Tactics for Productive Virtual Meetings

woman on laptop

The growth of virtual meetings

Over the last decade, remote work arrangements have increased by more than 91%, giving employees a break from difficult commutes and providing employers with happier, more motivated and productive workers. The need for virtual meetings has also been driven by the growing gig economy, with many businesses turning to remote part-time, contract, and freelance help to augment full-time staff.

Collaborating on projects has been made easier and more productive for virtual teams with work management, which combine intelligent work automation, in-context collaboration, communication, and powerful work management features.

Virtual meetings are an important part of a broader approach to modern digital work, allowing remote teams to meet through dial-in telephone conferences and, increasingly, through video conferencing solutions, which allow participants to see and hear one another and share screens, documents, videos, and other files.

While virtual meeting solutions can be powerful and productive, they also pose challenges:

  • Meeting members who are distracted and multitasking because they are not in the same room as everyone else.

  • Organizers who are not as careful about the design and intent of the meeting as they would be with a live one.

  • Meeting rules and protocols are not fully articulated.

  • Meetings are hijacked by dominant personalities due to a lack of clear guidelines.

  • Productivity suffers and organizations don’t realize the full benefits of at-home work arrangements.

Make sure you’re using the virtual meeting solution right for your company.

Many virtual meeting programs are being utilized as teams shift toward remote work. Some programs are free, while others offer a free trial or a monthly fee.

  • Google Hangouts is a free platform, it runs through your browser (you do not need to install any programs), and is ideal for small teams of up to 10 participants.

  • Skype is free for up to 50 participants, requires a download and installation, and has built-in file sharing and messaging capabilities.

  • Zoom Meetings offers paid and free plans. Free plans can host up to 100 participants, with a 40-minute time limit for group meetings. Zoom Meetings has to be downloaded and installed.

  • GoToMeeting offers a free 14-day trial and then has plans starting at $14 a month that accommodate up to 150 participants. GoToMeeting has to be downloaded and installed.

If your company uses an integration application like Workfront Fusion, you can connect with more than 100 standard business applications through an easy-to-use, codeless interface. Among the compatible programs are GoToMeeting and GoToWebinar.

8 tactics for more productive virtual meetings.

Once you’ve decided on your platform of choice, here are eight tactics to help you run successful virtual meetings.

Communicate the point of the virtual meeting. 

Be clear about the purpose of the meeting upfront. If you can’t easily articulate the why and what for the meeting, then ask yourself if it is really necessary. Share the meeting agenda with participants well in advance.

Set the ground rules.

Many people think they can multitask. However, meeting participants are more productive if they can focus on one task at a time. 

The meeting should have a facilitator or someone clearly running it. If they have any special instructions or ground rules, they should relay them to participants in advance.

Encourage participants to access the meeting in a private, secure space, such as a home office, rather than among the distractions and insecure Wi-Fi of a location like a coffee shop.

Test the technology first.

How many virtual meetings have been derailed, sometimes before they have even begun, because of technical difficulties? Encourage participants to download the virtual meeting software ahead of time and to familiarize themselves with its major features (they shouldn’t leave everyone waiting while they figure out how to connect their computer’s mic and video camera).

Even if you use the same software for your company’s virtual meetings, you may need staff to familiarize themselves with different programs for a presentation or a meeting with a supplier or customer.

Participants should attend virtual meetings from a place with secure, strong Wi-Fi that can handle the rigors of streaming video and multimedia presentations. But if there is a problem with the strength of their connection, the video conferencing solution should also have a phone dial-in option.

Anyone making a presentation should work out ahead of time how it will integrate with the virtual meeting platform. A presentation that is given to a live audience won’t necessarily translate well to one given over a video screen. 

Use a personal touch.

No matter how advanced the technology, virtual meetings can seem impersonal, with everyone in different physical locations connecting through devices. Before getting down to business, it’s good practice to connect with coworkers by making time to ask about their personal lives.

Loneliness can be one of the biggest challenges of working at home, so encouraging some positive interaction is critical for ensuring that the meeting is engaging and productive.

Make it short and interesting.

A long, boring meeting is trying at the best of times, but it’s almost intolerable when experienced virtually. Keep presentations reasonable lengths (especially ones with large amounts of data) and prioritize conversations. If presentations need to be made, the virtual platform’s screen sharing function should be employed to ensure that everyone is on the same page (literally and figuratively).

As noted earlier, the meeting should have an agenda, and the meeting facilitator’s job is to make sure that people stick to it and don’t hijack the occasion with new issues and personal concerns. The agenda shouldn’t be massive and overwhelming. It’s better to have everyone focused on a couple of important items. 

Involve everyone.

Getting everyone to participate in a virtual meeting can be a challenge, so the meeting facilitator should be conscious of asking different people for their input, perhaps going around the table and asking everyone to say something before a major decision is made.

It can also be easy to overlook someone who wants to say something when a lot of people are participating, each in their own tiny video square. The virtual meeting facilitator or administrator should be on the lookout for people trying to get noticed with a meeting software’s “raised hand” function. 

Observe proper etiquette.

To keep the meeting running smoothly, it’s good practice to encourage everyone to practice proper virtual meeting etiquette, including:

  • Dress appropriately—if you are using video, your coworkers will see how you are dressed.

  • Pay attention to the meeting, take notes, and interact with others.

  • Have a clean and simple background; the fewer distractions, the better.

  • Position yourself in flattering lighting (a dark room or overly bright room with harsh lighting isn’t flattering).

  • Mute your microphone when you’re not talking to minimize background noise.

Avoid poor virtual meeting etiquette:

  • Don’t eat during the meeting, since any crunching and chewing will inevitably be heard and seen.

  • Don’t have a messy background. Make sure doors are closed and artwork is work-appropriate.

  • Don’t look at your phone during the meeting, making it obvious that you are not paying attention.

  • Don’t interrupt others. Keep in mind that there can sometimes be lags in video conferences because of internet connections, so it’s always a good idea to make sure a speaker is really finished before jumping in.

Do the after-meeting follow-up.

Once the meeting is done, your work isn’t over yet. Some of the most important communication happens after the fact.

What did the meeting accomplish? What are the next steps, deliverables, and tasks to be done by whom and when? When is the next meeting? How can future meetings improve on the past one? The list goes on.

Make the most of your virtual meetings.

If you are careful about how you conduct your online meetings, they will turn from a virtual necessity to a business tool with real value. In fact, by employing the tactics listed above, you can incorporate virtual meetings seamlessly into a broader work management solution.   

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