By now, most of us have probably attended so many virtual meetings that we’re numb to them. We just show up, throw on a fake smile, and hope the meeting actually ends on time this time.
If that’s the case, I invite you to look at this topic with new eyes: If you spend hours of your week taking calls as you work from home, shouldn’t you be doing it right?
So before you hop on your next call, be sure to read about these game-changing remote meetings tips.
1. Sometimes, an agenda isn’t enough.
Yes, you should always have a meeting agenda. But beyond that, it’s helpful to provide context around who is attending and what their role is in the scope of the meeting and its topic. This is particularly true for cross-functional collaborations, where people from different teams or organizations who have not met before are coming together to solve a problem or work on a project. You can save time on introductions if you do this and ensure everyone is in the loop.
2. There is an ideal meeting attendee number: fewer than 10 people
- Richard Hackman, who was a professor of organizational psychology at Harvard, spent years studying effective teams and concluded: “My rule of thumb is that no work team should have membership in the double digits (and my preferred size is six), since our research has shown that the number of performance problems a team encounters increases exponentially as team size increases.”
Now, this will depend on the type of meeting. If you’re hosting an all-hands, and your organization has 200 people, you’ll have to break this rule. But it’s just a general guideline: try to keep your meeting attendees to fewer than 10. Any more than that, and it’s diminishing returns.
3. Draft a remote meetings policy for your workplace.
Your remote meeting policy should address questions like:
- When is a remote meeting appropriate?
- Does our office default to video on or off?
- Are virtual backgrounds acceptable?
- Do we use chat during video meetings? If so, in what way?
- Will our video meetings be recorded?
4. New attendees need to know the policy before the call.
This should be documented in the office meeting policy we talked about earlier, but if the attendees are from outside of your organization, they obviously won’t know about this, so give them a heads up about these four items:
- Who will be leading the meeting?
- Should they arrive at the meeting with their cameras on or off?
- Should they keep their cameras on throughout the meeting?
- Is it okay to use a virtual background?
5. Lighting matters.
Don’t stress out too much about this; just make sure your face is well-lit enough that people can see your face. Meeting virtually already means we lose some key pieces of communication (body language, for example), so make it easier on your teammates by allowing them to read your facial expressions in good lighting.
Avoid having light directly behind you, such as a sun-filled window, which can create a silhouette effect that obscures your face. Try to place a light source, such as a desk lamp, behind your laptop so the light falls on you.
6. Avoid a busy background.
Busy backgrounds are visually distracting, and depending on what’s back there, might not be appropriate for a work call. The safest bet is a bare wall behind you or, if in line with your workplace’s culture, a nice virtual background.
7. Your laptop microphone or headset microphone picks up annoying background noise.
To remedy this, you’ll need to manually eliminate as many noise-making items in your vicinity before the call. If you’re calling in from home, prep your workspace beforehand. Turn off any distracting noises, such as fans that blow directly on your microphone or a TV you left on in the living room.
Of course, home life isn’t always so easy to control. If you’ve got roommates, family, kids, or pets, your best bet is to install a noise-cancelling app like Krisp to automatically eliminate any distracting sounds at the click of a button. Krisp works in the background on your calls, and it goes both ways: It ensures your voice is heard and that you can hear your attendees’ voices as well.
8. If you expect issues or interruptions, say so ahead of time.
Virtual meetings introduce the potential for all sorts of issues. To prevent confusion and awkwardness, shoot a quick email or Slack to attendees and call it out. Let them know if:
- You’ll be in the middle of your commute on the subway, so your camera will be off.
- You’re dogsitting for a friend today, so there might be barking in the background.
- You’ve been having internet connectivity problems, so your video might freeze up, and in that case, you’ll turn the camera off.
That way, if the issue does come up during the meeting, you don’t waste time explaining what’s happening or come across as rude.
9. Use icebreakers sparingly.
Icebreakers exist on a spectrum, from the downright cringey to the heartwarming. Choose a virtual icebreaker that takes into account how close the team is and how much time you have in the meeting.
10. Put the popcorn method on the backburner.
“Popcorning,” or waiting for someone to “pop” up and speak during a meeting, is just plain awkward. And you’ll usually get the same people speaking first and speaking most often. You can certainly use this method for some of the questions, but if you find that certain people are dominating the conversation while others are staying silent, it’s time to switch it up.
If you are the meeting host, call on people who haven’t spoken and say, “I’d like to hear from you. Do you have anything to add?” Similarly, you can ask each person that you call on to “pass the mic” to someone else when they’re done speaking. That way, you’re not always the one calling on someone to speak.
If you are not the host but an attendee who tends to be the first to speak, next time, take a step back and say, “I’d be happy to go first on this one, but I wanted to give ____ an opportunity to speak because they’ve been instrumental in this project and have a lot they could share. _____, would you like to add something?”
11. Pretend the meeting starts 5 minutes before it actually does.
If a meeting starts at 10 a.m., put 9:55 a.m. in your calendar. This will help you mentally prepare to arrive early, and it provides a buffer in case a meeting beforehand runs over.
