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Tips for Productive Virtual Meetings

Computer with zoom meeting in progress. Effectively Build and Manage Virtual Teams

Remote working can often lead to many, many virtual meetings. While in the office you could swing by a colleague’s desk to get updates on a project, when working remotely, people tend to schedule Virtual meetings to get these updates. That meeting with 1 person ends up including 4 people. Then that 1 meeting turns into 3 virtual meetings. And the next thing you know, you are having meetings to discuss the upcoming meetings and find yourself in meetings all day long!

Not only are there too many meetings, but they are often not productive. They do not result in action or decision or solution. They either don’t have a clear objective or are not run effectively to reach the objective.

Everyone is attending Virtual meetings in some form right now and it’s likely to continue for many more months. In some cases, remote working will become the norm and therefore, so will virtual meetings. Don’t let virtual meetings run you. Learn how to productively RUN MEETINGS! These 6 simple tips can make a huge impact on your productivity.

To ‘Meeting’ or Not to ‘Meeting’, that is the question

Ever feel like you’re drowning in meetings?

The first tip when it comes to meetings is to see if you can AVOID THEM!  According to an article in Entrepreneur.com, “too many meetings suffocate productivity and morale ”.   This is not to say never have any meetings.  Rather, be very deliberate and thoughtful when scheduling a meeting.  Don’t just throw a meeting on the calendar because you have a question or want an update on something.  First see if you can get the information you need by speaking directly with 1 person.  Or sending an email with a larger group on CC.  Or determine, if you really need the information or update at all!  Be careful not to micromanage.  Let your teams do their jobs!

Here are the questions to ask to determine if a formal group meeting is truly necessary:

  • Is there a decision to be made by a Team?
  • Does the project or topic require discussion and input from multiple team members?
  • Is there a significant update with complex information where Q&A will be needed?
  • Has a crisis arisen that needs addressing and solving by a team?

If the answers to these questions are NO, you likely do not need to schedule a formal meeting.  Harvard Business Review also published an easy Should I Hold a Meeting- Decision tree that can be helpful.

‘Room’ Logistics for Your Virtual Meetings

Unless you’ve been living under a proverbial rock (or in a pandemic bunker with no wifi) for the past 6 months, then you likely know about online video meeting tools, such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and many other software options.  But what you may not know, are the tips for how to use these meeting tools effectively.  Here are a few tips when setting up your Virtual Meeting Room.

  • Encourage all attendees to turn their video on.  When people hide with video off, they are more likely to multi-task and not pay attention.  Video helps with attendee accountability.
  • When you are the host, you can mute all attendees.  This decreases distractions and allows everyone to hear the person speaking.  
  • Determine in advance if you want the Chat to be open.  When attendees are on mute, the chat allows them to type in questions that can be answered at the end or leave comments.  However, sometimes the chat can be a distraction serving side conversations that are more distracting than anything else.  
  • Record meeting if needed.  One of the benefits of an online meeting is the ability to record it for attendees that were not able to attend live.  It also allows you as the leader to go back to clarify any points, decisions, or actions for the meeting notes.
  • Hosting the meeting allows you to set certain functions, such as screen sharing and other functions mentioned above.  Make sure you know which attendees will want to share their screens to present and allow them to do so in the settings.

Encourage In-Person Connection

If working remotely is a long-term option for you, your team, or your business, check out a Coworking Space or Virtual office center, such as Starthub.  These are fantastic options for meeting in person for meetings that are extremely important for the team members to work together or are more than an hour in length.  Meeting in person will allow the team to work more effectively and even efficiently.  It’s also a great option for just getting you out of the house to work in a new environment.

All Virtual Meetings Need an Owner

The Owner of the meeting is the individual who will lead it.  They will schedule it, determine the invite list, create the agenda, and more.  This is critical so that there is 1 person in charge of keeping the meeting on track and meeting objectives.  Here are the responsibilities of the Meeting Owner:

  • Set up the meeting & Invite attendees
  • Articulate the meeting objective
  • Set the agenda and disseminate to the attendees
  • Facilitate the meeting – keep the agenda and discussion moving, request decisions, etc.
  • Take Notes and disseminate out to the attendees

There are additional responsibilities that the Owner may take on discussed in detail the next three sections.

Set Clear Objectives & Expectations

There should NEVER be a meeting on the calendar that does not have an Objective.  If there is no objective, there should not be a meeting.  Therefore, it is critical to set objectives for the meeting and then equally critical to communicate those objectives when scheduling the meeting.  In addition to the objectives, the meeting agenda is needed to lay out the steps required to get there.

In addition to the meeting objective, here are some tips for setting clear attendee expectations:

  • Communicate meeting timing, including the meeting length, the frequency, and the urgency.
  • Scheduled all meetings with enough advance time so that attendees can come prepared.
  • Clearly define attendee roles and expectations for the meeting.
  • Send out an agenda and requirements to prepare in advance.

Effective Flow for Virtual Meetings

You’ve set up the meeting with a clear objective, the agenda went out days in advance, and you’ve got the right people in the meeting.  But, this can all still be derailed if the meeting is not led effectively.  The owner of the meeting is responsible for keeping the agenda moving and the discussion on topic.  It’s important to let team members be heard and to contribute to topics, as long as it does not detract from time or objectives.  

Here are some tips for keeping your meeting on track.

  1. State Meeting objective at start
  2. Have a detailed agenda with attendee names and times to ensure everything is covered
  3. Highlight any agenda items where DECISIONS ARE NEEDED
  4. If you are the Secretary, be ready to take notes.  If you do not plan to take notes, be sure there is some that you can designate to do so.
  5. After each agenda item, restate any ACTIONS to come with due dates
  6. Hold attendees accountable for any actions due at this meeting
  7. At the end of the meeting, restate the objective to ensure that all attendees agree that it has been met and what additional actions may be needed

Post Meeting Tips

After the meeting, there are some key actions that should be taken.

  • Follow up with an email to attendees to say thank you for everyone’s time and send any meeting notes, actions, or follow ups. Generally, this email should go out within 24-48 hours of the meeting so that it is fresh in everyone’s minds.  
  • Schedule the next meeting if needed.
  • Follow up on any action items by due dates if needed.

Productive Virtual Meetings are within Reach!

If you follow these strategies and tips and make sure to have your team members do the same, you will see the dividends start pay off immediately!  

Read on for How to Effectively Build and Manage Virtual Teams.

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