The COVID-19 pandemic has caused more and more managers to have to learn the ins and outs of running a successful remote work environment. Of all the adjustments they’re making, one stands above the rest: learning the virtual meeting best practices that will make everyone in the company feel included, even from a great distance.
With in-person meetings disappearing over the past few months, virtual meeting etiquette has become a point of emphasis for many companies, on par with robust sales funnels, company growth, and aggressive innovation. The problem is that best practices for virtual meetings isn’t something that you’re likely to learn in business school, or even on the job, assuming that your company’s pre-COVID setup was based in a group office setting.
Virtual Meeting Best Practices
Here then are some of my best tips for conducting a remote business meeting,learned through years of experience, trial and error, and finally, success:
1. Prepare, Prepare, Prepare
No matter how much money and effort you put into technology, there’s still a good chance that some kind of tech-related delay will occur over the course of a company meeting. Maybe your head of product development suddenly has her Internet conk out on her. Or your VP of Marketing’s cat knocks over a can of Coke, causing catastrophic failure to his laptop (the VP Marketing’s laptop, not the cat’s, though if Sir-Meows-A-Lot’s brand new MacBook Air gets fried, that’s no less tragic).
However it happens, the likelihood of a tech mishap delaying or interfering with a virtual meeting demands that you be on point with every aspect of that meeting. Taking the time beforehand to map out a clear agenda and ensure that all the key points get covered is the essence of virtual meeting best practices.
2. Don’t Be a Dictator
Preach, cajole, and demand all you like…none of that will guarantee that every single remote worker in a virtual meeting will sit in rapt attention for every single minute of that meeting. There are bound to be a few remote workers who answer email during your virtual meeting, while others run to the kitchen for coffee or scold the dog for eating an entire wheel of cheese.
Virtual meeting etiquette thus ironically demands that you not get too caught in each individual’s etiquette. As long as the main objectives of the virtual meeting are met and the key players whose attention you require are engaged long enough to process what you’re saying, you’re good. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
3. Keep People Engaged
Just because you’re patient and understanding when people tune out or step away doesn’t mean that you feel just give up on keeping your remote workers engaged. Virtual meetings can already feel disconnected just by being virtual. It’s on you as the manager to recognize that, and seek ways to hold people’s attention for however long your virtual meeting lasts.
One of the most important tips for conducting a virtual meeting, then, is to try to get everyone involved. Assuming your team isn’t too enormous, you can loop in quick check-ins from everyone at some point in the meeting. At DistantJob, our Monday morning planning meeting includes catchup sessions with each member of the team on how they spent their weekend. Not only does that loop everyone into the conversation…it also helps everyone get to know each other better, by gaining a little window into people’s lives outside of work.
4. Be Inclusive
It’s hard enough to get introverted employees to speak up at a meeting that takes place in the office. It’s even tougher to do so during a virtual meeting, where technological barriers can make your shyest employees even shyer.
Be mindful of that potential reluctance, as well as those barriers. Strategize ways to include those employees who might be least inclined to speak. It’s unfair to those remote workers to be left out. Moreover, your company could miss out on some great insight if these intelligent but introverted employees don’t feel empowered to speak up.
5. Use Technology to Your Advantage
Although some companies have switched entirely to remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic, most companies that employ remote workers count only a fraction of their employees as being remote, with the rest still working out of an office. Or if that’s not the case now, it likely will be once governments loosen coronavirus-related lockdowns and office restrictions. That means you’ll still have access to your office’s conference room.
This is a huge asset not only for the people actually in the room, but also for your remote workers. On the most basic level, you can use simple video conferencingtools such as Zoom, Skype, or Microsoft Teams to loop remote workers in with the people sitting in the physical conference room.
But really, you can and should do better than that. One tool that takes the inclusivity of remote workers to the next level is Kubi. Essentially a telepresence robot, Kubi is a tablet that rests on a moving arm that you control. This moving arm enables virtual team members to feel like they’re actually in the room with you. There are also revolving webcams such as Owl, which pan around the physical conference room to show everyone in attendance, so that remote workers can get to know everyone’s faces.
If you want to go even further, consider a tool such as Polycom’s Immersive Studio conference room. Immersive Studio shows multiple people on multiple different screens, with crystal clear screens and high-quality audio making everyone feel like they’re truly sitting side by side. A solution like Immersive Studio (or those created by Polycom’s competitors) can run about $100,000 to install and implement. But given how quickly technology adapts to new trends, how COVID-19 has fundamentally changed how we think about remote work, and how prices inevitably come down once a tech solution starts to become more popular, it’s not hard to imagine sleeker, simpler apps in the near future that will come at a much more attractive price tag.
These are just some of the best practices for virtual meetings that I’ve been able to pinpoint over the years. Whichever steps you take, just remember this: Your remote workers are every bit as valuable as the employees who sit a few feet away from you in your physical office. Treat them accordingly.