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How to improve virtual meetings and engage the whole team

When everyone’s working remotely, it’s critical make the most of time spent as a team. Here’s our advice for how to improve virtual meetings.

Virtual meeting

By Claire Campbell, Consultancy Director, Timewise

Conference and video calls have long been used to bring people from different offices, companies and even countries together. But with many full teams now working remotely, they are the only option for managers who want to have a meeting with their people. And that means it’s more important than ever to get them right. Here are eight principles to help you improve virtual meetings.

(1) Provide catch-up and social time

If you’re planning a meeting for team members who are used to being together, you need to give them the chance to catch up before you start the more formal meeting. Include it on the agenda, and make sure whoever is chairing the meeting draws a line under the chat when it’s time to get down to business.

We would also recommend setting up some specific social sessions for your team; here at Timewise, we have a daily Zoom coffee morning for anyone who is free to log in.

(2) Opt for video calls whenever you can

There are a number of reasons why video works better than audio for virtual meetings. It’s more like the real thing, and is definitely better in terms of natural conversation and team bonding. It also makes it easier to pick up on non-verbal clues that you would be able to spot in person, and to avoid people talking over each other.

And on a practical level, it helps put people in work mode, both mentally and physically (though some people may still choose to only be smart from the waist up).

(3) Find a platform that suits you – and train everyone up

There are so many platforms you can use for virtual meetings (unsurprisingly, they are experiencing a boom right now.) At Timewise, we tend to use Zoom; other options include Skype, WebEx, Google Hangouts and GoTo Meeting.

Whichever you choose, make sure everyone in the team is trained in how to use it before you meet, to avoid wasting half your available time faffing around with the tech.

(4) Set clear ground rules before you start

It’s important that people take virtual meetings as seriously as they would face-to-face ones – and the best way to achieve this is to be clear about what you expect. For example, you might want to agree some practical points, such as that using laptops or phones for unrelated messaging is a no-no, or that headphones should be used for call clarity. You might also want to consider some wider principles, such as that everyone has to contribute, or that staying silent means you agree with what has been concluded.

(5) Create a clear agenda – and stick to it

It’s all too easy for virtual meetings to drift if someone isn’t keeping them on track. So have a clear structure in place, and give someone responsibility for chairing and keeping discussion focused.

As a rough guide, we’d recommend around 45 minutes for a productive session, including time at the end for wrapping up and agreeing next steps. This doesn’t have to include any social time you have decided to include to kick things off.

(6) Find a way to give everyone chance to speak

It can be difficult enough getting people to take their turn in a face-to-face meeting and it’s definitely hard to manage on a video call. You’ll need to identify a way to facilitate this, otherwise the meeting will become a cacophony of opinions.

Most platforms will have a function to support you; on Zoom, for example, there is a hand-raising option which allows the meeting chair to organise who responds and in what order.

(7) Make sure everyone is engaged

Another thing to be mindful of is that introverted members of your team may more easily slip under the radar than they would face-to-face. If it’s your meeting, it’s up to you to make sure everyone is contributing.

So if your quieter team members don’t offer their opinions, make sure you actively seek them out, or ask if they have anything to add.

(8) Follow up in writing

Finally, however clearly you may all have agreed any next steps, it’s worth putting them in writing. It’s easier for points to get missed when you’re meeting virtually and the tech can sometimes let you down.

By circulating a brief summary of what has been agreed and allocated next steps, you can be sure your virtual meeting has been time well spent.

For more advice on how to manage a virtual team, take a look at our practical guidelines for successful remote working.

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