Virtual meetings are now the common daily practice for many employees, teams and organizations. Video conferencing platforms such as Zoom have seen exponential growth with a peak of over 300 million daily participants, joining zoom meetings in April 2020, up from 10 million in December 2019. The quick shift to virtual team meetings has put pressure on leaders to run productive meetings that are also engaging and give team members an opportunity to feel connected to each other.
Meetings have often been accused of being one of the greatest time wasters but this does not need to be the case. Running an effective virtual team meeting is a crucial skill for leaders, as productive meetings can serve to get everyone focused, share information, and allow for rapid progress towards an end goal. Here are 12 tips for running virtual team meetings every leader should know to maximize productivity and eliminate wasted time.
Before The Meeting
Virtual team meetings are now a fixture in the workplace, but when meetings are not effective, they are little more than a waste of everyone’s time. According to research conducted by Atlassian, most employees attend over 60 meetings every month, but only half of those meetings are productive. Preparing for a virtual team meeting is a critical first step for leaders.
1. Know The Reason For Calling a Meeting
Having a clear reason for the meeting is critical to starting a meeting off on the right foot. It’s easy to get into the rhythm of going to regularly scheduled meetings, but without a clearly outlined objective that gets revisited over time, the purpose of these meetings can get lost and people will gather only out of habit or obligation.
2. Ensure The Meeting Is Actually Needed
When calling a virtual team meeting be careful not to bring people together when an email, or video could have accomplished the same thing. No one wants to host a meeting where the participants leave saying “this meeting could have been an email.” If you’re bringing your team together to share information one-way out, then there are more effective mediums than a meeting. Meetings should be used when you need input and opinion from your team, or get their feedback.
3. Send an Email with the Meeting Objective and Agenda in Advance
Before the meeting, send an email invitation which includes the login details, objective, and agenda for the meeting. It’s necessary to establish what the meeting will accomplish and then ensure that all participants see, hear, and understand the objective. Developing a meeting agenda helps to determine key priorities, which items will be discussed, and which decisions will be made. That way, everyone involved has a chance to prepare for the meeting, gather their needed reports and research to ensure the time is productive and decisions can be made.
4. Test Your Virtual Video Conferencing Platform
Nothing kills the momentum of a meeting more than technical difficulties, especially when you’re the one leading the meeting. Prior to the meeting, ensure all participants test the technology including video, microphones, and volume. Encourage participants to use video. This helps people feel like they’re all at the same meeting, and allows people to see each other’s facial expressions and body language.
During The Meeting
When done right, virtual team meetings provide an ideal environment for individuals to connect with others and feel like they are part of something larger than their individual goals. With that sense of purpose, individuals are able to see more clearly how their actions benefit the team and organization. Here are five tips to keep in mind during the meeting.
5. Start by Connecting with Your Team on a Human Level
Social distancing doesn’t need to mean a lack of connection. As more and more individuals experience working remotely than ever before, it is important to be intentional about creating and maintaining connections during your virtual team meetings. This is a very important element in team effectiveness as found in a multi-year study conducted by Google, where emotional connection and psychological safety are what produced world-class teams. Kick off your meeting by connecting with your team on a personal level - show empathy for your people. It’s a difficult time and it is ok to show genuine concern. Also, create a safe space for your team to share their ideas freely without judgement, ridicule or disrespect.
6. Ensure Everyone has a Chance to Speak
A meeting is not effective if it’s a one-sided conversation or if only one or two people in a group are participating. All participants in a meeting should have a voice. If anyone withholds their active and full participation, the whole team is deprived of that person’s contribution. As a leader, it is your role to ensure all participants get equal time and ensure everyone has a chance to speak, share and ask questions.
7. Clarify Facts vs. Opinions
In any meeting, people are likely to have an opinion about the way forward or how to fix a problem. However, an effective meeting requires facts, feedback, and data that supports decision-making. As the leader of your team meeting, it is up to you to periodically ask the question; is that an opinion or is that a fact? There is a time for opinions and “thinking out loud,” but an effective virtual team meeting ensures participants distinguish those things from the facts so that the meeting stays on track and makes the best use of everyone’s time.
8. Allow Time to Recap Periodically
Periodic recaps of the agenda and what has been decided at your virtual team meeting, ensures that each agenda item gets its due attention, but also curb rambling and the temptation to start side conversations. A good way to insert periodic recaps into a meeting is to cover agenda items sequentially, stopping every couple of items to ensure each one was discussed in full.
9. Make Decisions in the Meeting
Not all decisions have to result in doing something; sometimes the decision can simply be to gather more data, or wait until some other event occurs. An effective virtual team meeting brings issues to closure and avoids procrastination by ending in a clear decision. Whether the decision is made by consensus or by a person of authority in the room, an effective meeting requires a decision so that people can move to determine key follow-up tasks and accountabilities.
10. Assign Tasks to Yourself and Your Team
As decisions are made, so are next steps and their associated tasks. Each task requires an owner and the work assignment should be clearly stated in terms of what is to be expected, what resources will be used, and when the work should be completed. Meeting minutes and preset progress checks can be helpful tools to ensure that everyone has clarity on assigned tasks. In a New York Times article, one manager said that he ends every meeting with the acronym W.W.D.W.B.W.—“who will do what by when”—thereby ensuring a clear action plan with assigned deliverables.
After The Meeting
Effective meetings help people distinguish between responsibility (the tasks each person will complete) and accountability (how each person will accept ownership for delivering the best result). More than simply an opportunity to talk about who will do what, effective meetings allow people to demonstrate how they will contribute to the overall success of the team. To ensure what was discussed turns into action, it is important to follow these final three tips.
11. Send a Meeting Recap of the Decisions Made and the Tasks Assigned
An effective virtual team meeting requires follow-up, or else you risk having individuals go off in different directions without knowing what’s next. Individuals need to know what they will be held accountable for the work assigned to them, or that they’ve agreed to do. Others will now be dependent on the consequences of the decisions made, or actions agreed to, so sending out a recap where it is all laid out is an important step to getting commitment and driving action. This email will be motivating to those attending the virtual team meeting as they see progress being made as a result of meeting together.
12. Provide Progress Reports
The time between meeting as a team it is important to send out periodic progress reports against the decisions made and tasks assigned. As individuals work on their assigned tasks, new information and unexpected obstacles come up from time to time. Asking your team for a progress report provides opportunities for course corrections and other revisions, while allowing for the chance to refocus and take stock of what’s been accomplished so far.
An effective virtual team meeting has a clear purpose, builds accountability in employees, and is accompanied by appropriate follow-up. They are an opportunity to gather people together to share ideas, resources, and experiences so that they can achieve a particular goal while working remotely. As a leader, following these 12 tips can be the key to achieving a virtual team meeting that increases engagement, enhances collaboration, and ultimately better helps your team reach their goals.