As workers around the world have largely settled into a work-from-home routine, virtual meetings have become more prevalent. For some, this is nothing new. However, there are those who aren't used to the digital communication now needed in everyday work life. If you're struggling with virtual meetings, here are some tips to help you and your team stay on track.

1. Create an agenda (and stick to it)

In face-to-face meetings, agendas allow for the attendees to know what the meeting will be about and for the meeting to run smoothly. Agenda-setting is even more important in virtual meetings. While working remotely, you no longer have the ability to have quick chats with people in your office, so planning ahead is key. Create the agenda ahead of time and send it out to all required attendees with at least 24-hours' notice. This will give you some time to receive and respond to any questions about the meeting—and for you to edit the agenda as necessary.

Just as in-person meetings can go off track, so can video conferences. Stay aware of everyone's schedules and try to wrap up the meeting by the scheduled end-time, unless it's absolutely necessary to continue the meeting. Practice your ability to reign in any topics that come up that do not align specifically with the meeting agenda. Remember, you can always schedule a separate meeting or a virtual happy hour to discuss non-work related topics! Keeping your employees' busy schedules in mind while setting time aside for the team to be engaged through discussions not related to work are ways to effectively manage your new remote workers.

2. Choose Your Meeting Tools Wisely

Your organization probably has several communications tools at their disposal. If you're not aware of all of them, ask your IT professionals for a list of the remote work communications and collaboration tools that you can utilize while you work from home. While deciding which tool to use, keep a few things in mind:

  • What kind of screen or file-sharing capabilities will I need? How many people will be in this meeting?
  • How much collaboration will the team need after this meeting?
  • Are there any security concerns with anyone connecting to this technology? (You can find out more about cybersecurity risks here.)

Answering these questions will help you determine if you need a meeting tool that allows for a maximum amount of people to join (many tools only allow for a certain number of attendees, and will charge more to open that occupancy number up), or for ease of file- and screen-sharing. Likewise, if your team will need to collaborate on the topics discussed in the meeting, look into collaboration tools that allow you to seamlessly jump from the meeting to threads about the meeting so that the work can be completed. The tools you choose will allow your team to be more productive both during the meeting and after.

3. Encourage Attendees to Keep Cameras On

There is no substitution for in-person meetings in terms of the ease of connection and command of the room. However, you can achieve a certain level of this while using virtual meetings. Seeing the faces of your team and your coworkers can help reignite the camaraderie you usually get in an office environment. Knowing what your coworkers meeting spaces looks like in their homes can also help you feel a sense of connection.

When you are speaking, make sure you are doing so into the camera lens, and not looking at your colleagues faces. This will show attendees that you are focused on every one of them and in getting your message across. Staring at individual people can be perceived as aloofness, and if your attendees feel like you are focused on all of them, it's more likely that you will have a productive meeting.

4. Practice Good Virtual Meeting Etiquette

While remote work is a dream for many, it doesn't mean your home office set-up will always be the idealized zen-like environment, especially in our new reality. Whether it be children interrupting your meetings, distracting noises outside, or your pets becoming visible during video calls, you're bound to have some unexpected hiccups as you work from home. Luckily, there are some simple rules you can follow to be an excellent virtual meeting attendee. Follow these tips to ensure an efficient and productive meeting:

  • Introduce yourself. If there is anyone on the call that you are not familiar with, give a brief introduction of yourself, and what you do at the company. This goes for all team members that may not know each other. Maintain active listening; it's easy to forget that even when you aren't speaking, others are paying attention to what you are doing. Even when you're on mute, stay focused and listen for opportunities to voice your input.
  • Mute is your friend. Although you need to stay as focused as possible during the meeting, mute yourself whenever you aren't speaking to ensure you do not create distracting background noise for the whole meeting.
  • Gesture when you want to speak. Coming up with a certain gesture, like a hand raise, when you want to speak will help cut down on people talking over one another. In the absence of being able to read body language, being more deliberate when you have something to share can be helpful.
  • Ask questions via chat. Many meeting tools allow for chat between attendees. If you have a question that you want to make sure is answered, but can wait until the end, enter it into the chat so it can be referenced once the speaker is done. This allows for uninterrupted flow for the meeting.
  • Be aware of your surroundings. Make sure you are in an uncluttered, well-lit part of your house for meetings. Dark rooms and oscillating fans are examples of things that can detract from the virtual meeting.
  • Speak clearly. The feel of a virtual meeting can be more relaxed than traditional face-to-face meetings. Make sure you are clear when you are speaking, and speak boldly (but not aggressively) to get your point across.

5. Send a Solid Meeting Follow-up

As you wind down the virtual meeting, it is important to reiterate what was learned during the meeting and what the action steps are. Once you have all agreed on these items, write them all in a follow-up email to the attendees. This guarantees that everyone knows what the expectations are post-meeting. As we mentioned earlier, the inability to go and chat with someone face-to-face makes a solid follow-up plan all the more crucial.

6. Allow Time for Casual Virtual Meetings and Check-ins

During your virtual meetings, give yourself enough time for casual chats. This may seem counterproductive, but it allows you to remain close with your colleagues, especially since you're not seeing them physically in the office every day. You can also use this time for more structured check-ins to see if anyone has items they are having trouble with, or anything they want to share with the team that they have learned. Being able to learn from what each other is experiencing serves as a boost to the unity of the organization.

If you don't want to include casual chat in your meeting times, be sure you give your team scheduled time specifically for more personal discussions. At the end of the day, we're all missing social interaction, but it doesn't mean we can't be there for each other if we're struggling.

With a little practice, you and your team can be just as productive in virtual meetings as you are when you are in the office. It may take more self-discipline, but the payoff will be huge in the long run. Remember, you are only as productive as the least productive member of your team, so it is important to encourage your entire team to remain engaged and curious during virtual meetings!


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