Good communication is key to successful teamwork regardless of whether your colleague is sat next to you or works from an office thousands of miles away. Getting your team members to actively listen and collaborate effectively during meetings is no easy task however, particularly in a virtual setting. These guidelines are to help you to organize more engaging and ultimately more productive virtual meetings.

According to Lee E. Miller, author of UP: Influence, Power and the U Perspective: The Art of Getting What You Want, “The biggest mistake people make is assuming that influencing when you are meeting face to face is the same as influencing when you are interacting virtually. It’s not. The rules are different because people respond differently when they are interacting virtually.”

You will be pleased to know that these rules come in patterns and are easily predicted and managed. So, as we abandon the dynamics of the standard conference room meetings in search of better virtual meetings, here’s some detailed guidelines that every HR manager or team lead will appreciate.

Soft Skills Development

Building the critical skills needed to succeed in the modern workplace

Before the meeting

We often hear that meetings are a waste of time. To avoid falling into this rabbit hole and dragging everyone else with you, first identify a clear need for the meeting.

Do we really need this meeting?

There are too many virtual meetings that could have been replaced by one explanatory email. The most common reasons why we continue with meeting overloads are to:

  • Share or receive information
  • Make decisions
  • Create or work on a project
  • Manage or evaluate performance
  • Train your team
  • Improve personal communication or team-building

Relying on team power may be tempting, but the reason you should call for a meeting is to make an important decision or to collaborate on a matter that could not be solved by individuals. Everything else can be solved via email.

Here’s a good rule to follow. Make an attempt to accomplish the task by yourself or with a colleague before you schedule a group meeting. If you can complete it within a reasonable timeframe, then the meeting is no longer needed.

Once we stop calling for a meeting for every minor event, we discover that the effectiveness of our meetings increases as their frequency is decreased.

Keep the guest list exclusive 

Keep your meetings “tight” and invite only those employees who are directly working on the project. 

If you have other teammates who would benefit from the meeting, invite them as observers.

Observers join the meeting voluntarily and must be on mute at all times. They can share their comments or remarks via chat.

Invite employees as observers if they:

  • Need to be aware of the progress of the project (for example, a content writer during a website redesign meeting)
  • Are learning the skill that is being discussed during the meeting (for example, interns, new hires, promoted employees)

Be conscious of time differences 

In today’s globalized world of business, cross-cultural teams are the new norm. When deciding upon a date and time for the meeting try to find a working time that overlaps for all parties.

If some of the employees agree to sacrifice their evening for a work meeting, make sure it does not become a tradition.

Further reading

Preparation is key 

This article from the Harvard Business Review suggests the unspoken rule of pre-read. The pre-read can be anything from a marketing report to an infographic, a proposal, or a case study.

Depending on the complexity of the document, make sure your team has the material well in advance.

If it is a lengthy piece, your team must have access to it at least two days before the meeting date. Everyone must be expected to research and study the documents before joining the meeting. No exceptions allowed.

What happens if my team shows up unprepared?
Stop the meeting. There is no need to proceed if your team has not done the due diligence of reviewing their “homework.” Reschedule the meeting.

What happens if half of my team comes unprepared?
Also stop the meeting. The unprepared half must understand the importance of the pre-read. Peer pressure will help them come prepared next time.

Also, don’t forget to carefully draft an agenda of key points and share it with your team in advance. If possible, display the agenda on the screen so that everyone can follow the timetable.

Soft Skills Development

Building the critical skills needed to succeed in the modern workplace

Test your equipment beforehand 

All participants must perform audio & video checks before the actual meeting. Pauses are powerful, but not the awkward ones. Those precious minutes of delay could have been used to set the mood, catch up with news, and review the agenda.

Encourage this practice before every meeting and your team will soon catch on.

Set some house rules 

Have a mute policy based on the size of the team – generally, a small meeting would constitute a team of up to 12 people and for this kind of small meeting, it is advisable to ban the Mute button.

Everyone must be 100% present and invested. Request your employees to call from a quiet environment such as a meeting room, if possible.

On the other side of the coin, you can establish an All-Mute rule for meetings with more than 20-25 people. Too much noise will reduce the audio quality.

Always use video – putting a face to one’s voice humanizes the meeting and improves communication thanks to non-verbal cues. Therefore, you should exercise a mandatory Video-On policy for small meetings of under 10 people. For larger meetings and webinars, only the keynote speakers must keep their video on.

