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May 26th, 2020 4 minute read

These Best Practices Can Make Virtual Meetings a Success

“Steve, Steve, unmute, you are on mute” comes the chorus from the screenful of colleagues in little boxes staring out of the monitor.

Oh. Not again. What is it about the mute/unmute dance that folks, present company included, just can’t figure out?

The coronavirus outbreak sent millions of office workers across the nation home to work remotely, away from their company conference rooms, break rooms and workspace cubicles. Technology has given coworkers many options to remain connected with Zoom, Skype, GoToMeeting, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts Meet and many others. Responses have been mixed.

Many employees love the work-from-home routine. No commute. No time eaten up by public-transit delays, traffic jams or other recurring nightmares. No need to pack a lunch or spend lots of time on clothing choices for the day.

Other employees? They’re not fans of the remote routine. They prefer the office environment for getting work done surrounded by teammates who can help them if needed. They concentrate better and enjoy the camaraderie of their colleagues. Technology is great but not always dependable when you add remote work stations (home office, kitchen table, bedroom corner, game room, etc.) to the equation.

But for the foreseeable future, working remotely will rule the day and virtual meetings will become the way we communicate in a group setting to move projects forward. For your work-from-home duty, here are some best practices to keep in mind as you adapt to this important part of the new normal:

Prepare for each meeting. The leader should have a goal for the meeting and create an agenda for participants ahead of time and send it out. They should review it and other materials provided. Don’t try to squeeze too many items into a meeting, rendering it rushed or inconclusive. In a meeting with multiple topics, have different leaders guide each topic discussion.

No long diatribes. If you are a presenter, don’t read verbatim from a script. Your report or detailed notes should have been shared before the meeting, and attendees should have read them ahead of time. Presenters should hit their high notes and then invite discussion or questions.

Show up on time. You know how frustrating it is to log in early and find yourself in the purgatory of a waiting room hoping that the host will let you in soon. If you set up the meeting, arrive a bit early, get the meeting started on time. End it on time. If a few folks want to continue a discussion on a tangential item of interest to them, and they have the time, let them stay on after others leave the primary meeting.

Minimize disruptions. When it is a staff-only meeting, the background distractions of a fussy baby or cat fight in the background aren’t ideal, but they are understood and coworkers will usually go with the flow. But such distractions during important client meetings can reflect poorly on you and your company.

Set meeting rules. First thing: outline your ground rules. The leader will guide the discussion, calling on people who raise a hand. If two participants talk over each other, the leader should backtrack and call on one and then the other. If self-introductions are in order, ask participants to keep them short and keep things moving along.

Encourage the chat function. You can queue up questions as the meeting rolls along, with the leader capturing questions and guiding the Q&A.  In brainstorming session, the chat function could play a helpful role in capturing ideas.

Be engaged during the meeting: Try not to slyly answer emails or do other work on your other monitor. You were invited to participate in the meeting at hand, so try to focus. Take your own notes to supplement those taken by the official note-taker assigned to the meeting. Read the body language of the participants and see what points engage or enrage the group.

Keep personal grooming in check. This is not the time to fuss with hair, apply makeup, tie that tie or clip that hangnail. It’s hard not to watch yourself, but do try to pay attention to speakers and questioners. 

Make assignments. Don’t end the meeting until takeaway action items have been agreed upon. What must be done next and who will do it? If a follow-up meeting is required, try to agree on a date and time for the next meeting.

Save a few minutes time for questions and feedback.  At closing time, show participants you appreciate their attendance and attention by asking if they have any parting shots.

Assess your platform: Make sure your virtual-meeting software has the tools and performance to meet your needs. Stay current on updates and reviews and don’t be afraid to check out options used by others as they put the internet and a computer, webcam and microphone to work for them.

“Zooming” may very well become a big part of the new normal for U.S. businesses, schools and other organizations. Adopting guidelines and expectations for your virtual meetings will go a long way in boosting the productivity of these important gatherings.