Virtual meetings and remote work have been around for a while. However, the current COVID-19 pandemic has forced all teams into a virtual office environment.
Vetergy has always been a dispersed workforce. Our team is spread across the US from coast-to-coast, and sometimes even across oceans as we work with international clients. We get to practice our virtual meeting skills frequently. Here are some tips that have worked well for us.
1. Set and stick to an agenda. The agenda is more than just a bullet list of items to cover during the meeting, it is the “game plan” for how your meeting is to be conducted. At a minimum, your agenda should include the following:
- The objective of the meeting. State why you are having the meeting and what you hope to have accomplished by the end.
- The type of meeting: information or decision. The purpose of most meetings is to share information. If you need a decision, be sure to identify on the agenda what decisions needs to be made.
- Topics to be covered. List the items to be addressed and include who is responsible for covering what item.
- A timeline for the meeting. Give people an idea of how long each part of the meeting will take. If the meeting is going to be longer than 2 hours, plan for breaks. [We find it best to plan for 15-minute breaks. These breaks will give your team members a chance to address any “home emergencies” that may have popped up, and if you are behind schedule, you can make up time by shortening the breaks a bit.]
Be sure to publish your agenda ahead of the meeting with ample time for participants to prepare. It can be as simple as including it with the calendar invitation for the meeting in the memo section or as an attachment. Posting ahead of time also allows for input from the team. Give them a cutoff time prior to the meeting for adding items they would like to include. It is easier to facilitate a meeting with a well thought out agenda.
2. Give everyone a chance to participate. You will have already done this if you ask for their input on the agenda ahead of time. But regardless, at some point, everyone should have the opportunity to provide input. It is important everyone has a voice and is heard. In the virtual space it is quite easy for participants to hide behind their computer screen. If the size of the meeting permits, go “around the room” at the end of the meeting and give each person a chance to provide feedback.
3. Use video. For a long time at Vetergy, we held virtual meetings, and everyone had their cameras off. At a strategy session, we were doing some team assessments and determined that turning on the cameras during meetings might be impactful. Being able to see your teammates on the screen makes for a more engaging and enjoyable meeting, and it really does help to foster team cohesion.
4. Take notes and capture lessons. It is helpful to designate someone, preferably not the moderator, to take notes and provide a meeting summary to participants. Likewise, make it a practice to ask participants for their suggestions to improve meeting effectiveness and efficiency.
5. Welcome distractions from family members and pets. Although it might not always be practical or appropriate for a family member to interrupt a virtual meeting, keep in mind the breadth of the impact COVID-19 has had on everyone. Schools are closed, spouses might also be working from home, daily routines are more complicated now. Interruptions will most likely happen at some point. To the max extent possible, accept the inevitable and let your team members know it is okay if their dog barks at the doorbell, their cat jumps on the desk, or their toddler needs to be soothed. Take time to acknowledge and enjoy the interruption. Asking the name of a pet, or the toddler a question will bring you closer as a team, especially in times like these.
One final thought is to make time to socialize as a team. Open the virtual meeting room early, stay after, or plan additional optional time. Schedule an occasional late afternoon “happy hour” to allow the team to interact, this team time will pay dividends. They can all be optional but add to team morale. Think of it as time spent passing in the hallway or at the water cooler.
Soon enough we will move beyond COVID-19 but we can take this opportunity to make our organizations stronger and more resilient. It is important to find the best ways to communicate in order to move forward. Virtual meetings are a large part of that adaptation.To learn more about how we help our clients build resilient operations now and beyond, click here.