There has been a significant increase in remote working since the pandemic. But the key question is: how do you make remote meetings more productive? Despite the rise in remote working, the requirement for communication within a business has not reduced. It is more important than ever to maintain communication primarily for team morale and business purposes.
The usage of applications such as Zoom, Teams and Skype has skyrocketed in the last year and a half. However, many individuals have not used these pieces of technology before, and therefore remote working is a whole new world to them. Getting to grips with these applications and understanding how to make the meetings held through them productive is an essential skill to learn during the era of remote working.
Avoid Individual Domination
It is common in face-to-face meetings but can almost become worse once meetings are held virtually. You know that one individual who likes to dominate the room and talk over and interrupt everyone else?
It is often worth having someone who is tasked as being a mediator of the meeting. That means appointing someone to direct questions to specific individuals and controlling the flow of the meeting, avoiding any individual dominating the conversation.
When working remotely, it can be incredibly easy to get distracted by other things. You’re sitting in front of your computer, so it can be easy to check your emails or look at your phone: all the things you wouldn’t be doing during an in-person meeting. It is easy during a virtual meeting for people to appear present but be distracted by something else without anyone noticing.
Some meeting applications allow people to be notified when someone moves the focus away from the meeting window to another application. However, some employees may feel as though this is overbearing control over their actions, so proceed with caution.
There is also unplanned multitasking. If you have kids walk into the room suddenly with a problem or a pet causing issues in the corner of the room. There are, of course, certain instances that cannot be avoided, and the team should be open to some meetings not running entirely smoothly.
Avoid Technological Mishaps
Delaying a meeting due to technical issues can be a real pain. The best way to avoid this is for participants to check their tech and make sure they understand how to use the software prior to the meeting starting. Many video call applications will allow you to do a ‘test call’ to ensure your camera, audio and microphone are working before your actual call.
There is most likely a standard for software to be used internally, but meetings with external individuals may lead you into an unknown territory of new software. Take 10 minutes before the call to get yourself acquainted with how it works, and make sure all your required tech works with the software.
Avoid People Not Participating
A lot of the difficulties of remote working is the reduction in non-verbal communication. Even with video on, it is not quite the same as being in person with someone, and therefore the effectiveness of a meeting can become strained.
This is exacerbated when some participants have chosen not to turn their camera on and are communicating via voice only. Attendees should be able to read each other’s facial expressions and body language during the call, as it can make the flow of the meeting far more personable and allow team members to read each other more clearly.
It should be encouraged internally that all individuals should turn their cameras on during a meeting for these purposes.
Have a Clear Meeting Layout
Have you ever joined a virtual meeting where you had no idea the core reason for the meeting or the plan of action? The basics of a meeting shouldn’t change just because the meeting is virtual, yet unfortunately, they seem to be less planned out than a regular meeting.
Meeting invites should have a clear statement in the subject line as to what the meeting is about, and a description of the objectives and plan of action for the meeting should be included. If there is any required material for the meeting, such as powerpoint slides, or documentation, then this should be sent along with the invite so that attendees can look at it in the lead up to the meeting and be well prepared.
Setting an agenda will set the flow of the meeting. Depending on the length of the meeting, this agenda could also have specified breaks so that attendees can have a comfort break and get refreshments. If there is no set break during long meetings, some individuals may wander off in the middle of something important if they need the toilet or a drink.
Virtual meetings should be kept concise where possible. It is widely agreed that long presentations are not practical in the remote working environment, as people are more likely to become disengaged and distracted. If a presentation is required, then keep it short and involve plenty of discussion and engagement throughout.
Avoid Back-to-Back Meetings
Virtual meetings have a tendency to run longer than expected. Therefore, try not to organise one meeting after the next, as you will often find you either have to suddenly cut meetings short or run into the time of the second meeting.
It is also wise, as discussed, to also have a plan of action so that meetings don’t overrun consistently. However, as a safety net, it is always wise to leave at least a 15-30 minute gap between all meetings where possible.
While the psychological reasons for it are not clear (it could be due to the increased need for social interaction while remote working), people tend to go off-topic and have more extended discussions before/after a remote meeting call. There are the initial pleasantries, which can sometimes last 5-10 minutes and then the conversation at the end of the meeting too.
If you’ve only booked a 30-minute meeting, this doesn’t leave much time to discuss the actual planned topic of the meeting. Therefore, while you should avoid booking back-to-back virtual meetings, it is also wise to be aware of the potential knock-on implications of going into deep conversation about your colleagues’ visit to the pub at the weekend.