Virtual meetings have become a necessity in the professional workplace, allowing for a simulated face-to-face experience that serves as a feasible substitute for the real thing. People have, to be fair, worked remotely for a long time and been successful with it, but it’s not normally been the whole team at once. And while nothing can fully replace an in-person meeting, taking the right approach can ensure a successful outcome.
Different rules apply when you have a meeting via videoconferencing versus a meeting in your office or even off-site. While a remote meeting is a regular company meeting without the ability to clearly see and hear everyone throughout the entire meeting, it is an opportunity to restructure the design of your meeting, shake things up. As the outcome of any meeting is to achieve goals and make decisions, you want to ensure that as the meeting host you are thinking of your team, and the quality of their participation throughout. At Catalyst Ranch, an offsite meetings and events venue in Chicago, we know a thing or two about hosting successful meetings. And something about collaboration, which is why we asked leading facilitators to share their expertise and helpful tips for hosting an engaging and productive atmosphere for your next virtual meeting.
Comfort level using virtual platforms.
People’s relationship with virtual platforms such as Zoom, Webex, Skype, Microsoft Teams and Google Hangouts and Meeting, may be shifting rapidly as we float from one to the next. As such, your teammates will have varying levels of comfort and experience using them. Add to that, their home situations to deal with. “They may have technology and connectivity challenges and it is important to be patient and give people time to adjust,” says Brendan Sullivan, Owner of Corporate Creativity Coach.
Helpful Tip: To avoid delays in the start of your meeting, have a technical whiz available to troubleshoot.
Keeping and nailing the agenda.
“You should plan to spend at least as much time constructing a good agenda as you will spend in the meeting—inviting participation in setting the agenda, asking prospective attendees not just what needs to be “on” the agenda (as if it were a pile of books), but what they need to do with others (as in write or figure out something together).” Dr. Sara K. Schneider, Founder & CEO at THE HUMAN JOURNEY, had this to add, “It builds trust to actually stick to the constructed agenda. If an appointed timekeeper can help keep the leader of the meeting to the scheduled time slots for each item, participants will see that their time is being respected. Why not include as an ongoing agenda item something like “What needs to be considered for the next meeting or to be otherwise handled in a way that takes the fewest people?”
Mindfully construct agendas that are as short as possible and in which the pre-work has already been done.
Only invite those who need to be engaged actively with the others, e.g., in necessary decision-making or brainstorming.
Master the interactive capabilities of your chosen virtual meeting technology.
Coordinate more extensively than ever before with colleagues also demanding screen time of employees so as to keep a reasonable amount of virtual meeting time overall.
Keeping the team building spirit virtually.
Yes, it can be done. Brendan Sullivan says, “In fact, now is a perfect time for team building. People may be feeling isolated and disconnected.” And that, “there are many team building exercises that can provide the same boost they would when you’re physically together,” he added.
“Create a team piece of art on the whiteboard using the annotation tools. Have everyone add their part. Maybe the piece will have a theme. Or it can salute someone who is having a birthday or other important life event. Save the whiteboard.”
Turn on cameras for all participants. Seeing faces makes even a virtual meeting more personal and connecting. Warn people that the expectation is that cameras will be on.
Perhaps have formal Fridays instead of casual Fridays. Have lunch delivered to each participant’s home and have lunch together.
Keeping all energy levels up.
“An energizer or icebreaker allows everyone to meet each other, get acquainted, get the creative juices flowing and even have a good laugh before the meeting begins. This also helps attendees and presenters feel that they’re all on the same playing field.” Matt Gubernick, Client Services Manager at Catalyst Ranch, who is also an energizer enthusiast, says this about when to introduce one in a meeting.
“The parts of the day that I find energizers are most effective are either right at the beginning of the day. This will allow for everyone to start the day with a fun activity or game and have some fun before getting into the nitty-gritty of the meeting. Or right after lunch. During lunch, attendees have time to relax, kick back and mingle, which at times makes it hard to just jump right back into the deeper content of the meeting. An energizer is a great way to get everyone back in one place, have some fun and re-engage their minds in order to return to the topic at hand.”
Helpful Tip: Having some sort of fun aspect incorporated into a meeting can really help people retain the information being shared.
This energizer guide lists many different energizers that will help you and your meeting: Icebreakers and Energizers for Virtual Meetings
Keeping it together, call a facilitator.
When you want to keep things tight and with more coordination, hire a professional. “The facilitator works with the Team leadership to clarify and align to desired outcomes, set an agenda and design a process flow to engage and support all team members,” says Wayne Childers, Chief Conversation Officer at Ah Ha! Consulting.
“Remote facilitation is often even more important to helping a team get to their outcomes. The challenges inherent in engaging all team members in varying locations, is quickly becoming apparent. We seek to engage all types of learners and thinking styles through combinations of interactions from verbal to visual and from group conversation to independent work. The activities and processes we use engage team members in full and small group interactions and bring in personal reflection time as well for more introverted thinkers.”
Helpful Tips: A professional facilitator, 1. Is willing to be of Service to the group as a whole. 2. Agrees to work toward the shared objectives and outcomes of the team. 3. Commits to seek to create conditions that encourage the best to come forward from all people involved.
Amanda Pink is the Marketing Manager at Catalyst Ranch
(312) 207-1710 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Catalyst Ranch is a unique meeting and events space located in Chicago’s West Loop, supported by a professional staff dedicated to providing a stimulating and electric environment that ignites the imagination.