Tips for Holding Productive Virtual Meetings

A woman looking at TV screens
Virtual meetings

Virtual meetings have become the way of the business world, as people continue working from home due to COVID-19. Running online meetings can prove challenging for managers, who want to make the time spent as productive as possible without having it devolve into a free-for-all of questions and comments.

As Michelle Reisdorf, regional vice president of staffing firm Robert Half in Chicago says, “In a virtual environment, technology is everyone’s communication lifeline. The increased use of platforms, such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams, has put a new focus on the importance of virtual meeting etiquette. As a manager, it’s important that you are leading by example and scheduling meetings that have a clear purpose and outlined agenda.”

Here, Reisdorf and other professionals with first-hand experience share tips on having the most productive virtual meetings possible.

1. Have a clear purpose. Why do you need to get together? According to Reisdorf, that’s the first question you should address.

“Do you need to make a critical group decision? Do you want to present a new business strategy or direction? Or are you just holding the meeting because it’s what you do every Wednesday at 10 a.m.?” Reisdorf asks. “Especially these days when most of us are working remotely, it may be a good idea to have a regular video call so you maintain interaction and camaraderie with your team. It can be a good way to boost morale and bring the team together just make sure you have a purpose for the call.”

2. Sort the logistics. How much time will you need, and whom should you invite? “Each participant should have input to offer or a stake in the outcome,” Reisdorf says.

George Pitchkhadze, CMO at Thrive Cuisine, who manages a team of 15-plus people (most of them involved in two to three calls each day) has set parameters he says have cut time spent in meetings by more than 50% while making his team happier. One of those parameters: limiting the number attendees.

“In a regular organization, most people spend the majority of their time idling. This is demotivating, wasteful and — perhaps worst of all — boring,” Pitchkhadze says. “To fix this situation, I’ve asked my team to keep meetings to two people. This new rule means you can never idle during a meeting. It also forces employees to plan ahead because there’s no chance they can stay quiet throughout. Some meetings still require more than two people — but that’s about 10 percent of all the meetings we run.”

3. Create an agenda. Sending that agenda to all participants, along with any supporting materials in advance. “It is a win-win — you’re setting expectations, while also giving people adequate time to prepare,” Reisdorf says. “That will make for a more focused and efficient gathering.”

Pitchkhadze makes sure his employees are also involved in that process. “I now ask every meeting attendee to contribute to the meeting agenda, via Slack, ahead of time,” he says. “This lets employees bring up topics that are important to them and, again, prevents idling and time waste.”

4. Know when to use (and not use) video. Pitchkhadze says people appear to be more engaged during video calls — which he believes makes them the natural choice for most meetings. “However, there’s a huge ‘but’ here,” he adds. “Video calls are also a lot more taxing on the human brain. So, our rule of thumb is, high-priority meetings are always via video … and regular, low-priority meetings, as well as quick calls — those under five minutes) — can be made via audio.”

Reisdorf agrees that video calls usually are the best option.

“Most of the time, you’ll likely want to do a video call where everyone has the opportunity to participate and provide feedback,” she says. “If you’re presenting information to a large group and you don’t want participants to chime in, a webinar or presentation format may be the best type of meeting to schedule.”

5. Check your tech. Conduct a test of your computer, applications, camera and microphone before the meeting begins. “You don’t want to delay the start of a gathering because no one can see or hear you,” Reisdorf says.

Also make sure all participants have done the same. “There’s only one thing worse than the chorus of ‘You’re muted’ in a Zoom meeting, and it’s faulty equipment,” says Mark Hayes, head of marketing at Kintell. “As a manager, it’s your responsibility to check in with your employees to make sure their equipment works.”

You also should confirm the equipment they have corresponds with Zoom or whichever platform you’re using. “Advise employees to head into the Settings menu to make sure their microphone and speakers are properly configured. You’ll also be able to find options for selecting new audio devices here too,” he says. “If somebody is struggling to use the platform, make sure you give them the correct advice so they can sort the problem.”

6. Keep an eye on the clock. “Starting and ending your team meetings on schedule demonstrates respect for attendees’ time and makes for a more productive gathering,” says Reisdorf, who notes building in time for “side chatter” is a good idea since colleagues working from home “don’t bump into each other in the kitchen or at the water cooler.”

7. Encourage participation from everyone. “Provide opportunities for less-outspoken team members to contribute to the conversation,” Reisdorf stresses. “They often have innovative ideas but might not be inclined to jump into discussions without prompting. And be prepared to ask individual participants directly for their input.”

8. Follow up. Share a recap of the meeting, complete with what Reisdorf calls “action items.

“Even just a quick email with bullet points can be incredibly valuable,” she says. “It’s an effective way of reinforcing the outcome of the meeting and what’s needed to move that outcome forward.”

(Article written by Kathleen Furore)