“By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail.” This famous quote by the US President Benjamin Franklin nicely sums up the consequences of any ill-prepared business decision. This is certainly true when it comes to meetings which consume much of our working day. Physical meetings are now being complemented more and more by virtual meetings as organizations embrace technology, globalization, and access to the best talent, regardless of location. Running (or attending) effective virtual meetings is not easy as “normal” rules are complicated by the lack of “physical” presence. There are, however, some guidelines you should follow to ensure that your next virtual meeting is an efficient use of everyone’s time. 

1.  Organize them well

Good organization is key to running effective virtual meetings. Here is a short list of instructions to get you started:

a)    Have a group calendar

Send out a calendar invite well in advance of the meeting and make sure that everyone confirms whether they are attending or not. This will help everyone to plan ahead and organize their week accordingly.

Soft Skills Development

Building the critical skills needed to succeed in the modern workplace

b)    Have a notification system

Working remotely means you are going to be disconnected from your team for most of your working day. This is why a smart notification system can be of enormous help. Make sure all participants receive a notification at least 15 minutes before the meeting. Not showing up, being late, or showing up unprepared are all good ways to waste everyone’s time.

c)    Find a tool that works for you

High-quality technology is key to avoid communication issues caused by a poor connection or equipment malfunctions. There is a multitude of video conferencing tools to choose from. Some of the most popular ones are:

●     Zoom

●     Slack

●     Uber Conference

●     WebEx

●     Skype

●     Google Hangouts

●     GoToMeeting

d)  Structure your meeting 

Instead of letting participants interject whenever they like, structure your meeting clearly. This way everyone will know where exactly their question or comment belongs. An easy way to keep your meetings organized is having a consistent structure every week. If it’s a one-time meeting, make sure all participants have the agenda beforehand.

Further reading

10 Ways to Build Trust in Remote Teams

2.  Focus on what’s important

Every meeting should have a clear objective. Remember that you are taking up everyone’s valuable time. Asking participants to stay and listen to minor issues that don’t affect them is not an efficient way to run a meeting. 

If there is something you need to discuss with one of your team members, and it does not concern the entire group, keep it short or schedule a separate meeting with that person.

Coordinate the discussion based on the key topics, the bigger picture, or progress blockers. If something can be solved through a google search it shouldn’t be on your meeting agenda. 

3.  Adopt a mandatory video-on policy

Many companies have a mandatory “video-on” policy:

a)    Communication is more effective when non-verbal clues are involved. Of course, what you’re saying is very important, but how you’re saying it is also valuable.

b)    Put a face to your voice

It’s no longer the secret of the advertising industry; humans respond well to faces. That’s why it’s so easy to write a harsh comment on YouTube and so difficult to have an honest conversation with your partner. Facial expressions humanize your virtual meetings so using video in your virtual meetings is a must. 

c)    Team bonding

Regular meetings are vital to forge relationships between team members and can be the difference between targets being reached and targets being exceeded. 

d)   Don’t multitask

Research shows that multitasking harms your performance. It’s no longer a desired skill, and should definitely not be allowed during virtual meetings.

e)    A little stress never hurt anyone. While some of your remote employees enjoy spending their entire workday in their pajamas, taking them out of their comfort zone once in a while will increase their productivity. During a video conference, they have to make an effort to look presentable and try that bit harder than the usual.

Further reading

10 Ways to Build Trust in Remote Teams

5.  Acknowledge everyone in the virtual room

Even if you meet every week, it’s crucial that you, as a leader, acknowledge everyone who is present at the meeting. Be sure to take the time at the beginning of the meeting to introduce everyone on the call. 

6.  Share the mic

There should always be one person coordinating the meeting, however, all participants should have the opportunity to offer their input. 

Do not allow your meeting to be dominated by the more extrovert individuals, allow the quieter members of the team their screen time too. Their opinion might be the solution to the problem that your team is facing. 

Here are a few ways to try involve more introverted team members during a virtual meeting:

●     Ask their opinion on specific tasks/projects (especially if they are not involved in the project)

●     Ask for quick updates

●     Ask if they have anything to add

●     Ask them if they need help with their workload

6. Do not tolerate disrespect

It’s easier to be rude to someone online than in person. Your virtual meetings should not leave someone feeling upset or angry. They are supposed to be motivational and build trust between team members. So, remind your team that virtual meetings are a place of mutual respect and collaboration. If a meeting becomes heated then suggest a cooling off and reflection period.  

Soft Skills Development

Building the critical skills needed to succeed in the modern workplace

7.  Keep them short & sweet

Keep your meetings between 15 to 45 minutes so everyone stays focused and makes optimum use of the time. If you can’t manage all the talking points within that time frame, then maybe more preparation is required before the meeting. Long meetings bore your team and waste their time. Short and sweet is the best recipe for increased productivity. 

8.  Agree on the next steps

All action points must be written down, deadlines agreed upon and tasks distributed amongst team members. Always reserve 5-10 minutes for wrapping-up and work distribution. Determine if and when a follow-up meeting should be planned.

Virtual and remote working is here to stay. Meetings are by no means the solution to all issues but can be vital for moving complex projects forward. Make these principles the eight commandments of your next team Skype call and you will reap the benefits of effective virtual meetings.