Running efficient meetings can be a difficult task under the best of circumstances. It can add to the challenges if all attendees are remote and reliant on technology. Here are tips to keep virtual meetings running smoothly.
Set an agenda
It’s second nature to interpret physical and facial cues in person, but the task becomes harder when you can’t easily see everyone’s screen at once or if there is a lag in audio or video. This can lead to uncertainty about who should be contributing or people accidentally talking over each other. An agenda can help clarify a meeting by sharing ahead of time who is starting a conversation and then who is contributing. Over time, the flow will become more natural.
In a time of physical distancing, it’s important to still connect with others on a human level and encourage active participation. Getting everyone to speak up in a remote setting can feel like a challenge since it’s easier to “hide” in a digital setting. First, provide time to talk socially, even putting aside time at the beginning or end of the meeting to share personal stories and small wins. Especially when there’s no physical place to gather, everyone needs a virtual watercooler. Second, manage participation by following five steps outlined by Harvard Business Review, which includes making sure the problem is felt by participants, and no more than five minutes goes by without people working on active solutions to problems together.
Use meeting chat –– politely
In a physical meeting, attendees can bring hands-outs, charts or slides. All those items can be used virtually by uploading and sharing links and attachments in the chat channel of the meeting for context about topics at hand. It can also be used for texting and asking questions while another person is speaking. But also use this politely by not dominating a conversation in the chat, just as you wouldn’t talk over someone in an in-person meeting. Use the chat function to supplement conversations, not replace them.
Set up office hours and take breaks
Not every virtual interaction has to be a formal meeting. Many online meeting tools like Microsoft Teams and Skype for Business allow you to set a status, where you can open up your virtual door and let others virtually drop in to ask work questions –– or just to chat. Don’t schedule back-to-back meetings which can lead to virtual meeting fatigue. Take a break away from the screen to give your brain a chance to switch gears between meetings.
Finally, remember to be patient with colleagues and with yourself as you adjust to virtual meetings. It will be an adjustment for many people. And when someone forgets to mute their mic –– inevitably –– just politely remind them that everyone can hear. We’ve all been there.