If you’ve participated in a virtual meeting with team members who are more familiar with in-person meetings, you may notice that the online meeting was less productive and more frustrating.
Some common online meeting issues include poor Internet connection, background noise pollution, and broken voice quality. Plus, sharing and explaining points you’re most used to doing in person can become a challenge if you don’t know how to do the same efficiently online.
However, virtual meetings don’t have to be unproductive and frustrating. Properly managed, they can be even more productive as a physical meeting, without the need to travel or book a conference room.
Learning how to use screensharing tools, keeping communications clear, and getting your scheduling down are all key to productive virtual meetings. Let’s take a look at a few of our top tips to help you conduct efficient meetings online.
7 Keys to a productive virtual meeting
1) Teach everyone how to use your meeting tool
Using a simple meeting tool like Google Hangouts or Google Meet should come naturally to most of your team, but if it doesn’t, you’ll need to walk them through the software. You can do a simple screen recording of how to access the meeting on your calendar, where to click to enter the room, and how to mute/unmute yourself. That way, you can share one recording out to everyone, instead of having to train each person individually.
If your company uses your own internal technology or a unique VoIP system, you can have your IT team implement training. Make sure the software is provided to your team for free, and make sure everyone knows how to download and connect the software, test their sound and video, use headphones (you’d be surprised), and where to go for troubleshooting.
Tip: Don’t forget to ensure their hardware is up-to-date and complete, with working cameras and microphones/headsets, stable Internet connections, and fast devices.
2) Get your scheduling down
Your team should understand exactly when and how your meetings will take place. If they forget, they should know where to find that information again.
Send out calendar invitations so each team member can see when a meeting is taking place on their own schedule, and make sure it doesn’t conflict with any other engagements. Your calendar invite should include links to access the meeting room, and an agenda or meeting description for additional context.
If you use Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Skype, or Google Hangouts, you can incorporate meeting instructions, roles, and rules of engagement into your meeting invitations.
3) Leverage sharing technology
Maintaining engagement is one of the most difficult challenges of virtual meetings. One Successful Meetings Survey reveals that only 23% of managers report fully engaging in virtual meetings.
Some teams have tried mandating video, which I actually don’t recommend if your team is spread across timezones – I’ve taken many a meeting in PJs and a towel hat. Instead, use technology like screensharing, real-time document editing, enabling chat, and showing a presentation on screen.
Screensharing is one of the best ways to communicate on a video call, and is even easier online than in person. You can easily create a meeting agenda and put together a few slides, join a meeting, and then present to the entire audience so they have something to follow along while a speaker is talking.
Engagement varies significantly from organization to organization, so you should review engagement in your own team across different tools, and make decisions based on that data.
4) Plan your agendas
Unless it’s a recurring meeting where everyone knows the drill, you should have a quick agenda or even a bullet list of topics to go over for each meeting.
Most people want and need to know what they’re going into a meeting to discuss. While some companies rely on a more ad-hoc meeting style, participants should at least understand what a meeting will be about.
The Project Management Institute recommends setting up objectives, a meeting agenda, the purpose for the meeting, and clear roles before the meeting begins. You can include this information in a virtual doc attached to invites, in the invite itself, or at the start of the meeting.
Tip: For every action item discussed in the meeting, make sure to get a commitment on ownership and deliverable timelines. You can then include this in your meeting recap email (more on that below) as a reminder.
It’s important to treat virtual meetings like a physical meeting. If someone is late, react in the same way as you would if they were late to a physical meeting. That is to say, time wasted is the same whether it’s in-person or online, especially for those on the makers schedule.
You can consider a 3-minute grace period at the beginning of each meeting where people can get their headphones and setup working. This is typically done before the meeting begins, but if you’re scheduling with a team that usually has back-to-back meetings, that breathing room can help them gather their notes.
5) Designate a meeting lead
Virtual meetings can be a simple, informal meeting to discuss partnership possibilities, or it can be a longer meeting to discuss a co-webinar setup. If it’s a planning meeting, a lack of formality can lead to wasted time if no one is in charge.
Make sure every meeting has a clear meeting lead. It’s usually whoever calls for the meeting, the team lead, product owner, or manager.
Meeting roles can ideally be included in the initial meeting invite, so that attendees know who to email with questions, requests to add to the agenda, or updates.
6) Keep it short
While meeting online is more convenient for many people, it can also be easier to zone out than in a physical meeting.
The longer someone sits in a meeting, the less they’ll be able to maintain attention on a screen and the people talking.
Consider capping digital meeting times and setting up your default schedule to 15 or 30 minutes, instead of an hour. Regular meetings shouldn’t go longer than an hour, but if you have something like a virtual company presentation, you can schedule bathroom and coffee breaks so attendees leave and come back with their attention restored.
7) Send an email recap
Meetings take up your team’s time, which is a precious resource that you can’t afford to waste. If you take the time to have a meeting, you don’t want everyone attending, agreeing to next steps, then not following through.
One Harvard Business Review article links this phenomenon to forgetfulness, failure to set specific due dates for actionable items, and human error. As a result, the HBR article quotes a 60% follow-up rate on actions agreed to in meetings. Virtual meetings make this problem worse, because most of us have less in the way of accountability and fewer physical reminders.
Sending an email recap with actionable items is a great way to make sure everyone is on the same page about what was discussed (a great place for your agenda to come in again), what was agreed to, and owners and due dates for deliverables. This ensures everyone is on track and has a reminder of what they are now responsible for.
Virtual meetings are increasingly the norm, especially for organizations with flex work and remote workers. Optimizing and managing the productivity of virtual meetings will help you to do more with that time, more efficiently and with less frustration.