We’re watching closely as Coronavirus, or COVID-19, disrupts how business is done, particularly how people will meet, collaborate and achieve their objectives if they can’t work in the same physical space.
As we write this blog post, large corporations globally are asking employees to work from home. Spain has cancelled all conventions; the London Book Fair, South by Southwest and a growing list of conferences have been cancelled days before they’re due to open. Others have changed course: Collision Conference in Toronto has decided not to launch in-person this June and instead is moving to an online platform.
How to lead virtual meetings?
While much of the media focus has been on employees working from home, there’s little discussion about the impact on managers.who now find themselves wondering how to lead virtual meetings and faced with challenges around leading remote teams or sorting out how to find innovative solutions to training and conference delivery.
Collectively, the authors of this article have many years experience tackling these problems. We know how challenging it can be to run productive meetings in person, never mind virtually. As a result, we were compelled to come together to share our experience in working remotely, meeting virtually, and helping our clients lead their teams.
We have a number of articles planned to help managers; this one focuses on how to shift in-person meetings to the virtual space and make them more effective.
Can virtual teams be as effective?
You might be wondering can virtual teams be as effective as those with team members working side by side. When it comes to meetings, bad in-person meetings can be even worse when they become virtual meetings.
If you lead meetings, the problems that plague you with in-person meetings—engagement, productivity, collaboration and effectiveness—will follow you to virtual meetings. And if they’re not addressed, they could even be amplified.
Think about it: how do you keep someone you can’t even see engaged in your meeting? And if people have trouble brainstorming effectively when sitting around the same table, how do they do it when they can’t share a Post-it® Note or a handout? And what do you do about the person who talks over everyone else, even on a video conference?
Tips for Effective Virtual Meetings
Fortunately, just because you need to shift to virtual meetings doesn’t mean it’s too late to fix the issues with your in-person meetings.
Here are some immediate hints and tips to help you make that shift.
- Make it visual: Make your meeting visual so that everyone can see each other and read body language. Make “webcams on” your default. As the leader of the meeting, watch for signs of distraction, boredom, or distress, and for someone who is indicating they wish to speak.
- Encourage participation: If you want participation in the meeting, you may need to be more deliberate in engaging your participants. Keep a list in front of you of all meeting participants and put a checkmark next to each person as they speak or you engage with them. Plan to ask for contributions from people who are quiet and have a plan to deal with people who are over participating. If you don’t want to call people out in front of the entire team, use a private chat message instead to encourage or limit participation.
- Plan for sharing documents: You need a way to share documents. Share them ahead of time with the meeting invitation, and determine how to share documents with participants on the fly, during the meeting. Learn how to use the share screen function so that you and other participants can share documents, and annotate and edit in real time.
- Have meeting rules: Establish some meeting rules upfront: no cellphones, no emails, no talking over other people, and no multitasking. Agree that each person should close the door and use the “mute” function to cut down on background noise. Decide how participants will indicate that they wish to speak without interrupting someone else; some platforms come with a “raise a hand” function or you can all just agree to physically raise your hands. By setting the rules together with your team at the beginning of the meeting, your team has a sense of ownership over the rules and will be more likely to keep them.
- Rethink your agenda: You may need to rethink the timing, duration, and purpose of the meeting. Ensure that every team member has a good reason to be at the meeting and is well aware of the contribution that is required from them. Is it to share information; engage participants in a creative discussion to solve a problem, generate or evaluate options; or to plan how to move forward on important tasks? In addition, it may not be realistic to meet for extended periods of time and to cover many topics. Some examples of things to consider: early morning meetings may conflict with people who have childcare concerns; time zones may come into play; and holding people’s attention for a long time on a video meeting is more difficult than an in-person meeting. We suggest meetings last no longer than 90 minutes and that you have a written agenda.
- Solicit help from participants: Running a virtual meeting involves many moving parts. As you progress through your agenda, ask a team member to play the role of a meeting facilitator or a technology supporter. Engage that person to help manage the time allotted, to keep you all on topic, and to troubleshoot tech challenges. If you rotate this role through the agenda or across your various meetings, it will serve to keep members better engaged and help develop meeting management skills on your team.
Seize the Opportunity to Find Better Ways of Meeting
As you are called to shift to new ways of meeting, there’s an opportunity for growth and learning. While it might seem a little daunting at first, the need to rethink how you meet is a great opportunity to enhance engagement, productivity, and collaboration by improving meeting effectiveness.
We meet to advance the goals of our team, to solve problems, make decisions, and plan for the future together. A number of tools are available to build your team’s capacity for collaboration and creative problem solving. If you need some help navigating the shift from in-person to virtual meetings for your remote team we’d be happy to share what we've learned, or introduce you to the tools that we use ourselves and recommend to our clients. Reach out as you need.
Concerns and questions?
What concerns you most about leading virtual meetings?
Give us an idea of your concerns in using comments and we'll use these as inspiration to develop future articles.
Need help to lead a virtual meeting?
About the authors
We are Janice Francisco, Ginny Santos and Laura Bowley, three Canadian entrepreneurs who have worked in partnership for years even as we maintain our own initiatives. Together, we have a diverse set of skills and knowledge that provide an approach and toolkit to help people meet and work better together.
About BridgePoint Effect
Doing business in an evolving, dynamic environment brings unique, never-before-seen challenges for business leaders.
We have a framework that empowers leaders and their teams to know what to do when they don't know what to do.
A boutique consulting firm located in Toronto, Canada and doing business globally, BridgePoint Effect provides innovation and strategy consulting that helps teams win.
Our services are delivered at your-site, our-site, virtually and in blended on-site and virtual formats.