We all seem to be doing more virtually these days. Whatever tool you are using for your virtual meetings, here are 10 tips to get the best out of your web calls with colleagues.
1. Have an agenda
Just like an in-person meeting, you should have an agenda. In fact, we’d argue that it’s even more important for virtual calls because it’s very easy to get distracted online! Prepare an agenda and circulate in it advance.
2. Finish and start on time
Make yourself known for starting and finishing meetings on time. People are busy, and many attendees will have come straight from one meeting into yours – before they dial off and join another.
Be prompt and respectful of everyone’s time.
3. Only invite the people who really need to be there
Research shows that groups larger than seven are less efficient at making decisions. Think about who is coming to the meeting and see if you can cut the number of attendees. Could you split the meeting into two segments and run two shorter sessions? Or brief a couple of people independently after the event?
The more people you have in the meeting, the harder it is to control the conversation, make sure everyone gets a chance to speak and get decisions made.
4. Share links to documents in the chat
Because some people will turn up without the right documentation! Hopefully you’ll have followed normal meeting best practice and would have circulated documents in advance of the meeting.
Don’t waste time going through them again: set the expectation that people will have reviewed the papers before the meeting. Use your meeting time to discuss the contents and answer questions instead of walking through a presentation.
5. Make time for small talk
It’s hard to replace the small talk of getting a coffee together before a meeting, or walking to the room while chatting with a colleague. Make time in the virtual meeting for similar small talk by opening the room a few minutes early if you can, or letting people stay on at the end.
However, in our experience you’ll find only a few of the team contribute in that way and the rest will stay silent. They will either be working on other things or just struggling to find a way into the conversation to contribute.
Make it possible for everyone to have the chance to connect with colleagues by formalizing the small talk part of the meeting. Use a check in question at the beginning and have everyone answer it. For example, ask people to share what they did at the weekend, or what they currently have on their playlist. Work-related questions are fine, e.g. “What’s your priority task right now?” or even, “Did you get a lunch break and if not, why?” The point is to have everyone say something before the meeting starts and share a little about themselves in a non-threatening and work-appropriate way.
6. Make video compulsory
Some people don’t like to turn on their camera, but you can mandate that people attend your meeting with the video on. After all, you’d be able to see their face if you met in real life, so it’s probably not the fact you know what they look like that they are objecting to.
Help people get set up with virtual backgrounds if they want to use them so colleagues can’t peek into their home office!
7. Ask others to lead parts of the agenda
The risk with virtual meetings is it becomes very much a one-way conversation with the chair doing most of the talking. Avoid that by letting others lead sections of the agenda.
Tip: Let them know before the meeting that you will be calling on them. People don’t like to be surprised!
8. Make meetings shorter
Zoom fatigue is real, so do your bit to help get your colleagues away from the screen and schedule your meetings for only 30 minutes. If you are efficient and have the right people in the ‘room’, you’ll be able to get through your agenda in that time.
9. Have rules about multi-tasking
There are two approaches to letting people multi-task in a meeting: one approach that says it should never be allowed and the other saying people are going to do it anyway, so we may as well let them as long as they still contribute actively when required.
It doesn’t matter which approach you take – and perhaps you allow multi-tasking in some meetings and not others. The important thing is to make sure that attendees at the meeting know what acceptable behavior looks like.
It should go without saying that the chair should model the behavior expected from attendees. However, we still sometimes see meetings where the chair expects everyone else to refrain from sending emails or doing other work and yet it’s clear to everyone that they are doing exactly that!
10. Take notes as you go
One exception to the multi-tasking rule is taking meeting notes. Assign a scribe for the meeting who can take notes. That might be the chair, but it’s also good to rotate the role so everyone gets a chance to take the minutes.
If you’ve got nothing else up screen, the scribe can share their screen and others can watch and contribute to the evolution of the minutes in real time.
Virtual meetings have been around for a while and are definitely here to stay. You can get better at hosting and chairing them – it only takes practice, some common sense and a few of our tips to give your attendees a better experience in your virtual meetings.