Seven Tips to Maximize the Effectiveness of Virtual Meetings During the Coronavirus Crisis

Best Practices : Article

With the Coronavirus crisis escalating daily, many companies are instituting restrictions on travel – thus causing an increasing number of associations and organizations to cancel planned face-to-face meetings, working sessions, and conferences. We recently authored a blog that details how to proactively navigate this challenge: Ten Practical Steps Organizations Can Implement to Proactively Respond to The Coronavirus.

As we all know, productivity, networking, and decision-making tend to increase significantly when people meet in-person. But in the face of these current challenges, it’s important that we create alternative, virtual (pun intended) ways to ensure that this important work continues to happen. To support this sudden shift to doing business remotely, here are some best practices to help ensure this new way of working and communicating does not slow your group’s progress toward target goals and objectives.

Use the Right Web Meeting Platform

There are many choices these days when it comes to web meeting offerings (WebEx, Skype, GoToMeeting, Zoom, Teams, etc.) and each provides different functionality and features – as well as different price points. While there is no single right tool for every group, ensure you do your diligence to pick the right platform for your group’s unique needs. And once you’ve narrowed your options: test, test, test. Ensure all your participants can connect to the meeting platform from their work networks, verify the sound and video quality, etc. Select the right solution, and your participants will connect easily and effectively, with minimal connectivity drama. Pick the wrong solution, and your organization will likely end up the subject of a future Dilbert cartoon or the Internet meme of the day.

Smile, You’re on Video

We strongly suggest requiring – or at least firmly recommending – that web meeting participant connect via video. Why? Because “distracted participation” is a serious deterrent to productive online get-togethers. When participants are on video, we are less apt to multi-task, take calls from their car, or wander to the fridge during discussion. What’s more, video also helps enhance efficiency and connection by conveying non-verbal communication (facial expressions, nodding, gestures, eye contact, etc.). Ensuring your online meeting platform has strong (and simple) video capabilities should be a key part of your tool selection process.

Don’t Lose the Personal Connection

When groups meet in person, it’s natural for participants to talk casually before the start of the meeting or during breaks. These important networking opportunities are critical for deepening relationships and building trust. Therefore, it’s important to not lose these opportunities altogether as group meetings become virtual. Meeting facilitators should consider building a few minutes of “ice breaker” activity into the start of each meeting. They might also consider breaking larger groups into sub-teams so that participants can work with their colleagues in a smaller, more intimate setting versus a consistent large-group format.

Mind the Time, Less is More

When replacing in-person meetings with online meetings, care should be taken to not “overdo” it. Although online meeting technology has come a long way over the years – especially thanks to the power of video – organizers and facilitators should recognize that online meetings still do not overcome some core interpersonal communications gaps. This makes it harder for participants to sustain their focus and attention. A 60 to 90-minute online meeting or conference call is generally considered the maximum prescribed duration. More than that and you’ll likely lose efficiency and/or the participants themselves. For groups that are global in nature, consider rotating the start time of meetings. This will help ensure strong participation across all regions and “share the pain” of early morning or late night calls across the full group. A final suggestion: Ensure every single meeting has an agenda. Meetings without agendas are a recipe for chaos and non-productivity.

Respect the Rules of the Road

We encourage facilitators to take a few minutes at the start of each web meeting to remind folks of the rules of the road. Keep your line on mute when not talking. If you must join in from a very loud place, don’t plan to talk on the call. Don’t talk over other people – let them finish before adding your comment or feedback. And, most importantly, if you use the lavatory mid-meeting, don’t take your phone with you!

Borrow the Flight Attendant Briefing

Meeting facilitators can take another page out of the flight attendant’s manual: making sure everyone on the journey is comfortable. Keep in mind that not everyone in your group will engage in an online meeting in the same manner as they would in an in-person meeting. Ensure all voices are heard. Continuously encourage folks to share their thoughts – especially the people who tend to be quieter on calls. Also consider other, offline methods to collect inputs and perspectives, such as online polls or discussion threads. (Some online meeting platforms actually have these capabilities built-in.)

Team Time vs. Self Time

While online meetings are a great (but not perfect) replacement for in-person meetings, teams and organizations should also consider additional ways for groups to collaborate in between meetings. True to our name here at Virtual, we’ve been increasingly exploring the use of different web-based tools that enable efficient decision-making and group strategy work asynchronously. This gives participants the ability to contribute meaningfully to the work but “on their own time.” Such tools also give organizers and facilitators another method to ensure the work of the group moves forward, yet without the need for such an aggressive (and difficult to schedule) cadence of calls and meetings. One decision tool we really like is called Powernoodle.

Even once world travel gets back to normal, we believe these tips will help your teams and groups have more productive remote meetings.

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