Remote Team Meetings 101: How to Make Them Exceptional
Don't let meeting remotely stop you having a great team meeting. Find out how.
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The COVID-19 shutdown has ushered in the era of the virtual meeting. Sure, video conferencing tools have been around for quite some time. But the adoption rate of these tools has absolutely skyrocketed in recent months.
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If your team has just started using Zoom or any other video conferencing tool over the past few months, you’ve likely encountered a variety of challenges. Disruptive chatter, lack of engagement, scheduling issues, technical glitches…all this (and more) can completely derail your virtual meetings in no time.
Needless to say, this isn’t good for business. With all that in mind, you want to do everything you can to ensure your virtual meetings go as planned—and that your team gets everything they need from every meeting they attend.
Overall, this involves:
In this article, we’ll discuss the key challenges teams face when holding virtual meetings—and dig into the best ways to overcome them.
Virtual Meeting Challenge: Efficient User Adoption
Overall, most remote conferencing tools aim to be as user-friendly as possible. But that doesn’t mean your team will be able to just dive right into the new software you’ve just introduced. Even your most tech-savvy team members can be thrown off course if not given proper guidance on how to get the most use out of the tool.
Provide a Comprehensive Onboarding Experience
Your team members will need to learn how to use your new video conferencing tool before they’ll be able to productively attend any virtual meetings.
Without this step, you’ll likely face a number of issues—from employees getting locked out of meetings to team members accidentally turning themselves into a potato for the duration.
All kidding aside, your software provider likely provides some level of onboarding to new users—and you want to take full advantage of the instructions they offer.
Still, you should also develop your own internal process for getting team members acclimated with your new software. Here, you’ll want to focus your employees’ attention on the features and functions you’ll be using most. Conversely, you don’t want to overwhelm your users by introducing advanced features that they may not need to know about just yet.
The point is: Don’t assume your team will just be able to pick up your video conferencing tool and run with it. Learn how to get the most use out of the tool yourself—then provide your team with everything they need to know to get started.
Allow for Open Exploration of the Interface
In addition to instructing your team on how to use your virtual meeting software, you’ll also want to give them time to explore it on their own.
There’s really no “right” way to do this—and that’s the point. By allowing your team to play around with the tool’s interface and functions, they’ll gain a first-hand understanding of how to actually use it for their purposes. They’ll also learn how to take off any potato-related filter they may have accidentally set on their camera—which, as silly as it is, can definitely minimize distractions during meetings.
As we’ll discuss later on, this may involve creating specific meeting rooms intended just for exploratory or recreational use. That way, your team members can get acclimated with the software in a no-risk environment (as opposed to learning on-the-fly during an actual meeting—which in itself can be distracting to all attendees).
Use Features and Functions Practically
Your virtual conferencing tool will likely offer a number of advanced features for you to take advantage of. (We’ll talk more about these features in a bit.)
The thing is, though: You don’t need to use these features all the time. In fact, you probably shouldn’t. As with most tools and technology, using certain features just to use them—without any practical purpose—can end up overwhelming or otherwise distracting your attendees.
But since you’ll have already learned the “ins and outs” of the software (and have allowed your team to do the same), you’ll know exactly which features to use during your meetings—and exactly how to use them to get the most out of every meeting you hold.
Keeping your team members engaged during an in-person meeting is difficult enough. Adding the remote factor into the mix just adds yet another layer to the challenge.
To combat potential lack of engagement during your virtual meetings, you’ll want to create a clear agenda. This is crucial for all meetings but is definitely worth reiterating here. Having a clear agenda for your meetings provides direction to your team and allows them to anticipate the flow of the meeting from start to finish.
Within this agenda, you’ll want to hammer out:
This will also allow you to have better control over the session. Since everyone knows what needs to get done and be discussed, you’ll have a much easier time keeping everyone focused and on track throughout the meeting.
Lastly, creating an agenda for each meeting you hold allows you to identify what doesn’t need to be done or discussed at the present moment. You may even realize there’s no need to hold a full meeting—and can simply address the necessary issues in a more concise, digestible manner.
The whole “this meeting could have been an email” thing still applies to video conferences, you know. It’s simple. A meeting that’s focused on the tasks at hand will keep attendees much more engaged than one with a wandering agenda, or no agenda at all. Focus on what your team needs to know and the information will be much more likely to sink in.
Use Multimedia and Collaborative Screen-Sharing
Your virtual meetings should be more than just a group of people having a conversation over video. In looking to make your digital meetings more engaging and collaborative, you’ll want to showcase multimedia content and allow for screen-sharing directly within the session.
This, of course, is much more effective than delivering the documents or files to each individual attendee and having them follow along on their own.
Here, everyone literally remains on the same page throughout the meeting. What’s more, you can even allow your team to annotate and otherwise edit the documents being presented—allowing for seamless real-time collaboration.
The purpose of using virtual meeting software is to simulate actual in-person meetings—not just to see and hear each other talk. That said, it’s important to bring multimedia and collaboration into your online conferences to ensure your team stays productive throughout each session they attend.
