, what do you suggest we do here?
- Would the product team like to add any inputs to this design doc?
- We are lacking perspective from analytics team; do you mind sharing some thoughts?
4. Use “raise your hand” or “speaker queue” to streamline participation
On the other end of the spectrum where most attendees are eager to participate, it can lead to chaos with multiple people trying to put across their thoughts or ask questions during the meeting. To put their point across, member’s often end up speaking over each other or misinterpreting faciliatory queues to ask questions, switch topics or initiate active discussion. These situations can be easily avoided if all participants are instructed to “raise their hands” to indicate their intent to chime in. The meeting facilitator can then use the hands-raised queue to give attendees a chance to speak in the order in which they added themselves. Some virtual meeting tools already come with a feature to raise hand or create a speaker queue during the meeting. In case your choice of tool does not have this feature; you can ask attendees to use meeting chat window to raise their hand.
5. Request people to stay on mute if they are not talking
Everybody has a unique remote work setup depending upon their living arrangement, commitments outside of work and personal preferences. This means that meeting attendees might have different noises or non-work-related distractions going on in the background (e.g., my apartment’s landscaping team likes to come every Tuesday during my weekly business review meetings with their extremely loud power equipment). Hence, always ask your attendees to default to “mute” when joining the meeting and only un-mute to participate in the discussion. A few meeting tools let you, the meeting owner, auto-mute any new attendee joining the meeting.
6. Summarize the discussion to confirm the understanding
Capturing exhaustive and accurate meeting notes in remote meetings can be tricky – there is limited access to visual cues to understand the discussion, speaker’s audio issues can result in miscommunication or a bad internet connection can result in loss of context. Hence, always recap the discussion before switching topics during the meeting or before ending the meeting. If you are crunched on time, summarize the high-level bullets including action items and key decisions to ensure overall alignment.
7. Keep buffer time in your meeting agenda for unexpected issues
You spent the time to create detailed meeting agenda, accounted for every minute being spent in the meeting, made sure that participants are prepared for the discussion and have meeting objective clearly outlined – in short you prepared for a productive meeting. It would be extremely disappointing if the conversation gets derailed due to unexpected issues or technical glitches. Hence, always keep a few minutes buffer in your agenda to address any such issues during your meeting. Few last-minute glitches very common in remote meetings are:
- “Looks like my mic might not be working properly, can everyone hear me?”
- “I am not able to share my screen, let me restart my meeting app”
- “My laptop just crashed; I will be a few minutes late to the meeting”
If you are the lucky one and did not come across any issues, give everyone their time back by wrapping up meeting few minutes early!
Here is a summary for quick reference:
- If the attendees are expected to be on video, inform them in advance
- Reduce video fatigue by limiting video calls
- Keep the attendees engaged by making the meeting more interactive
- Use “raise your hand” or “speaker queue” to streamline participation
- Request people to stay on mute if they are not talking
- Summarize the discussion to confirm the understanding
- Keep buffer time in your meeting agenda for unexpected issues