Meetings are not known for being the favorite pastime of the modern employee, even though everyone seems to be spending more time in them. But virtual meetings—now wildly popular thanks to telecommuting, globalization, and improving technology—have an even worse reputation.
If the video above feels familiar to you, you’re used to the frustrations of conference calls and communications platforms:
- Tech that doesn’t work (or people that don’t know how to use it)
- Boring, voice-only meetings that drag on and on, losing sight of the original goal
- Off-topic rambling or inside jokes that only part of the team knows
- Feeling ignored when you’re the only one not in the room—or the loudest one on the line
- Lack of body language to gauge participants’ engagement and feelings
Virtual meetings do have some advantages, like reducing travel time and expenses as well as convenient document sharing, recording, and whiteboard features. It can also help unite teams that usually work in different geographical areas. But without some careful thought, the downsides can quickly destroy any potential gains.
Fixing the virtual meeting takes more than just getting everyone up to speed on the software. It requires a few simple, humanizing touches that help bring out the best in every member of the team. Remember, meetings need to help participants do their jobs better. So design the meeting around the job and the people, not the other way around.
Virtual Meeting Design Tips
In order to design human-centric virtual meetings, it’s important to ask these five questions:
- How can we make this meeting shorter?
Long meetings and virtual tech don’t go well together. It’s too easy for participants to multitask or lose the flow of the conversation. Once they’re no longer engaged, it’s even harder to generate good ideas and stay on track. If you need to have a six-hour brainstorming session, try to get everyone in the same room or break up the meeting into clearly-defined segments.
Better yet, try to figure out what’s taking the most time and consider ways to do some of that work outside the meeting. Can you post a project in a private workroom for people to comment on beforehand? Can presentations be uploaded centrally so people can view them ahead of time, allowing the meeting to focus on discussion? Could an emailed agenda take the place of some of the information-sharing?
- Is this meeting scheduled fairly?
If different timezones are involved, try to make sure that the burden of waking up early or staying late is shared by all participants. If someone is waking up in the middle of the night to join, respect their time and keep things on point. Listen to their input and offer to let them go as soon as possible—and then switch which team gets the awkward meeting time.
- What’s the goal?
Is there a clear agenda? Is everyone aware of it? Keep everyone on the same page with a central, organizing document shared multiple times before the event. Refer to it often so no one gets lost.
- Does the tech work? Can you control the audio?
Test equipment and send out meeting codes early and often. Try to equip your team with good headsets and mics as well as decent lighting if video is involved. Also, unmuted microphones are the bane of the virtual meeting. Find a platform that allows you to control the mic in case one of your team members forgets to mute theirs.
- Do you have a facilitator in palce?
Remember, not everyone knows good virtual meeting etiquette, like introducing yourself before you speak. Work with your team on good protocols and choose a facilitator who will make sure everyone is included. This person can call on others, either in order by name or by their area of expertise, to make sure everyone is sharing. The facilitator can also set aside time for silent brainstorming and get people back on track if the conversation wanders.
Make the People Matter
Most importantly, try to solicit a significant contribution from every team member. This humanizes the conversation and gives people a reason to be invested. Remember that all those phone numbers, screen names, or camera boxes represent real people. Design your meeting around those people, and your virtual meeting can become the center of connection and innovation instead of a dreaded chore.