As we work remotely, we must learn how to continue to best be productive as a collaborative team. It all starts with a productive virtual meeting. Read below for more details.
Some people are more inclined to bring their opinions to the table than others. And some are more longwinded than others. Reconciling that with the need to give everyone the chance to contribute while staying within a set timeframe of less than an hour is tough.
This is especially true virtually, where many feel that it’s not only harder for organizers to get everyone engaged, but it’s harder for workers to feel and stay engaged. As we continue to move towards a day and age where the virtual meeting will play an increasingly important role in our professional lives, managers need to adapt quickly and learn to leverage existing technologies to make the most of the virtual meeting.
The Same Rules Apply
It’s estimated that meetings cost American companies $399 billion last year in lost time and wasted resources. And that nearly half of surveyed employees found that bad meetings kept them from other important work. It’s not uncommon to hear workers lament that an hour-long meeting could’ve been summed up in an email. And it absolutely did not require everyone’s attendance and concentration.
Even when most workers are distracted at meetings, they’re still unable to get any meaningful work done. All they can really do to fill time while waiting for a meeting to be adjourned is check emails and browse the web.
As such, the same basic rules apply to the virtual meeting that already applied to the physical meeting:
- Have less of them.
- Keep them short.
- Have fewer people on at a time.
- Limit the amount of time spent on a given topic.
- Address a small and succinct agenda per meeting (don’t scattershot your meeting topics).
- Utilize visual stimuli to cut down on words.
Video conferencing tech means that we can continue to hold the same meetings we always did, but remotely. That isn’t a good thing, as many companies are holding way too many meetings. But video conferencing tech and collaborate software paves the way for a new and better way to communicate and brainstorm as a group.
Leverage Cooperative Technologies to Improve Collaboration
There are limitations to virtual communication tools, particularly the absence of full-body language and subtle visual or auditory cues due to video and audio quality varying based on internet speeds and equipment quality. This can have an impact on communication.
However, virtual communication makes up for it with a wider suite of collaborative technologies and communicative options. Employees can engage with one another on multiple fronts without “speaking” over each other by working on a single document together and offering written advice in the form of annotated comments. Images and visual aids can convey meaning and intent. Or succinctly explain a concept without taking up an excessive amount of time.
Many communication platforms today offer the ability to switch between voice/video channels. Meetings can take a set amount of time to split attendants into individual groups to brainstorm more freely on a single idea without the burden of having to fight over so many voices at once, before coming back together to succinctly describe what was discussed. This is easier and simpler than physically cordoning off a room or splitting a group into five separate rooms to try and encourage greater engagement and discussion.
The ability to split a meeting’s members off to encourage greater discussion, or leverage “silent” brainstorming via document collaboration can greatly boost engagement. No one feels like they have to wade through a loud opposition to get heard. And they don’t have to worry about taking up anyone else’s time (as everyone is contributing at the same time).
Brevity remains important during meets, whether virtual or not. Beware of trying to cut a concept down to such a degree that its true usefulness is lost. But consider taking notes to send around for consideration after the meeting itself, so as not to lose too much time on a single idea. Even virtually, it’s important to take notes for the inevitable follow up.
When ideas are useful but not relevant, they can go to the “parking lot.”
Write Down Useful but Unrelated Information
The meeting “parking lot” is still a useful concept when organizing and managing a virtual meeting. When a meeting is managed well, especially when it’s a brainstorming meeting, a lot of ideas can float to the forefront that are interesting, albeit ultimately not relevant or unhelpful.
These ideas may be able to play a role in the future, however, and they should be acknowledged and stored. One way of doing so is to allot a virtual parking lot where unrelated ideas are noted down. They are then reviewed later either after the meeting or when they become relevant.
Not only does this encourage your team members to bring up good ideas even when they aren’t immediately relevant, but it’s also encouraging to see your idea acknowledged, rather than being shot down for being “wrong place, wrong time.”
Lay Out a Clear Agenda
This is important in any meeting, and it’s still important when running a productive virtual meeting. Meetings can often run long because they have the tendency of trying to address either too many things at once or tackle a single goal that should really be broken down into further steps.
Succinct meetings are best because you want to maximize the amount of information people retain. That means keeping meetings short and sweet, and preferably focused on just a couple of main questions. Be sure to send everyone the meeting agenda beforehand. They get the chance to consider what they think and how they might contribute.
Successful virtual meetings are about blending lessons that have always worked. This includes creating an agenda beforehand, keeping things succinct, and giving everyone a chance to contribute. New technologies and opportunities will help, such as collaborative software, different voice and video channels, and easier visual aids.