It takes three seconds to realize why most meetings fail.
They simply don’t provide value for your virtual team. Managers forget to motivate their colleagues before a meeting by showing them it’s worth attending. Even worse, your employee might not even resonate with the goals you have for the meeting. So why should they attend?
Managers tend to stick to the same routine stand-up meetings that could be done via written messages instead of having everyone sit through 30+ minutes of updates.
The real purpose of a meeting though is getting things done.
But meetings curb productivity for as many as 65% of employees. Several studies prove how disengaging and inefficient holding too many meetings on the wrong topics and with the wrong people can be. Not to mention they can take up 80% of a manager’s time.
In a virtual setting, the effects are even greater. There are few ways of actually making sure your team is actively participating and not scrolling their phones instead. Then there’s the technical aspect with software crashes and glitches preventing certain team members from hearing the full conversation or even getting their point across.
A severe growth in misunderstandings, employees being left behind, and loads of time wasted on information that could be relayed in a crisp manner instead.
To help you run effective virtual meetings, we’re having a look at all of the changes you need to make beyond simply ensuring your tech stack is up to par with expectations.
Establish a clear purpose for each meeting
Think about your own reasons to attend a meeting. Would you be happy to participate in a virtual meeting just because your manager called for it? Or are you actually interested in finding out why you need to attend it?
When people are not even aware of the meeting’s goal, they’re highly likely to avoid attending it as much as possible. Despite the common belief that meetings waste an employee’s time, your team can be motivated by them too.
If a meeting can help them finish their work faster, provide handy tools, or just pair them up with a colleague for a better brainstorming session, they have something to win out of simply staying for the remote call.
Beyond the “What’s the goal?” question though, this is the stage where you should write down the general details of how meetings should be conducted:
● Who will moderate the meeting?
● When and how should team members share their ideas?
● How will technical issues be handled?
Eliminate routine meetings you can replace through other forms of communication
Hold fewer daily meetings by establishing a clear time frame when managers should call a meeting.
The real value of virtual meetings is just this: using time effectively. In a remote work setting, there’s no room for impromptu chats or meetings. Everything is well put together and scheduled.
Stand-up meetings are one of the easiest you can replace. A Slack integration such as Standuply or a simple Slack channel only for daily status meetings will save you at least half an hour every single day. Brainstorming meetings or reviews and approvals can also be moved over to Slack or your preferred team communication tool.
Create clear guidelines for team leads and managers so they’re never going to call up an unnecessary meeting or keep employees in a meeting beyond the 1-hour mark. Tell them exactly how long a virtual meeting should last and how they can make sure they only invite the right people to a briefing.
A generally accepted rule to conducting effective virtual meetings is to only call the team members that are essential to the meeting’s resolution—those whose feedback you must get or who need to get detailed instructions.
But how do you make a virtual meeting more fun for those attending?
Using icebreakers to set the stage
Building strong communication and trust in global virtual teams rarely starts with work matters. You want your team to get to know one another, find their common interests, and start collaborating on their own terms while proposing unique projects and ideas.
Sounds complicated? Think about your employees who’ve never met each other or barely got to interact for 2 minutes. In a physical office setting, friendships would grow naturally. Virtually though, you need to use some quick hacks to turn meetings into something more than a formal event.
Icebreaker questions or activities are an easy way to boost your team’s connection and get them focused. You can keep these light-hearted or bring up current world events and news.
What are some fun icebreaker questions?
● What was your first job like?
● What’s the worst at-job experience you’ve had?
● What would help our remote team work better?
● What’s one secret talent you can show us right now?
● How would you change the world if you had only 1 hour to do it?
● What’s one thing you can always put 100% into?
● What’s your favorite quote we can use to motivate us today?
● Would you rather be known as an award-winning professional or have the ability to
● What’s the weirdest thing someone asked you during a meeting or interview?
● Tell us about your funniest LinkedIn conversation.
● What’s the #1 that always distracts you?
● What is your most-used emoji in a business setting?
● What did you have for breakfast this morning?
● If you could be guaranteed one thing in life, what would that be?
● What is your best work tip that we don’t know yet?
● If you could choose a new job no matter how crazy it is, which would you go for?
You can also simply have a different team member tell a short story every day or share a fun fact.
Note: Don’t waste too much time with these though. You have a business goal for every meeting after all and dwelling too much on the fun part means less time to discuss the real deal.
Make sure everyone is active in the conversation
At some point, we’ve all been part of a meeting when we just couldn’t get our ideas across. You think you have the best suggestion ever but don’t get the chance to say it and you’re too afraid to share it with the manager later. Thousands of ideas are lost this way—maybe even on a daily basis.