Structure your meeting well 

  • Start on the right note

Did you get a new prospect or have you closed a new deal? Make notes of all the positive things that happen during the week and start your virtual meetings by sharing them. Allow your team to own a slice of company success.

  • State the purpose of the meeting

What is the objective of the meeting? What is the problem in hand that needs to be solved? Make your expectations clear in the very beginning. Repeat the same sentence at the very end and see if you have reached any results.

  • Recognize the moderator

Every meeting must be managed by one person. It can be your assistant or a colleague. This person should manage the video conferencing tool, make sure everyone is connected, impose the agenda, and have the right to interrupt when needed. It is important that you recognize the moderator at the start of the meeting so that their power is understood and respected by everyone in the virtual room.

Further reading

  • Take advantage of your virtual conferencing tools

According to the Harvard Business Review, 87% of remote employees feel more connected through the use of video conferencing.

Take the time to really get to know your video conferencing tools – there are many useful tools that are often disregarded such as the “Raise a Hand,” document sharing, screen sharing and recording features. 

Letting your team participate by using the tool functionality will trigger engagement, and engagement is the best medicine against boredom. 

  • Survey your team

It’s good to ask your team some questions at the beginning of the meeting. Think of questions that are specific to your team. If your meetings are on Mondays, ask them about their weekend. The options are endless.

During the meeting

  • You vs. your presentation

There can only be one frontman in a band, and you have to decide whether it’s you or your presentation.

As humans, we lack the skills of perceiving both audio and image simultaneously. We will focus our attention on one, while the second channel acts as a supporting agent.

Therefore, if your speech is important, don’t overload your Powerpoint presentation. Keep it simple and minimalistic. Likewise, if you are going to showcase graphs and charts, use simple language in your speech.

Soft Skills Development

Building the critical skills needed to succeed in the modern workplace

  • Keeping participants engaged 

The best virtual meetings utilize engagement actions. Modern Learners have a very short attention span and with so many distractions available on our screens, it’s easy to lose track of what’s happening. 

It is recommended to use an engagement action every 90 seconds. Yes, exactly! 90 seconds! Don’t worry, it’s not as difficult as it sounds. An engagement action can be as little as a change of tone, a question, or an animation in your presentation. Some of the other, more direct engagement actions can be answering a question in a chat box, taking a quick poll, or speaking out.

  • Introduce a method for raising a hand

Can your employees jump in whenever they want? Are questions reserved for the end? Should they speak only when asked? Make sure your team knows the protocol.

  • Eliminate the screen barrier

As a manager, you should know that no matter how friendly your voice is, your team members are still talking to a computer screen. And it’s very easy to adopt a “silent mode” during virtual meetings. Invite each and every one of your teammates to share their thoughts.

Help your team be proactive by giving them an active role of a speaker as opposed to silent listener.

Mind the language & culture barrier–  if you have employees in different regions and countries, you will also have to be mindful of making too many cultural references. Despite this, you can always spice up the communication by teaching them something new about your company’s home town, country or native language.

Wrapping up the meeting

Keep the meeting between 30-60 minutes – try not to exceed one hour because everyone will get tired, bored, and restless.

This should be achievable if all participants took their time to review the pre-read. Exceptions can be made for emergency situations, company overviews, webinars, annual reports, etc.

Further reading

Agree on the next steps – meetings should always produce results. Even if no progress was made through discussion, assign tasks to be completed after the meeting.

Agree on the next meeting – mark your calendars right before dropping off. Ensure everyone can join on the proposed time and date. Send invites.

Finish on timerespect everyone’s time by exercising punctuality and finishing the meeting on time. Some team members may have other meetings scheduled right after yours. Other remote employees may be late for their family dinners, so follow the schedule responsibly.

Post meeting

Assign one person to take minutes and be in charge of task assignment after the meeting. They should also send a meeting overview to all participants. If a new document was discussed or presented during the meeting, make sure it’s attached in your post-meeting email.

Evaluate the meeting – the post-meeting 10 minutes are enough to review the meeting and identify the existing problems.

Did people interrupt each other too often? Could the video quality be improved? What other features are in desperate need for improvement? Write them down and fix them before the next meeting.

Virtual meetings are helpful…

 … if you are doing them right, that is. A significant amount of work needs to be done in the preparation phase in order to conduct better virtual meetings. However, in many cases, you will realize that the meeting is not even needed, and the problem can be fixed via other, quicker ways of online communication. Nevertheless, there are times when it is absolutely necessary to put your headphones on and hop on a call with your teammates so make sure that when you do you are prepared to make the meeting a success.