That a business meeting is integral to the daily schedule of any modern workplace is undeniable. A middle management person spends nearly 35% of office time on meetings, while in senior management, that proportion could be as high as 50%. Though these are important to get updates on work progress, they could unnecessarily eat up a lot of time.
The world is changing, though… and the unfortunate truth is that the COVID-19 crisis is driving much of this change. Many workforces are operating remotely, which is why the dynamic of regular meetings has changed too. Business leaders now need to adapt their structuring – and perhaps the frequency – of meetings to this new paradigm of virtual work, such that the workforce and thereby the organization both thrive.
It is imperative to understand how and why remote meetings work, and how to make them work well. Around the world, companies are embracing remote work, and distributed teams will need to build good working relationships with colleagues working remotely, and to collaborate effectively with them through – among others – online meetings.
What gets in the way of an effective remote meeting?
Many things! From technology that may lead to connectivity troubles and transmission delays, to a lack of etiquette that manifests in multiple people speaking at the same time, and trouble in holding a structured discussion, an online meeting is not the smoothest process. There is also the matter of managers rejecting the idea in favor of face-to-face interactions and the perception that the latter is more productive.
There is a lot you can do, though, to ensure an online meeting does not trip up effective organizational functioning. Read on!
Before the meeting
Abraham Lincoln, the 16th US President, famously said: “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” Remember that a great online meeting requires connection, collaboration, and feedback. To get that axe ready, start by choosing software tools or applications facilitating these goals, such as solutions from Google (Hangouts, Docs) and Microsoft (Teams). Aside from choosing the right tools, you also need to know how to use them properly and to have a Plan B in place, lest the first option fails. It is sage advice to log in a few minutes ahead of the call time to set up and check everything.
An important part of a meeting is a shared space, the role played offline by a meeting room with its whiteboard, presentations, and the like. Online, you could use shared whiteboards and other similar collaboration tools to positively influence the presence of team members. It also helps to put together a specific agenda with approximate timelines, and to stick to it, given the effort required in preparation and the importance of minimizing wasted time.
Keep the invitee/attendee list at a manageable size, over and above what the technology may allow. Larger gatherings may make people feel they need not engage in the conversation or may keep the hesitant ones even quieter. And to all those invited or attending, circulate the main purpose (approvals, brainstorming, updates, or other) and the rules of the meeting, possibly including a limited per-person speaking time.
During the meeting
Autopilot works in aircraft, but may not be a great choice for an online meeting. Start by introducing everyone or by acknowledging the presence of each person. If video is not being used, you could post pictures of all attendees on the wall, as it encourages participation and open communication. Of course, accompany this with some light banter to start things up and warm attendees to the conversation.
Start the meeting off by reminding attendees about the goal of the meeting. Assign them specific roles, including timekeeping, facilitation, and note-taking. Ask them to introduce themselves, ensuring in the process that everyone knows and recognizes everyone else. Encourage focus on the meeting and avoid conversations on the side. And keep it lively and participative, calling out people individually to speak up and share.
After the meeting
The first thing to do is to remind everyone of the main points discussed. Trivial as it may seem, an updated note with meeting pictures, GIFs, or other embellishments could well be more effective, as it is more likely to be read!
Follow up with a list of action items and the corresponding assignees. This encourages accountability, ensures the right levels of performance, and keeps expectations fair and in line.
An online meeting shares its goals with an in-person one: clear communication and sensible decisions to help the progress of the organization. The former just requires some adjustments to accepted ways of working, and once you prepare, participate, and follow up, the online meeting could be just as successful as in-person interactions.