Deliver Engaging Prompts to Attendees
Many video conferencing tools also allow you to deliver prompts, polls, and questionnaires to your team members throughout your meetings.
This can serve a number of purposes:
What’s more, you can also use these prompts to identify those who may not have been engaged throughout the meeting—and can follow up with them accordingly. Overall, injecting interactive prompts into your virtual meetings will lead to more—and more valuable—engagement from your attendees across the board.
Virtual Meeting Challenge: Distractions
According to our “Growing Client Loyalty Remotely” research study, noise is one of the most underestimated distractions during online client meetings. For example, talking in the background (55 percent) was cited as being most likely to disrupt employee focus. Surprisingly, notification alerts, such as meeting reminders and new emails (20 percent), are considered far more disruptive and distracting than construction sounds (6 percent).
As our study’s findings indicate, you and your attendees will likely face a number of distractions throughout your virtual meetings. While it may be impossible to eliminate them completely, you want to do everything you can to minimize the frequency and severity of these distractions.
Develop Policies for Attending Virtual Meetings
Currently, your team members will likely be attending virtual meetings from their homes. And when the world starts to open back up, your remote employees will be free to attend meetings from coffee shops and any other WiFi-enabled location. Both environments are full of potential distractions for your team.
To keep these instances to a minimum, you’ll want to create standards for your employees to follow when attending remote meetings. Here, you can address the key issues that plague your team in terms of distractions by making clear what’s expected of them. For example, you may have your employees designate a quiet part of their home as their “meeting area.” Or you may require them to turn off any electronics other than what’s needed while attending meetings.
By officially putting these policies in place (rather than simply suggesting them), you’ll all but ensure your meetings can move forward without any undue distractions that could otherwise derail your efforts altogether.
Isolate or Silence Chatter
Crosstalk (intentional or not) is bound to be an issue within your virtual meeting sessions. After all, team members can’t lean over and whisper to their neighbor like they can during in-person meetings.
To cut this off before it becomes a problem, you’ll need to do a bit of “crowd control” throughout each meeting you hold. In isolated cases, you might need to ask attendees to mute their microphones—or actually do it for them. Given that noise can disrupt your train of thought and even lead to miscommunication, it’s not so surprising that 56 percent of the respondents we surveyed said they prefer that everyone stays on mute (unless speaking) during online meetings.
During team-wide discussions, you may require attendees to virtually “raise their hand” before being allowed to speak. That way, everyone stays focused on the individuals that you, as the meeting facilitator, want them to focus on—and won’t be distracted by other attendees in any way.
Create Breakout Sessions
When it is necessary for attendees to speak freely with one another, you’ll want to enable them to do so. This is where breakout sessions come in.
Basically, breakout sessions are “mini rooms” within your main meeting session used to facilitate small group discussions. As the meeting administrator, you can assign specific individuals to different rooms/groups, check in with each group as they discuss the topic at hand and call everyone back into a single room at the click of a button.
In addition to cutting down on distractions, breakout rooms allow your team members to actively participate in your meetings—enabling them to get much more out of each session they attend.
Virtual Meeting Challenge: Logistical and Scheduling Issues
Because your remote team is likely spread out in a physical sense, it may be difficult to actually get them all together when the need for a virtual meeting arises. There are two key things you can do to combat this issue.
Schedule Meetings Consistently and Well in Advance
With your team members working from home, you’d think it’d be pretty easy for them to hop on a meeting or video call whenever they’re at their desk. Of course, this isn’t necessarily the case.
First, you don’t want to disrupt your employees as they work through the tasks you’ve assigned them. Assuming they’ll be able to stop what they’re doing to attend a virtual meeting essentially detracts from the importance of the original task in the first place.
Second, your employees may not all be working at the exact same moment. If you’ve allowed them to work flexible hours (as many remotely-operating companies do), or if they live in different time zones, chances are your team members won’t all be able to attend meetings at just any given time.
While you certainly can hold on-the-fly meetings with small groups as needed, your team members should have plenty of time to prepare for the more substantial virtual meetings you’ll have over time. That way, you can maximize both your team’s attendance and participation within each meeting they attend.
Make Meetings Accessible After the Fact
To be sure, there will be times that certain members of your team won’t be able to attend a given meeting. Luckily, most video conferencing tools allow you to record your meeting sessions—in turn allowing those who didn’t attend to see what they missed with ease.
Depending on the specific tool and tier of service you’re using, you may have a choice between storing your recorded meetings on your physical servers or in the cloud.
In either case, we recommend going a step further by saving these recordings within your internal knowledge base. That way, you can keep all meeting-related information in a single, centralized location that your team can access whenever they need.
Not only does this allow non-attendees to catch up with their teammates, but it also creates additional resources that add to the knowledge capital of your organization. In continually adding to these resources over time, you’ll ensure your team members always have the exact information they need to do their job to the best of their ability.