Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, remote meetings have become essential. Different rules apply to video conferencing than in-office meetings, and without the ability to see and hear everyone, your team has to adapt and collaborate to ensure a successful outcome.
The advantage (and disadvantage) of virtual meetings is the ability to hold them almost anywhere. Participants call in from their home offices, airport lounges, or vehicle, and often there is a few seconds delay for most systems to communicate. We have all experienced the struggle to remember during a video call that we are in an actual meeting, and to give our full attention instead of being distracted by e-mail, texting, or surfing the internet.
Being the facilitator of a remote meeting comes with its own set of challenges. Here are four tips to help you establish an engaging and productive atmosphere while keeping order during your next virtual meeting.
Share the Agenda in Advance
Streamline the meeting by sharing the agenda ahead of time to those who will participate so that everyone can prepare. E-mail new materials in advance to give the team time review and process the information beforehand so they can bring valid questions to the meeting. When new content is shared during the meeting participants start thinking about their response, instead of actively listening to what others have to say, and may result in time wasted with trivial questions. Remember, people’s attention spans are different when they are working remotely, have a plan with specific items to cover, and stick to that plan.
Gathering together for a remote meeting takes people away from their home space, not their office space. It’s harder to focus, and when you could receive an unexpected knock on the doors, your dog is barking, or the kids are fighting in the other room. Having an agenda ahead time helps to keep people focused on the purpose for the meeting. Avoid trying to address too many topics during a single session, and instead have a series of short meetings, to give people time to stretch, take a bathroom break, or check on the kids.
State the Rules of the Meeting
Chaotic meetings where everybody is speaking at the same time or someone is starting to dominate the conversation never helps your team to problem solve or be productive. Developing rules and guidelines for all meetings and stating or posting them on the screen before each remote session will keep everyone on the same page. Asking people to mute their mic, avoid visual distractions (wear appropriate clothing), stay on topic, and use the chatbox to ask questions or communicate to the group are a few ideas for guidelines.
Assigning roles for facilitator, timekeeper, and scribe (to write down key points or final decisions) can help keep order during remote meetings. Changing the roles to different participants each meeting by asking for volunteers or by creating a rotation, will let everyone experience the challenge of keeping order and help them to develop understanding, empathy, and respect for the rules.
Ask for Introductions
Virtual meetings tend to launch right into the business at hand, which removes the opportunity for relationship building. Begin each meeting by going around the virtual room and asking everyone to say hello or introduce themselves. A face-to-face encounter is important to create team cohesion, especially if some participants aren’t visible to everyone else. To add a more personal element to the meeting, ask each person to say something they’re looking forward, or share something about their weekend. Connecting everyone on a personal level before diving into business will increase respect and collaboration.
Focus on the Goal
Begin the meeting by reviewing the agenda and reminding participants of the reason why you are all taking the time to meet. A well-organized meeting will have a distinct purpose that everyone is eager to achieve. Many online collaboration platforms have an area on the main screen where you can post the goal and what needs to be completed by the end of the meetings. If a speaker begins to go off-topic, you can easily redirect them by referring to the goal and reminding them that it is the purpose of the meeting.
In conclusion, with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing many people to attend virtual meetings for the first time, it’s advantageous to determine the rules to help keep order and streamline productivity. Keeping participants engaged, informed, and respectful during virtual meetings is different from in-office conferences, and taking the extra time to prepare will save money and frustration. Acknowledging the learning curve in mastering a remote meeting can cushion mistakes and create lasting memories for your team during this hectic time.