Prepare questions for everyone, require all employees in the meeting to share their feedback, take a survey, or just answer a poll. If you didn’t get to hear what even just a single person had to say, ask them directly to voice their opinion.
To maintain their full attention as much as possible, have everyone turn on their camera. This way, they won’t be tempted to do something else during the meeting and they’ll be ready to answer any unexpected question because you know they’re paying attention.
One key thing to keep in mind is not to let one person rule over the meeting. Especially with meetings where a manager gets together with other employees in a non-managerial position, the tendency is for the manager [or meeting moderator] to do all the talking. A team is not just a person and everyone has their own insights they get by working for your company.
Break the routine every once in a while
The best employers are able to turn meetings into activities employees actually look forward to.
Does this sound utopic?
Think again. Incorporate problem-solving and trust-building activities occasionally or for regular non-work related meetings.
There’s a catch here though: no one wants to sit through a meeting that’s all about talking aimlessly about your day and recent whereabouts. So these casual chats you’d otherwise have in the office over a cup of coffee also need clear target points to cover.
So, how do you make a virtual meeting more fun?
Some virtual activities to include every now and then are:
● Having a different person host the meeting every time
● Preparing fun slides or videos instead of plain whiteboards
● Getting your team to take an online quiz in one or two minutes and share their results
● Asking your team members to prepare a funny question for you
● Sharing a weird or unique item they have in their homes
● Taking 5 minutes at the end of the meeting for a “Two Truths and One Lie” round
● Try speed networking by getting people to come 5 minutes earlier and talk to one
another in smaller groups until everyone’s ready for the meeting
● Have your employees change their background image to the place where they’d like
to be at the moment
● Encourage people to write a fun fact about them on a plain color and use that as their
background for the call
● Use a voice changer tool for a themed call to make a regular meeting different
● Run an interests poll by bringing up certain hobbies or interest fields and having
people with similar passions bond over their similarities
● Get people to dress up in a crazy costume
Don’t let background noises and connectivity issues lead to misunderstandings
It’s clear that you need to keep distractions as far from your workspace as possible. But did you know you could have your kids playing around while no one would notice?
Dogs barking, traffic or construction noise, and even your family chattering in the other room can now be literally removed from calls. Krisp will mute these both on your and your team’s end, leaving you with a clear conversation that doesn’t demand repetition.
Besides the noise, connectivity issues can also cause misunderstandings and a lot of frustration.
Managers will lose their patience trying to grasp an employee’s ideas while the latter will lack the motivation to keep voicing their thoughts.
With team members sometimes having different schedules or working from distinct time zones, try recording the meetings. In case anyone’s connection gets cut off, they can refer to the video instead.
This works for both employees and collaborators and prevents lots of unnecessary back-and-forths. You can also cut certain sections you want to share with the entire remote team or company so they don’t have to sit through a meeting that’s not of interest to them just to get an update.
Always follow up and give an actionable takeaway
So how do you end a virtual meeting?
Have a call-to-action for every online meet-up, chat, or organization-wide event. Tell employees what they’re supposed to do next so they don’t have to guess it. Do you want them to work on tasks you’ve given out or just brainstorm ideas and come up with concept models until next time?
You’d be surprised by how confused employees can get if you leave them without an actionable task. Plus, there’s no bigger reason for them to consider meetings as meaningless.
Tip: Create a summary of the meeting with the key points you want everyone to remember so they can use it as a reference in case they forgot something you said. Include extra resources, tools, and points of contact to ensure they get the answer they need immediately without having to ask around for clarifications.
You can also use meeting endings to connect people who are working on the same project or tasks so they can have their separate one-on-one meetings.
It’s a good idea to support your team during the process of creating stronger bonds so they will have built trust within each other by the time they get to work together. This comes in handy as you’re hiring new people who never got to interact with the others in an office setting.
An app like Donut lets you randomly connect individuals from different teams and plan a quick meeting for them over lunch break or a cup of coffee. Go the extra mile and set up a connection program to define your team culture. Introduce people from different regions, give an employee the chance to speak directly with the CEO every week, or launch a mentorship program.
What to do next?
Ideally, you want to cover all of the tips above to steer clear from all potential virtual team communication challenges. If you’ve already implemented some of these virtual communication hacks, make sure you go one more time through them to see if there’s any room for improvement.
Bookmark this guide to communicating effectively in virtual meetings and get back to it whenever you feel like you could use some inspiration to keep your team engaged.