Running efficient meetings can be a difficult task under the best of circumstances. When all attendees are remote and reliant on technology, the challenge can be even greater. Here are tips for how you can help ensure your virtual meeting runs smoothly.
Set an agenda
It’s second nature to interpret physical and facial cues in person, but this 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 who is contributing. Over time, the flow will become more natural.
While teams are social 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’ on video or phone calls. 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.
Use meeting chat – politely
In a physical meeting, attendees can bring hand-outs, charts or slides. These aids do not need to be forgotten now that you’ve moved to virtual meetings. Items like these can be uploaded and shared as links or attachments in the chat channel of a meeting for context around the topics at hand. The chat channel can also be used for texting and asking questions while another person is speaking. But be sure to use these channels politely and not dominate a conversation in the chat, just as you wouldn’t speak 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 check in to ask work questions – or just to chat. If possible, 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 adapt 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.