This week COVID-19 has caused chaos across Australia and we’ve just gone in to Victoria’s 5th lockdown. For our team it’s business as usual as we all already work from home and are used to the challenges of the home work environment. Over lockdowns we prepare and host webinars and other online trainings to support Exess users who may be navigating the challenges of providing essential services while working from home. One of the challenges we have faced along the way is how to host effective virtual meetings.
In our blog Covid-19: Working with client data during a global pandemic we discussed how Covid-19 has been arguably the most globally disruptive event in modern history, attacking the worlds sense of normalcy and forcing significant change in our lifestyles, relationships and how we deliver services. For many companies the need to immediately change to a work-from-home model has been a steep learning curve.
According to a Roy Morgan Research survey released in June 2020, 32 per cent of working Australians were working from home at the peak of the COVID-19 lockdown. The figure was higher for those who generally work in office spaces, with over half moving to a work-from-home model. While the need for this level of workplace flexibility is uncertain, my belief is that in many cases working-from-home will be the new normal.
In order to create an effective virtual meeting ground it’s important to understand that meeting from home is very different to meeting in an office, and it will present its own challenges and virtues. If you can approach these with preparation and patience, you’ll find that online is an excellent way to meet with your team and your customers. You might even find it much more productive.
10 tips for effective virtual meetings
1. Ask yourself: Do you even need a meeting?
If you can cover the topic in an email then you probably don’t need a meeting. People are busy and unnecessary meetings cut into their productive time.
The Exess team have an online team meeting once a month. Up until the team meeting we add items to the agenda and everything else is done via email or on the phone. If we need a swift 5 minute meeting to talk through something with visual aids, we set that up over Zoom and generally keep the 5 minute timeline.
We also make sure that a meeting is the best course of action before meeting online with customers to ensure they are getting the best results from us. Sometimes screenshots in an email are a better solution than a lot of face to face talking.
Our online training schedule however does always require a meeting and so when an effective virtual meeting is necessary, we think about the rest of this list.
2. People are easily distracted
Keeping a persons attention at an in-person meeting can be tricky enough. It’s important to be aware that when people are in their own homes it’s easy for them to get distracted.
Try to book meetings during school hours so attendees don’t have so many background distractions happening. If the kids are also effected by lockdown, be patient with attendees and ask them to mute themselves if things are getting too wild.
3. Keep meetings short
To keep people engaged, keep meetings short and to the point. Before you meet, let the attendees know the approximate run time of the meeting. This will help them to prepare their meeting space and also will let them know in advance just how long they’ll need to stay focused (and how long the kids will have to stay quiet).
We generally run our virtual meetings over 30 minutes to an hour. Any more than that and the meeting stops being productive, people lose focus, shut down or go off track and time is wasted.
4. Send out an agenda a few days before the meeting and ask for input from the people you’re meeting with.
People like to be clear about the purpose of a meeting. Informing attendees of the meeting agenda and then asking if there’s anything else they would like to discuss helps to create some give-take in the relationship. Your attendees will be more responsive if they feel they are getting their needs heard and met.
If you are using multiple apps, let people know beforehand
People need time to prepare themselves for what they’re going to be looking at and for clicking along if that supports their learning style better. If you’re going to be bouncing from one app to another it’s best to inform people of the apps before the meeting starts. I like to do this in a casual email.
In our Zoom meeting on ___________________ we are going to be looking at __________________ in the ________________ app. We will then see how that translates through to _____________________. I will be sharing my screen during this meeting but feel free to ‘click along’ on a secondary device. This meeting shouldn’t take any more than 30 minutes. Is there anything specific that you would like to go over while we’re looking at _________________?”
Here is a link to our meeting, _____________________________________
Please let me know if you have any questions.”
5. Be prepared
If you want to show your staff some visual aids, make sure to have them handy so time isn’t wasted searching for them during the meeting. If staff have to wait for documents/info to be found you’ll very likely lose them to something else. As I said before, people are easily distracted.
6. Use that mute button
If you are meeting with a group of people and someone has a very noisy background don’t be afraid to mute them. Background noise is incredibly distracting. Most virtual meeting software will have a chat function that people can use if they can’t get to a quiet place for a meeting.
Alongside this, if people have distractions in their webcam you can actually turn their webcam off. Early in my webinar giving days I was recording a training webinar where an attendee did her full fitness routine on video throughout the training. The webinar had to be re-recorded but the whole thing gave our team a giggle and a valuable learning experience.
Mute distractions. The other attendees will appreciate that you’ve done it.
7. Go over instructions more than once
Even in an office environment people often miss small details. Going over instructions more than once ensures that everyone understands what you are doing and fills in the gaps for those people who would never ask.
Remember that virtual meetings are a very new playing field for some of your audience. Speak slowly and clearly and repeat repeat repeat.
In my virtual meetings I like to show, tell and allow them to click along from home wherever possible, and then repeat.
8. Leave spaces for other people to talk
Say your piece and take a pause. Don’t move too quickly. If people don’t get to ask their questions when they’re relevant, they often won’t ask them at all. Leave spaces for questions and discussion. If people feel uncomfortable speaking out they can be encouraged to use the chat function instead.
9. Direct questions at members of the group
Do you know someone else has some expertise on the subject? Ask them questions.
Are you unsure that someone is understanding what you’re saying? Ask them questions.
Worried you’re losing someone to distractions? Ask them questions.
Making a meeting a group discussion rather than a one person talks, everyone else listens kind of event will give you better outcomes and will promote better communication across the group.
10. If you are meeting with your team, allow some team discussion
Working from home can be a lonely activity – especially for those extroverts in your team. Allowing a few minutes before or after a meeting to allow team members to talk about their lives or their families can do a lot for team building.
Of course there is a financial cost to meetings starting or running late and a lack of work related productivity, but the cost of having staff that feel isolated is so much worse.
Exess is a family friendly company so we all know each others family news and children/grandchildren well. In our team meetings we often check in on how the kids are doing and what their news is.