Before the coronavirus crisis, companies decided on their own if they wanted employees to work remotely or to have a full-time office attendance requirement. Suddenly, the world flipped upside down, and a majority of businesses were required to switch and adapt to a remote working model.
However, even when stay-at-home orders eventually come to an end, knowing how to run a remote meeting effectively will still be a great skill to possess. It’s also likely this experience of remote working—at least part of, if not all of the time—will have garnered some supporters. Here are 10 ways to help you make your remote meetings most effective.
You Need Great Technology Tools
When you work within a bring-your-own-device culture (BYOD), people will have a variety of systems and capabilities. Your employees, though, may not have what they need to take part in a successful video conference. Consider standardizing laptops, or at least setting a minimum standard so that video conferencing is clear and effective.
You will want to have several types of technology that are agreed upon for remote meetings so employees become efficient and experienced. This can also mean investing in quality headsets, which can help block out background noise as well as prevent feedback from others on the video call.
Stick to Successful Meeting Basics for Remote Meetings
Side conversations and chit-chat before a face-to-face meeting gets going is common, but it doesn’t always work as well in virtual situations. Meeting experts Bob Frisch and Cary Greene suggest having a formal structure, an assigned facilitator, an agenda, and set time limits to keep your virtual meeting running smoothly.
As with any successful meeting, you will also need to be upfront about the reason you are convening, the goal, and what you expect the decision, output, or results to look like afterwards.
Don't Underestimate the Socialization Factor
Various reasons exist for why remote employees may want to hold meetings: sharing information, brainstorming solutions, coordinating activities, and just generally building the team. But one important reason to hold a remote meeting is socialization. Remotely located teams need to build social bonds in order to work better together. Right now, you may need to hold more meetings than in "normal" times because so many people are feeling isolated and disconnected from each other.
"The more you can build a sense of community right now, the better for everyone's emotional health and work performance," says author and digital agency exec Howard Tiersky. "A well-run meeting can actually be a bright spot in an otherwise dreary and depressing day."
A virtual icebreaker or activity will also help you start the remote meeting on a positive note and will encourage a sensible segue into the main topic better than idle chatter. Even a fun icebreaker helps warm the conversation of the group.
Mute When Necessary
Background noises, such as people taking notes on their laptops, add tremendous noise to a virtual meeting. Remind participants to hit mute if they will be typing (unless they are speaking) or if they have other noise going on in the background, such as kids, TVs, traffic, and pets.
Share Your Reactions
Even though you can see your team members, the more people there are in the remote meeting, the less you can see each other's facial cues and read body language—essential components of communication in such an environment. This can lead to an uncomfortable experience.
With people on mute, in tandem with a lack of body language and the general awkwardness of the remote meeting situation, you can have trouble telling how people are responding.
If someone cracks a joke, say out loud, "That's funny” because they may not see your smile or hear your chuckle.
Have a Dress Code for Remote Meetings
Working at home generally makes for a more relaxed workday, but some people take moderation too far. For example, a judge in Florida had to remind attorneys to get out of bed for virtual court hearings and to put on regular clothing. Make sure your employees know the business's expectations for their business attire.
Give All Attendees a Chance to Speak
In a regular meeting, you can expect people to speak up when needed. Because of a lack of social cues and the recommended muting, people may experience difficulty in saying what they need to say. The facilitator or meeting leader should ask people specifically to speak up or give all participants a chance to provide feedback or share ideas.
In a remote meeting, some employees are more comfortable speaking and you don’t want to allow anyone to dominate. Therefore, the facilitator may want to call on people by name to allow each team member to communicate.
Make Use of the Chat Function and Video Capabilities of the Tool
If your virtual meeting tool has a chat function, tell people to use it. The chat window is a valuable place for noting important ideas and asking questions without interrupting the presenter.
You may also want to ask your remote meeting attendees to turn on the video component of the tool or laptop. This is a useful way to help people stay on task and participate effectively in a remote meeting.
If you can see each other, you know whether or not your coworker is engaged in the meeting. If you do use visual contact, ask participants to sit in an area of their home that is serene and not visually distracting.
Don't Be Afraid to Tackle the Tough Issues During a Remote Meeting
As Frisch and Greene from the Harvard Business Review allude to, it can be tempting to just suggest that everyone waits until they’re back in the office to address certain pressing issues. But you need to tackle today's topics of concern now. Putting off problems allows them to accelerate, which is counterproductive to business success.
Treat People With Kindness and Respect
While people tend to be more self-conscious on-camera than they are in face-to-face conversations, showing courtesy is always good advice for any form of meeting. Don't criticize people for their lighting, camera placement, or another visual issue during the meeting. The time to correct those things are before the meeting, one on one.
The Bottom Line
Hopefully, these tips will help your remote meetings become more effective and worthwhile. They should not only serve as a tool to help your employees feel more comfortable sitting in front of a camera and taking part, but strengthen your ability to conduct and manage the flow of conversation. And, like many work challenges before it, your virtual meetings will improve with time, practice, persistence, and patience.