Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, virtual meetings have become widespread. According to 20 Astonishing Video Conferencing Statistics for 2021, daily traffic for video conferencing rose by 535% in 2020. The advantages are obvious: you and your team members can meet from wherever you are without needing to travel, and you have access to collaboration tools as well as your team members’ faces and voices.
But it’s not enough to schedule a virtual meeting—you have to run it well. This article will offer some practical tips for holding effective virtual meetings.
The Importance of Meetings
Meetings are an essential part of professional life. They help teams share and develop ideas as well as plan future actions. They encourage transparency and shared understanding among team members and foster trust, motivation, and engagement.
The trend away from in-person meetings and toward virtual gatherings gained momentum during the pandemic. A growing number of companies work with distributed teams or give their employees the freedom to work from anywhere. An Upwork study predicts that twenty-two percent of the American workforce will be remote by 2025.
These meetings don’t just bring distributed teams together. They offer benefits for employees as well as for companies. Employees spend less time and money commuting, which is good for motivation, work-life balance, family, and health. Companies spend less on travel and on maintaining office spaces, and they have fewer absences due to illness. Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics, estimates that a typical employer can save an average of $11,000 per half-time telecommuter per year.
Remote work may well be the way many people work in the future. This makes effective virtual communication crucial to a company’s success.
Virtual Meeting Traps
However, virtual meetings must be conducted in the right way. If you do that, everyone benefits. If you fall into one of the common traps of virtual meetings, they can waste time, damage motivation, and hinder success.
For instance, distraction is always only “one window away” in virtual meetings. These meetings can also be more exhausting than in-person meetings, leading to Zoom fatigue.
Some of the companies I work with have tried to save more time by holding back-to-back meetings. This is a dangerous trap. Participants have no time for:
- closing the meeting mentally
- preparing mentally for the next meeting
- taking a break or getting something to drink
- standing up and moving around
Holding three, four, or five meetings in a row with no break may be harmful—for the individual, the team, and the results.
Another bad habit is attempting to take part in several meetings simultaneously, which is only possible in virtual meetings. You can’t possibly give any of them your full attention.
If you want to run effective virtual meetings, you need to respect your team’s mental needs without abusing the technical possibilities of what you can do.
What You Need for a Virtual Meeting
Besides a computer and a good internet connection, the following equipment is strongly recommended:
- extra lighting to illuminate the participant from the front
Depending on your videoconferencing tool, you can add other tools to create more interactivity, like:
- virtual whiteboards
- voting tools
- collaboration tools
Here are some tools I recommend:
- Draft as an alternative to MURAL or Miro
- Pushbox as an alternative to Asana or other collaboration tools
Whichever you choose, get familiar with the tool stack before the meeting starts and make sure your team has the chance to do so as well. If you decide to use a new tool during a meeting, give a short introduction on how to use it.
Rules for a Good Meeting
To conduct effective virtual meetings, you should commit to some general principles:
- focus on the meeting and resist distractions
- respect breaks between meetings
- have a camera-on policy
- mute yourself if you’re not speaking
- reserve “no-meeting” time slots for deep work
- everyone must come prepared
- hold better—not more—meetings
You can maintain these principles through your tech stacks. To ensure breaks between meetings, for instance, some companies have changed the settings of their tools. If someone wants to book a one-hour session, the videoconferencing tool automatically offers fifty minutes; a thirty-minute booking comes up as twenty-five minutes.
Before inviting others to a meeting, ask yourself these questions:
- Why do I want to have this meeting?
- What should be the outcome?
- Is a meeting the right way to reach this outcome?
- Whom do I really need at this meeting to achieve this outcome?
This will help you determine whether the meeting is necessary and whose presence is required.
Plan your meetings using the following principles as your guide.
1. More but shorter meetings, instead of fewer but longer ones
- help to focus on a specific topic
- reduce the number of people needed
- reduce cognitive load for each individual
- help reduce Zoom fatigue
- help prevent distraction
2. Interaction and visualization, not long monologues and dialogues
- help prevent distraction
- create a shared understanding
- support finding commitments
- foster engagement
To follow this second principle, think about how interaction can help and how this interaction should be handled. If you use a collaboration tool, prepare it before the meeting starts.
Visualization can mean sharing your screen, to give participants the same view of the information so they can discuss it.
3. Contribution, not consumption
- helps create better results
- fosters engagement and motivation
- helps prevent distraction
- strengthens the “we” feeling
If you want others to contribute, you need to allow them to prepare for it:
- Send out an agenda with the specified topics
- Designate people to contribute to a particular topic
- Clarify the expectations for the meeting
- Set timeboxes for each subject
You can add information to the calendar invite so that your team only needs to look in one place. If you use a collaboration tool like Pushbox, you can arrange the agenda in a task board. All the decisions, findings, next steps, and to-dos can be added to the task board during the meeting, so that you don’t need to prepare minutes of the meeting afterward. That will save on time and follow-up emails, as well as make it easier to see the next steps.
During the Meeting
As the facilitator, you should be online a few minutes before the meeting starts. This is your time to ensure you’re prepared before you welcome everyone.
Summarize the purpose of the meeting, then ask participants to briefly introduce themselves and clarify why they’ve been included. Depending on the situation, an icebreaker interaction can be valuable.
Here are other things to keep in mind as the meeting progresses:
- Take care that everyone respects the meeting principles
- Balance the amount of speaking time among all participants
- Ask introverts for their opinion
- Make sure that the meeting follows the original purpose
- Monitor the overall time and specific timeboxes
- Confirm that someone is taking notes or screenshots of the results
Keep your team focused on the main topic and make sure that necessary decisions are made. Confirm that you’ve all committed to the next steps, including due dates and responsibilities.
You have three more tasks to end the meeting:
- Summarize the most important aspects, including responsibilities.
- Thank everyone for their participation.
- Ask for feedback, through direct dialogue or through an evaluation form, so that you can improve future meetings.
Should You Record?
Virtual meetings offer the possibility to record the session. Before you do this, consider why. It might be helpful if someone couldn’t join the meeting, but will she watch the recording later? It also might be a good way of recapping the meeting, but it might not be necessary if someone is taking notes. If you still think it is a good idea, go ahead and do it.
In my case, I prefer all meeting participants to be focused, and we document what was discussed in case someone couldn’t join the meeting. I have never used a recorded meeting after the fact.
Good communication is vital to an organization’s success, and virtual meetings can play an essential role in achieving that. But you can’t simply transfer in-person meeting methods to the virtual world. By using the proper equipment, skills, preparation, and culture, you can make your virtual meetings more effective.
Think about how you can foster interaction, make people feel engaged, and share information even though your team members aren’t sitting in the same room. If you can do this, you will be on track to having effective meetings.