12. Learn basic troubleshooting
You don’t need to be an IT whiz. Just some basic troubleshooting can go a long way in having effective remote meetings.
- Video freezing and audio skipping? Turn off your camera, switch to a faster internet connection, and make sure someone in your household isn’t streaming videos or doing something else that takes up a lot of bandwidth.
- Running a VPN? Realize it’ll slow down your connection. Consider disconnecting.
- People can’t hear you? If you’ve got headphones in, take them out. Or, check your audio input under settings to ensure the meeting app knows to pull audio from your headset, not your computer’s internal mic.
- Being Zoombombed? Always protect each meeting with a unique password shared only among designated attendees so outsiders can’t join. This is an important part of online meeting security.
13. Don’t be afraid to reschedule when things go wrong
If technical issues persist despite troubleshooting, don’t be shy: Suggest rescheduling the meeting for another time or excuse yourself while the others carry on with the meeting. This shows you respect others’ time and don’t want to keep troubleshooting during valuable meeting time.
14. Give time warnings.
This is really the meeting leader’s responsibility: To make sure you end on time and wrap up smoothly, give a 10- and 5-minute warning.
15. End the meeting on time.
Whatever you do, don’t go over. At the stated meeting’s end time, on the dot, announce that you’ve run out of time and that people are free to leave. If you have more items to discuss, ask anyone who has the time to stay on longer, but don’t hold back those who have other commitments.
If a meeting is going over, and you don’t want to interrupt, feel free to just leave. Ideally, you’ll want to send a text message to the chat. Interrupting to say “I’ve got to go” creates a longer delay for everyone else because now they’ve all got to say bye to you.
16. If you’re the meeting leader, pretend you’re narrating a film.
When we’re in remote meetings, it’s so easy to forget that other people cannot see what you are doing. So, if you’re the meeting leader, pretend you’re the narrator in the film. Announce everything that you are doing. Overcommunicate. This prevents people from feeling awkward, getting confused, or thinking they’ve lost you.
Here are examples of how this might play out:
- There’s that awkward silence at the start of the meeting while you’re waiting for everyone to join. Say, “So I’m just checking my email here to see who responded yes to this invite. We’ll wait a few more minutes because it looks like Lucy and Joe are supposed to join.”
- You ask a question soliciting feedback from the group, and you see one person in particular nodding emphatically as though they have something to say. Say, “James, I see you nodding over there. Would you like to say something?”
- There’s the fumbling at the end of the meeting with goodbyes as some people don’t know if they’re allowed to leave or if you want them to stay on. Instead, if you want one person to stay on the call to discuss something, you need to call it out clearly. For example, “Okay, that wraps up this meeting then. I’m going to ask Chase to stay on for five more minutes to talk about the financial report. Everyone else, sign off now, and I’ll send an email followup on everything we discussed. Thanks for joining!”
- Narration works for any awkward silence, in fact! These lapses in conversation often happen after you’ve asked a question and people are thinking about what to say or aren’t sure who’s supposed to speak first. To remedy this, you can say, “I know you’re thinking about how to answer this, so take your time. I’ll wait, and whoever wants to jump in first can do so.” Or you can even say, “Lucy, I’d love to hear from you first,” if ample time has passed, and no one has spoken.
- While you’re waiting for your presentation to load on your computer before sharing your screen, simply say, “I’m just waiting for the presentation to load. Sorry, my internet has been super slow today! I’ll let you know once I’ve gotten it up.”
Yes, narrating can feel weird, and obviously you wouldn’t do it in an in-person meeting. But unlike an in-person meeting, your attendees can’t see what’s going on on your end. Narrating helps them understand the context of the situation.
17. Communicate action steps and takeaways.
Research by meeting management software Fellow found that one of the top five problems with meetings is that there are no clear takeaways, while on the flip side, one of the top five characteristics of a great meeting is having actionable takeaways.
That means many people are leaving meetings going, “Um, why did we even have that meeting?”
Don’t let your attendees think it was a waste of time! When you’re wrapping up, state what you learned and what will happen next. If you run out of time, let the attendees know you’ll email them with next steps.
18. Take a break from video every once in a while.
Not every remote meeting needs to be a video meeting. In fact, too much can lead to Zoom fatigue, a now well-documented effect caused by way too many video calls over the pandemic.
Stanford University researchers found four reasons for this—and they all have to do with the visual component of these meetings:
- Excessive, close-up eye contact
- Seeing yourself during video chats
- Decreased mobility during video chats
- Higher cognitive load in video chats
So, the easy fix? Occasionally allow meeting attendees to keep their cameras off, or just schedule audio meetings more often.
Which of These Remote Meeting Tips Will You Try Today?
You likely have a video call coming up. It is 2021, after all. Now that you know these remote meetings tips, you’ll have even more reasons to make it your best one yet.
And if you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the tips, start with this easy one: Try noise-cancelling app Krisp for free today.