3 Tips to Lead Impactful and Productive Virtual Meetings

Between quarantine, curfews, and the mass closure of businesses throughout the country, COVID-19 has dramatically altered the fabric of our day-to-day lives. And while most businesses are bound to return to some semblance of normality, the traditional office will be irreversibly changed. 

Many tech companies don’t expect employees to return to offices until 2021, and with Twitter announcing that all employees will be allowed to work from home forever – yes, even after this pandemic – it looks like remote work, already on the rise pre-COVID-19, is here to stay. 

Before our current crisis, 5.3% of Americans — more than 8.2 million people — worked from home, according to a 2018 U.S. Census report. With the outbreak turning more office workers into work-from-home employees, video conferences and other communications software are becoming more routine for a wide range of business purposes, from team meetings to onboarding. But virtual meetings do pose unique challenges and video conferences especially can be more emotionally and mentally draining than meeting in person. 

Fortunately, in my 8 years working with remote teams, I’ve developed some techniques and strategies to effectively connect, collaborate, and co-create across a digital barrier. Read on for 3 tips on how you can improve your online meetings, and be sure to download Tracking Wonder’s Virtual Meetings Checklist for more insights to set yourself up for success in your next video conference.

1. Adjust your expectations. When we meet online, we are navigating a completely different social and psychological environment than we’re used to. This means that we’re more likely to make mistakes, misread social cues, or wear ourselves out. We have to focus more intently on the speaker to track the conversation, and we get distracted by, or self-conscious about our own image. We become emotionally drained from gazing at our colleagues’ faces for hours on end, or exposing our private home lives to coworkers. Yet business tries to keep pace with pre-pandemic expectations and as a result, many workers may find themselves more exhausted at the end of the day working from home, than they would be working in their offices.

We are experiencing what people call “Zoom fatigue.” 

The antidote is to avoid overscheduling meetings and – if you are a manager or team leader – the temptation to micromanage. All of us are navigating new terrain and juggling more responsibilities than usual, be it hunting down groceries with multi-hour shopping trips or homeschooling. It is important to recognize that business might be a bit slower for a while, and it’s ok to be less “productive” as we all strive to find balance in this “new normal.” Establish clear communication with regular check-ins, then put your trust in your team to fulfill their responsibilities or renegotiate timelines.

2. Clarify purpose, priorities, roles ahead of time. We spend a lot of time in meetings; 20 hours or more according to one Doodle survey. Yet a lot of the time, we aren’t fully present and often time feels wasted with attendees visibly distracted or multitasking. Before scheduling a meeting, consider whether you really need to meet or if you could accomplish the same end with a phone call or email. If a meeting is required, then define the meeting’s purpose and set a specific goal. Create an agenda with your talking points and priorities, then assign roles if need be. Ask someone to be notetaker, or ask the other participants to guide discussion on the projects they are responsible for. Then be sure to share all documents, links, slides, or folders that you plan to discuss well in advance so your clients or colleagues can familiarize themselves. Try to do everything possible to ensure everyone knows what to expect from the meeting, and what they are expected to deliver.

3. Create ways to genuinely connect. One of the greatest challenges of remote work is finding ways to genuinely connect with your fellow remote team members. I would encourage you to create a virtual “water cooler” or message board for your team – some kind of space where they can share stories and engage in the kind of small talk that encourages strong work relationships. Research shows that when people form work friendships, they are more engaged, happier with their jobs, and perform better.

I also actively use Zoom’s Breakout Rooms features. At Tracking Wonder, we have a remote team with people in multiple time zones and sometimes in different countries. To establish a connection, I would ask them a question related to their creativity or curiosity, put them into break out rooms to share, and then we’d come back to connect and discuss as a group. I gave them guidelines on how to listen and limited time to speak so we stay focused yet engaged.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember about virtual meetings is that they rarely go 100% according to plan. I have experienced multiple challenges over the years, including a power outage in the middle of an online delivery to hundreds of people. Just last week I showed up for a client meeting on Zoom, and my background was a close-up shot of a finger! Apparently, my daughter had used my Zoom account and set her own virtual background – a feature I’d never heard of and I had been using Zoom for years. Fortunately, my client found it amusing. 

People are very forgiving as a rule, and especially so now. You might have to navigate the unexpected – like barking dogs or children popping in to pester you – that shared awkwardness can shatter the walls of stiff professionalism to remind us that we’re all human. We can carve out virtual space to be real with one another, and feel that much more comfortable relying upon and collaborating with one another.

If you’d like to see for yourself how I apply these principles in my online meetings and webinars, I invite you to join me tomorrow – Wednesday, May 20th at 1 pm EST – for a free, no-upsell MasterClass in mindful marketing.

In this time of great uncertainty, we Business Artists are called to adapt to lead our brands and businesses, our customers and clients, our communities with integrity & creativity. But lately, many of the creatives, innovators, and entrepreneurs I’ve spoken to have expressed a tension between the impulse to forge ahead in their work and the fear of coming off as insensitive or disingenuous in their marketing efforts. The reality is that COVID-19 will forever change the way we work.

In this one-hour MasterClass, I will share industry-specific insights that train you to brand with integrity, market mindfully, and show up consistently for your most impactful work in the world, even in times of crisis.

Are you ready to market mindfully so we can make a difference? Click the button below to register for the MasterClass and reserve your spot.

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  1. These are all great ways to lead virtual meetings and I’m especially in agreement when it comes to finding ways to connect. When everyone is working independently from one another, it’s important to create connections, even if it’s in the form of a casual conversation here and there. Great tips!

    1. Hi, Rob:
      It is really important to have periodic informal check-ins. Since the lockdown, some of our leader clients have had twice-a-week informal “chats” with their team. They aim to keep some version of those chats and check-ins post-lockdown.

      Thanks for engaging here.