Zoom tech hiccups, mute-button follies, and interruptions from cats and kids have become unavoidable meeting norms in today’s post-pandemic business world. Despite powerful new tech tools, companies and employees have never been more disconnected. We all feel the weight of balancing our work, personal lives, and societal pressures as the lines between the personal and the professional become blurred.
Thoughtful investment by employers in how we meet and collaborate is focused on new skills and training, meeting best practices and policies, and the knowledge of available tools for remote collaboration. The benefits are realized in greater speed to decision, improved employee satisfaction and retention, and a savings of time and money.
What follows are seven ways in which employees and those bringing teams together can be more successful when working remotely: proverb best practices for sticking together while working apart.
Whether you’re the meeting organizer or just a participant, two questions should be asked in advance: ‘Why are we having the meeting?,’ and ‘What do we want to achieve?’ Defining and sharing the meeting purpose and outcomes beforehand can set expectations and help people prepare.
Supplementing this preparation with a small dose of pre-read content boosts efficiency and increases time spent in relevant discussion. Effective meeting hosts reiterate meeting goals and objectives and start off by confirming that all participants can hear and see in-room attendees–as well as any visuals being used such as a whiteboard or slides.
Open meetings by suggesting principles or ground rules for how everyone will engage throughout the meeting. An inclusive agenda allows invitees to contribute and stick to principles they’ve used in the past such as “close out your email,” “hold space for other voices and perspectives,” and “frame feedback in constructive ways.”
This is also the time to give instructions unique to virtual meetings. For example, encourage everyone to agree on whether or not to use cameras for interaction. In a hybrid meeting where there are some people onsite and others joining remotely, agree to avoid sidebar chats and decide if the online chat feature will be used.
As you may have recognized during the last two-plus years, our nearly universal shift to remote meetings requires more concentration and focus than onsite collaboration. Which is why practicing “bio-empathy” and staying attuned to our physical needs is vital for longer meetings. Take more frequent breaks and bear in mind that some people may have already been online or in virtual meetings for hours prior to your meeting. Some employers are proactively providing assistive ergonomic equipment such as standing desks.
Create a plan that echoes the meeting purpose, giving structure to the style of engagement needed to get the most out of your time together. You could determine beforehand who really needs to attend and who doesn’t, and identify what work can be done asynchronously and what requires meeting in real-time.
You might ask onsite attendees to join from individual offices or their own laptops. This avoids the risk of mics not picking up all voices in one large onsite group, and it enables synchronous work like reviewing a shared document or set of data. In hybrid scenarios, honor remote attendees by adjusting cameras, microphones, and views of whiteboards or other visual aids. If using break-out groups in a hybrid meeting, be clear about how and when to use chat options if input from all attendees or sub-groups is important. Preparing visual materials in a presentation (rather than relying only on verbal exchanges) can help enable comprehension and encourage meaningful contributions from all.
Given the inherently disconnected nature of virtual meetings, it’s important to use a variety of activities to garner attention and maintain engagement. That may include guided brainstorming sessions, design thinking activities, and co-creation using visual templates and online whiteboard tools such as Miro or Mural. Icebreakers or “energizers” can be a great way to engage all participants from the start and give a better feel for who’s in the meeting and what their priorities and desired outcomes are. Hold space for questions and feedback and end with a review of actions, owners, and a timeframe for next steps. Provide dates for any follow-up meetings.
Logistics and technology are enormously important in guaranteeing the success of remote collaboration. Technology can be both a blessing and curse. Meeting hosts should prepare for ways to use meeting tools built into applications like Zoom, and consider how cameras, sketching, graphic recording during meetings, and virtual whiteboard tools can be used to enhance collaboration. It’s also important to form a backup plan for times when technology might fail you.
A helpful tip is to identify a date and time in advance of any important meeting for participants to log-in and test their connectivity and equipment. If you are running a hybrid meeting, visit the physical meeting space in advance to test the technology. Guard against disruptive tech issues by sending materials in advance to all participants so that you can continue by phone in the event of a technology meltdown.
Lastly, don’t forget that great meetings ultimately depend on the attendees and not just the latest digital breakthrough or video conferencing platform. Before the meeting, ask the same questions about the invitees you would typically ask for an all in-person event. This helps familiarize you with any pain points, priorities, and hot button issues that could show up and derail the conversation. Finally, be cognizant of different time zones, especially when asking participants to make big decisions at odd hours. Technology is ultimately just a tool; focusing on people should be the goal of every decision-maker, organizer, and meeting facilitator.
With the Seven P’s in place, the chance of stronger virtual meeting participation and engagement is greater. Using even some of the P’s can increase organizations’ and meeting organizers’ chances of success.
If you still have questions about running effective meetings, especially during key employee-engagement moments, not to worry. Blue Beyond has the answers.