Remote teams are not new. However, they have been in the minority in most industries until recently. But due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, remote working has become the norm for millions of people across the United States and all over the world. This new status quo looks to continue for the foreseeable future.
Remote working has its benefits, but also comes with a unique set of challenges. In particular, working from home can be isolating, and people can struggle with productivity. It can result in a reduction in team cohesion, communication, and collaboration.
Fortunately, there are many tools available to help you and your team pivot to online working and ensure your productivity doesn’t suffer. According to Prioridata and Statista, global downloads of video chat apps skyrocketed in March 2020 when COVID-19 was declared a pandemic. Zoom, now one of the most popular video conferencing tools in the world, saw a more than sixfold increase in users from January to March 2020:
I live in Chiang Mai, Thailand, but my teammates at Diggity Marketing and my SEO Agency live all over the world from Australia to the UK and the USA. That means I’ve had to become a pro at building effective working relationships without sitting in the same room as my colleagues.
Read on, and I’ll tell you my top tips for running the perfect virtual meeting.
Does this need to be a meeting?
Anyone who has ever worked in an office is familiar with the phenomenon of the two-hour team meeting that could have been an email. The 2020 equivalent is the unnecessary video call that could have been an email.
Thanks to the pandemic, many of us have spent more hours on video calls in the last four months than ever before in our lives. If you find these calls tiring, you’re not alone. In fact, it’s so common that mental health practitioners have coined the term “Zoom fatigue.”
Therefore, don’t fall into the trap of having meetings for the sake of having meetings. Instead, before you schedule a call, make sure that it’s actually necessary.
Encourage video, but give people the choice
Given the option, I prefer a video-call to a voice call. Seeing someone’s face and body language allows for a more engaged, personalized, and nuanced conversation. It also simulates the feeling of all being in the same room.
However, some people have a good reason for not switching on their video. This might be due to a slow internet connection, extreme self-consciousness on camera, or even having family members in the same room if they don’t have a private space.
Therefore, encourage the use of video, but let people make their own choice. Everyone feeling comfortable is conducive to a better meeting.
Test your tech
There’s nothing more annoying than setting aside 30 minutes for a video meeting only to lose half the time to an internet connectivity issue or software malfunction. Always test your tech ahead of time to make sure everything is working well.
Ask all the participants to make sure the conferencing software is working and that their internet connection can handle it before the meeting. Sitting around, waiting for that one person who can’t get the software to work is a good way to start the meeting with everyone feeling annoyed!
Create an agenda – and stick to it
Create an agenda and send it to all participants before the meeting, giving them the opportunity to come back to you with any additions or amends. Your agenda should outline what you plan to cover and approximately how long each section will take.
As the meeting host or chair, it’s your job to make sure you stick to the agenda. That means politely cutting people off if they are “monologuing” and bringing people back on track if they start to veer off-topic.
Build in time for small-talk and general chat
A lot of people are feeling lonely and isolated at the moment. That means that moments of connection with our fellow human beings are more important than ever. We might not be working in the office right now, but those “water cooler” chats that brighten workdays can be recreated online.
Therefore, when you create your meeting agenda, build in a few minutes at the beginning or end for general conversation and catching up. Far from being a waste of time, making the time to chat with your colleagues and work associates about non-work topics builds connection, enhances collaboration, and allows you to nurture stronger working relationships.
Limit the length of meetings
Conventional wisdom says that people can’t concentrate for long periods without a break. Therefore, limit the length of your virtual meetings. I recommend no more than an hour, and shorter if possible.
If your meeting really needs to be longer, then build in a 10-minute break halfway through for people to stretch their legs and refresh their cup of coffee!
Limit the number of participants
Avoid having too many people dialled in to your video call. Large numbers of participants can make the meeting unwieldy and overly long as everyone will have something to say. Consider who really needs to be there and don’t invite the whole team for the sake of it!
The exact number will depend on your business, team size, and the nature of the meeting. As a rule of thumb, try to avoid virtual meetings with more than 20 people – fewer if you expect the meeting to be short.
Ask people to mute when they are not speaking
If 2020 had a catchphrase, it might be “you’re on mute!”
On some video conferencing software tools, you can “mute” everybody by default. Though this can work in meetings with very large groups, it can be a bit autocratic! Instead, ask everyone to mute themselves when they’re not speaking.
The mute button cuts down on distracting background noise from outside traffic, family members, children, pets, beeping phones, and loud keyboards. Just don’t forget to unmute before you start talking.
Many video conferencing tools allow participants to “raise a hand” by pressing a button to indicate that they would like to speak. In a busy meeting, to stop people speaking over one another, ask them to use this function and wait to be called upon.
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Ditch the multitasking
It can be so tempting to try to do multiple things during a video meeting. People won’t notice if you send a quick email, browse Facebook, or do your nails while you’re on a group call, right? Wrong! Trying to multitask during a virtual meeting is just as rude and disrespectful as it would be during a one-on-one meeting.
Therefore, set an example by not doing other things during virtual meetings, and make it clear to your team that this is the expectation. If someone seems to be persistently checked out, have a word with them and ask them to give their full attention during meetings. Chances are, they’re not trying to be rude – they just thought virtual meetings had different rules.
Improving team collaboration with virtual meetings
Love it or hate it, remote teams and working from home are the new normal, and we’re likely to be working this way for some time. Even when the pandemic is over, many people will not return to working from an office, preferring the flexibility and commute-saving benefits of remote working:
That means that team leaders, managers, business owners, and anyone who collaborates with others all need to get used to running virtual meetings. If you do them well, they can be just as productive as meeting face-to-face.
Rogue technology, uncertainty around etiquette, and poor planning can all result in virtual meeting headaches. But if you plan well and follow these simple tips, you’ll be able to build relationships, retain team cohesion, and work collaboratively whether you’re in the same room or thousands of miles apart.