Managing Virtual Meetings

With telecommuting, offshore teams, and dispersed workforces, virtual meetings have become commonplace for nearly all organizations. But with the increase in virtual meetings and advancements in technology, organizations are encountering new concerns conducting meetings including multi-tasking and lack of productivity.

During my experience as a learning professional, I had one assignment with a Fortune 500 firm where my client’s typical day consisted of 7-8 virtual meetings or conference calls back-to-back. I asked her how she got anything done and she confessed to muting her line and working during the call or videoconference. This experience inspired me to create tips on how to better conduct a virtual meeting.

Use these tips to make your virtual meetings more productive and straight to the point.

1. Always have an agenda that is outcome-focused. This does not mean an agenda with topics. Indicate what is supposed to occur—chose the candidate from the three finalists, select a date for the regional sales conference, decide if you’re going to roll out the new LMS this year or next—participants need to know what the meeting objective is and what they need to come prepared to do or decide. This also discourages proxy representatives—people sent just to listen and represent the office but not authorized to make a decision. If you’ve made it clear upfront that one of the meeting purposes is to decide on how to stage the software implementation, then everyone is forewarned: expect to make a decision.

2. Utilize pre-reads. Yes, the agenda goes out ahead of time. Don’t use your virtual meetings for report-outs (other than a quick one-minute status update). Send out the slides or reports with a note that the meeting will be to answer questions and discuss specific action items as a result of the pre-read. When you use virtual meetings for “death by PowerPoint” report-outs, you discourage interactivity and encourage multitasking.

3. Build-in interactivity. When the virtual meeting is one-way communication with questions at the end or a series of report-outs of more than a minute, you encourage people to loaf or multi-task. The more this happens, the less productive the meeting will be and the more likely you’ll need to meet again (because you didn’t get everything you needed to get accomplished). Interactivity can be anything from asking what the weather is at each location (especially if the participants are in different time zones—so geographically dispersed) to asking everyone for a quick “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” or an emoji on how their day is going. For larger virtual meetings, the use of polling software encourages participation and focus. But the point of starting with interactive steps and including them into the meeting is to discourage multi-tasking and loafing and make the meeting a group exchange, not a one-way presentation. In a virtual meeting, most settings are only going to allow one person to talk at a time. So, use features like chat or polls to allow concurrent input.

4. Think shorter, not longer. Some virtual meetings are going to run an hour—the topic is just too dense or requires a lot of give and take. But when you automatically book 60 minutes for most of your virtual meetings, participants subconsciously assume they can tune out much of it and plan to multi-task—check email or prepare for the meeting that follows. That means you won’t get 60 minutes of productivity. Shorter schedules are better. Shorter makes it clear that people can’t expect to get much multi-tasking done. They discourage presentations and long report-outs. And if all your participants are focused and participating, you’ll get more done with less time. Remember, a typical Agile Scrum Standup meeting runs about 15 minutes so you shouldn’t operate with the assumption you need 60 minutes every time you meet virtually.

5. If the pre-work wasn’t done, reschedule the meeting. Everyone is used to reading the slides or the spreadsheet during the meeting and it’s convenient to say “I didn’t get the attachment”—In this case, we use the meeting to prepare rather than interact and work as a team. When people become aware that they can’t do their pre-work in the meeting, it affects how they participate and that they can’t go in unprepared.

If you’re interested in learning more about managing a virtual meeting, contact StC today.