The January (Virtual Meeting) Blues
Picture this: it’s three p.m. on a Thursday afternoon. You and every single one of your employees are in a virtual meeting (brand name irrelevant). Three of your employees yawn one after the other, meaning they were looking at each other, rather than at you. You’ve been speaking at them for an hour and a half, and you’ve only answered questions, but haven’t even started the things you wanted to discuss. Another employee’s eyes keep moving to the top corner of his screen and you know he’s checking the time. Everyone wants to end the meeting, but nothing has been accomplished. Where do you even begin?
Zoom and Microsoft Teams meetings are an art form. It’s taken years of studies to learn about them, but now that we’re receiving more information about them, let’s use the data to our advantage. Let’s talk about how to make your virtual meetings more effective.
Our Top Tips for Making the Most of Your Next Virtual Meeting
1. Plan your meetings thoroughly
We’ve all been in a meeting where, an hour in, we thought to ourselves, “this could have been an email.” Allowing employees to use their time as wisely as they see fit can allow them to avoid “Zoom fatigue.” That means avoiding meetings that may be better formatted as an email. If you will be hosting meetings regularly, make sure your employees are aware of the meetings in advance so they can plan their day around them, and maybe even offer feedback if the time doesn’t work best with their productivity or working method.
2. Introduce your guests formally
This is particularly important with meetings across the company and with other organizations. Make sure to introduce everyone who will be attending the meeting, and if meeting with the other company, encourage the other organization’s leader to do the same. At the end of the meeting, if there is an actionable task, you know who to talk to about it. This also encourages everyone to feel more comfortable talking with and in front of one another, and is good for keeping a casual and approachable environment.
3. Offer an agenda
To be particularly effective with the time of those whose schedules are jam-packed, offer an agenda to give an overview of what you plan on covering in your meeting. Be realistic with your expectations and understand that there will be digressions and distractions that take your agenda off course. If you think there is too much to tackle in the meeting, see if you can delegate some tasks to emails or individual phone calls instead.
4. Equip your workers with the tools they need
In addition to offering your employees an agenda of the meeting, so they know what they can expect, you should also equip them with the tools and resources they need to begin or continue to grow while meeting virtually. Start by offering your employees some privacy in their space by using a background filter or background blur tool. Additionally, offer them different ways to connect, and any accommodations that they might need for a virtual meeting.
5. Act as a mediator
Something that you may have noticed that occurs regularly online but less often in-person is the occurrence of interruptions. This is mostly because participants are limited in seeing and measuring whether another participant wants to speak up. Usually, we do so by taking an inhale, maybe making a sound like, “hmm,” or “well,” before offering some insight. To avoid interruptions, act as a mediator, and offer one person at a time to offer their feedback if necessary. When you see a raised hand or someone unmute their microphone, make sure to offer them an appropriate time to speak by asking about their comment. As well, be strict and straight-forward if one person is monopolizing the discussion. The less time spent on mediating discussions that get out of hand, the sooner you can leave the Zoom meeting.
6. Ask for actionable tasks
Nothing is worse than leaving a long meeting feeling unaccomplished. In your agenda, establish actionable tasks or questions that need to be addressed before the meeting ends. Then, in the meeting, assign the concerns or tasks to the appropriate team members, and get feedback on their next steps. Ask them what their timeline might look like to achieve the next actionable task, and then prioritize other work on their plate accordingly. Before leaving, summarize each department or individual’s actionable task. Then, if necessary, send a follow-up email establishing expectations for the upcoming week(s).
7. Offer virtual meeting options to your guests
This is a new, hotly debatable topic, though one that is crucial to keep in mind. While having meetings in the office may not be an option at the moment, certain aspects of virtual meetings should be. This includes allowing your participants to turn off their cameras. A recent study from Stanford University has shown that often in virtual meetings, participants feel inclined to monitor their appearance. Allowing, and even encouraging employees to turn off their cameras can both allow them to focus more on the meeting content itself and feel less of the effects of “Zoom fatigue.”
8. Make sure to keep time
This is particularly important for regular meetings, whether they’re every day or multiple times a day. Studies have shown that most virtual meeting participants’ focus lapses after 50 minutes of meeting without breaks. The best practice is to always keep meetings short and sweet. However, when a meeting needs to run longer, divide the time or the groups. Try breakout rooms so teams can divide and conquer on a larger project amongst themselves. As well, offer breaks when working all together.
9. Make your appreciation known and meaningful
Our final tip for making your meetings run as smoothly as possible? Make sure your employees know you’re appreciative and are being mindful of their mental well-being, especially while working from home. Virtual meetings certainly are convenient, but they come with a cost. Showing your appreciation and recognition of “Zoom fatigue” can help employees feel heard. This is especially when they may otherwise feel isolated. Check out our blog on maintaining morale during the lockdown for additional advice on keeping your coworkers and employees happy and healthy when working from home.
Be Mindful of Virtual Meeting Fatigue
Remember, while running an organization or managing a team while working from home not only means your responsibilities as an employer or manager have shifted. This also means that your workers have too. Along with all of the strange, frustrating virtual meetings and other online hoops to jump through, your employees also have to manage their families, friends, and colleague relationships all while working in the same place as they live and relax. Remind them to disconnect fully at the end of the day, to take sick days whenever they need, and show appreciation wherever you can. Then, do the same for yourself, too. After all, you also deserve the same consideration while working from home.