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7 Ground Rules for Virtual Meetings

Use these 7 ground rules to keep your virtual meetings efficient and productive.

December 14th, 2021

by Daniel Olaogun

in Team Communication

During the COVID-19 era, many companies have embraced the remote-work culture and increased their reliance on virtual meetings, using audio and video chat tools like Zoom, Google Meet, Skype, or Slack. Virtual meetings enable remote workers across different time zones to hold daily stand-up meetings, weekly reviews, project presentations, and other events from the comfort of their home location.

To host an effective virtual meeting, it is important to have a set of ground rules for all participants. When everyone knows what to expect from a meeting, they can be more productive and courteous, communicate more effectively, and avoid distractions.

Here are seven ground rules that you should incorporate in your virtual meetings:

  1. All meetings must have an agenda
  2. Participants should mute their microphones when not speaking
  3. No multitasking
  4. Don’t interrupt other people or attempt to speak over them
  5. Participants should turn their video on
  6. Dress appropriately and be presentable
  7. Timebox all out-of-scope discussions

1. All meetings must have an agenda

Without an agenda listing essential points to be discussed, your team might veer away from the meeting’s objective. The agenda acts as a guide to ensure you discuss all points in order and in a reasonable amount of time. It also makes sure you don’t accidentally leave out important points. You should share the agenda with all attendees before the meeting so that they can adequately prepare; this ensures better participation.

If you are participating in a meeting, request an agenda if the meeting host invites you without one. It confirms that you should be part of this meeting in addition to helping you prepare for it.

Additionally, once you know the agenda, you can prepare your speaking materials to match that agenda (if you are a speaker), jotting down questions you need clarified. If you join the meeting without seeming to know what it’s about or why you’re there, you can give other attendees a bad impression and make them feel that you’re wasting their time.

A great approach is to use a shared document, like a Google doc, and use it for both the agenda and for taking meeting notes. Since it can be hard to participate and take notes at the same time, make it a team effort and have people that are not talking in the meeting, at any given time, help take notes.

2. Participants should mute their microphones when not speaking

This one is obvious but still needs repeating. It’s irritating to hear noises from non-speaking participants while the current speaker is making valuable points. Some participants may find it challenging to maintain a completely quiet environment during virtual meetings, so muting your microphone when not speaking is good etiquette. This ensures that background noises such as kids playing in the yard or passing cars won’t distract other participants.

3. No multitasking

You might think you can pay attention to the meeting while you’re making breakfast, working on a project, answering an email, or using your mobile phone. However, trying to multitask distracts you from the meeting, and you might miss crucial points. That distraction also prevents you from contributing meaningfully to the meeting.

If you’re hosting the meeting, obviously multitasking will send the wrong signal to other participants, and they will be more likely to multitask in future meetings because they’ve seen you doing it. Make sure that your important tasks don’t clash with your meeting schedules.

As a general rule, if you wouldn’t do it at an in-person meeting, don’t do it virtually. To help ensure you don’t get distracted, turn off notifications in Slack and on your phone.

4. Don’t interrupt other people or attempt to speak over them

You may disagree with someone but you shouldn’t interrupt while they’re speaking or try to talk over them. You will be seen as rude. The proper meeting etiquette is to allow the participant to finish making their points before you speak. Otherwise, the other attendees may not be able to fully focus on what either of you is saying. Also, if you’re quick to interrupt, you might not be fully listening to the other speaker and may miss part of what they say.

5. Participants should turn their video on

Attendees are better able to interact with each other when they can see each other. Having faces to match to the voices helps build relationships among remote team members and gives more life to the meeting. If participants have their video on it makes for a much more engaging experience.

6. Dress appropriately and be presentable

Even in a virtual setting, you want to present a professional image to your other team members. While you generally have the freedom to wear what you want when working remotely, a meeting is a slightly more formal situation. You should ensure that you are properly dressed for all virtual meetings. Properly dressed at the very least means that you are wearing clothing that covers the top and bottom parts of your body. The important thing is that all participants feel comfortable. If you look sharp and presentable, other participants will feel more comfortable.

7. Timebox all out-of-scope discussions

During the meeting, one of the discussions may lead to an off-topic discussion. Such enthusiastic interaction is good, but an off-topic conversation could overtake the meeting, causing your team to lose focus and unnecessarily extending the meeting time. If you’re the host, you need to monitor these types of discussions and prevent them from derailing the meeting.

If it gets to the point that it threatens the meeting agenda, you’ll need to intervene. Inform the participants that they should schedule a separate meeting to continue their discussion.

Bonus Rule: Attend meetings in suitable locations

When you are about to join a virtual meeting, you want the space you’re using to be well lit, quiet, and free of distractions. If the room is too dark or there’s too much ambient noise, you might miss important parts of the discussion and you won’t be able to participate effectively. Choose your location wisely and test the lighting, noise levels, and background visuals before you sign in.

Conclusion

The biggest challenge of virtual meetings is making sure they’re productive. If you follow these and other common sense rules, your meetings will be well-run and effective.

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I'm Henry Poydar, founder of Status Hero. I've been writing software and leading both co-located and remote software teams for 20+ years.

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