October 08, 2020
By Madison Howard

Virtual meetings are the new standard for companies around the world. With the shift comes a learning curve, as employees navigate a new tool and follow new procedures, some adapting more quickly than others. It isn’t just about learning technology, but following new rules of etiquette when on video calls.

Scenarios that never existed before, such as participants forgetting to unmute themselves before speaking, or walking around doing chores while in a meeting with their cameras off, have presented themselves. As we all embrace a new way of life together, it’s time to make our virtual meetings as effective as possible. The question is, what are virtual meeting best practices?

Choose an online meeting provider that fits your needs

Whether you have an online meeting provider or are starting from scratch, take time to assess your needs. They may have changed in recent months. And, with the quick shift to virtual, there have been new updates to virtual technology.

When vetting different tools, ask these basic questions:

  • Can you record your meeting and where do those recordings live?
  • Are there chat capabilities?
  • Does the tool sync meeting invitations with your calendar?
    Can you personalize meeting rooms?
  • Are there engagement features, like live polling?

Use virtual meeting tools to increase engagement

Most online meeting or virtual technology tools have abilities that go beyond simple video and voice calling. In larger meetings, it can be useful to make the most of these tools.

Live polling can be used to test retention of recently shared information, get quick input on simple problems, and more. Use live polling during a virtual meeting to keep it moving along.

Chat and Q&A is a great place for participants to raise and answer questions without interrupting the meeting. Make it standard to review and answer any questions in chat before ending the meeting. 

Trust in process and procedure

Some people hate processes, but in an organization that contains more than two employees, they’re the key to keeping everyone on track. They can be time-consuming, they can seem overly detailed, but when done correctly they work. Agreeing to virtual meeting rules of etiquette will make everyone’s work lives easier.

Institute a documented virtual meeting process and hold trainings.

If you are using a new meeting tool, the organization will already need to train everyone on how to use it, so it’s a great time to include virtual meeting process training. If your organization already has meeting guidelines, now is the time to pull them out and adapt them. If not, it’s time to get writing. Standardize the meeting process by training all employees to do a few simple things:

  • Include agendas with every meeting request
  • Provide a meeting id number and password
  • Attach any pertinent background information
  • Have all meeting participants read the agenda beforehand
  • Have a participant take notes during the meeting
  • Identify and agree upon action items and owners
  • Send a follow-up email after the meeting
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Have a predetermined meeting host

A virtual meeting will fall apart without a designated host. While you may be able to navigate between leaders at a board room table, the structure of a virtual meeting can leave your team either talking over each other or not at all if no one takes the reigns.

Don’t take it for granted that everyone knows how to run a virtual meeting.

Though the individual who sets the meeting may not be the same person who runs it, make it clear in the meeting description who will be taking charge. Then, at the start of the meeting, have the host kick things off. To make meetings more effective, train everyone in the organization on the role of meeting hosts and how to run an efficient meeting to level-set in this new format.  What some consider obvious best practices, others may need to be taught.

One very important role of the meeting host is to field questions and keep the meeting moving. Nothing is worse than when one individual derails a meeting for their own purpose. As a meeting host, keep the team on topic and moving through the agenda.

Require attendees to use video

video meeting

When you can see others on screen, a meeting feels more real and participants are less likely to zone out and work on other tasks. Personalize the meeting experience with video to keep a sense of camaraderie and accountability.

Most people don’t get a lot of human interaction at the moment. Video can make coworkers feel connected. Virtual meetings have a tendency to involve a little catch-up time as participants join on. That catch-up time is great, when agreed on, and can foster relationships. Set a time limit for pre-meeting chitchat to keep things moving. Many organizations require virtual participants to log-in a few minutes early so meeting-time will be optimized—take advantage of this time to catch-up with co-workers.

Understand the different types of virtual meetings

Virtual meetings can serve a multitude of purposes. The type of virtual meeting determines expected meeting length, level of engagement, and necessary preparation. With each kind of meeting comes a different set of expectations.

Here are a few virtual meeting examples:

  • Trainings: Held for educational purposes with a large number of attendees. Often followed-up with a test to score understanding.
  • Brainstorming: Held to come up with new ideas or think through a problem with a small group of participants. Provide a clear expectation before the meeting and give everyone a chance to speak.
  • Problem-solving: These are purpose-driven and highly engaging, used to come up with a solution to a specific problem. Don’t leave without a documented go-forward strategy.
  • Company updates: Longer meetings with a lot of participants and low engagements. Try to up the production value and include opportunities for participants to engage through live polling and Q&A.
  • Team bonding: Like office happy hours, meetings for team bonding aren’t for work but to build rapport. Guide the conversation with icebreakers and foster a culture of inclusiveness.
  • Inspiration: Meant to bring a bit a variation to the day to day, these meetings often rely on keynotes to talk about some topic or concept.

Set a clear goal for each virtual meeting and invite the right people

When you understand the type of virtual meeting being planned, then you can look to setting a goal for that meeting. Only so much can be accomplished in one meeting. Don’t try to stack the agenda with every problem that needs to be solved or topic that needs to be discussed. Narrow in. In a 30-minute virtual meeting, plan to cover no more than one to five topics.

Your goal should be clearly defined and attainable. If you have one clear goal that can’t be met in a meeting, set multiple meetings and break the goal into parts.

In order to meet a goal, you need to have the right stakeholders. Sending an agenda with the goal stated ahead of time will allow participants to identify if anyone is missing from the invite list and forward the invitation.

Respect the set meeting length

According to Forbes, one of the great aspects of virtual meetings is that “punctual is perfect.” More than in-person meetings, virtual meetings start and end on time. When scheduling a virtual meeting, try to be as precise as possible when blocking time off on the calendar. It’s always better to overestimate the time you’ll need than to underestimate.

If a meeting isn’t wrapping up in the allotted time, then schedule a follow-up meeting. If the meeting is wrapping up more quickly than anticipated, end the meeting early. 

Put an emphasis on inclusion

Have you looked at how inclusive your virtual meetings are recently? Creating a culture of inclusion in your organization fosters creativity and increases retention. But, with the shift to virtual, it’s easy to lose focus on employees as virtual meetings try to keep the emphasis on chugging out new strategies and solutions to business problems as efficiently as possible.

There is always a barrier to entry for meeting participants to share an idea, whether that’s due to role, professional experience, interpersonal relationships, gender, or race. And sometimes, the barrier to sharing one’s ideas is as simple as one person talking over everyone else.

Make sure that participants feel comfortable speaking in meetings, and if they don’t, give them a platform to explain why. Send out surveys or ask one-on-one if meetings foster inclusion on a recurring basis and update a code of conduct to reflect the changes. It only ever helps an organization to hear diverse perspectives, and by unwittingly stifling feedback, you may be missing out on great ideas.

Virtual meeting best practices are always changing

As virtual meetings continue and technology evolves, virtual meeting best practices will change. Be ready to adapt and learn how to use new features and tools. Listen to meeting participants and learn from common concerns. But some things will never change. Now, since we wrapped up more quickly than expected, I’ll give you five minutes back in your day.

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Madison Layman

Madison Howard

A graduate of the College of William and Mary, my passion for writing began before I could read, with a nightly verbal diary dictation transcribed by my obliging parents.

When I'm not writing, you can find me binge-watching TV shows, baking elaborate desserts, and memorizing pop culture facts.

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