virtual meeting best practices

Virtual Meeting Best Practices: How to Have Productive Online Meetings

***Updated on 22 February, 2021

Online meetings are throwing up new challenges

Many of us are working remotely due to COVID restrictions. So we’re having more online meetings than ever before.

Microsoft studies have shown that it is much more taxing to meet virtually than in person. When we meet in person, our brain treats the meeting room as a single source of information. When we meet virtually, our brains process each person as a separate source of information because each person shows up in individual boxes on our screen. As a result, our brain has to work harder to process information from multiple sources. It’s no wonder that we get tired more easily.

Virtual meetings are also challenging in other ways. As a chair, it can be harder to get input from all the participants. As a participant, it can be tempting to check your emails or work on something else, especially if you’re on mute or have your camera turned off. But trying to multitask often leads to an unproductive meeting, as you’re unable to contribute fully.

Given the current environment, it’s likely that we’ll be working from home for a while yet. So now is an excellent time to review how we can get the most out of virtual meetings. Here are some virtual meeting best practices to ensure you have productive meetings.

1. To meet or not to meet

To avoid having meetings that are not adding value, ask yourself (and the remote team) if you really need to meet. What is the purpose of the meeting? Is it to brainstorm, discuss or decide something? Can it be solved via email instead?

Even if the meeting does need to happen, do you personally need to be there? What value will you be adding? If the answer to these questions is not clear, then chances are you don’t need to meet.

2. Shorter meetings

virtual meeting best practices

Our concentration starts to wane after 30 minutes of meeting virtually, so it’s much better to have shorter meetings. Instead of setting a 1-hour session, try 45 minutes. It’ll likely save everyone time, and you might be surprised at how much you can get done in a shorter meeting. If you do need a more extended meeting, schedule in some breaks to allow team members to refocus.

3. Start on time

Five minutes may not seem like much, but if a meeting with 12 participants starts five minutes late, that’s a full hour of lost productivity. If every meeting starts late, it can quickly add up.

Now that our meetings are virtual, you no longer need to trek across town to get to them. Traffic is no longer a reason to be late! If you need a break between sessions, set your meetings to end 5 minutes earlier.

Five minutes may not seem like much, but if a meeting with 12 participants starts five minutes late, that’s a full hour of lost productivity.

4. Have a clear agenda

If you’re chairing a virtual meeting, set a clear agenda. It’s one of the virtual meeting best practices to circulate the agenda before the meeting so that participants are clear on purpose and expectations. That way, they’re more likely to be able to add value. Always summarise the conversation and confirm next steps, including accountabilities, at the end of the meeting.

If you’re attending a meeting, make sure that you read the agenda beforehand and go prepared.

5. Be fully present

As a virtual meeting participant, it can be easy to get distracted and tune out. But to get the most out of the meeting, you need to listen actively and participate.

Before you make a point, first acknowledge what others have said. It helps the conversation and makes others more likely to hear what you have to say. If you do get distracted or lost, don’t be afraid to ask a clarifying question. It’s possible that others are also confused.

So when you’re next in a meeting, focus on the meeting. Don’t try to do other things at the same time. And keep practising your active listening skills.

6. Check your tech

Nothing kills momentum at the start of a meeting like a technical issue. We’ve all experienced the frustration of video dropouts or non-compatible software. To avoid wasting everyone’s time, test out your tech beforehand. There are many virtual meeting tools out there; make sure you know how the features work before the meeting.

So there you go – the 6 virtual meeting best practices that you can start implementing today!

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By Simon Nicholls

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