Running a virtual meeting requires a different approach than in-person meetings. You need to figure out how to moderate the discussion, make sure everyone has a voice and feels heard and ensure all your employees are properly equipped to participate. But virtual meetings don’t have to be stressful — in fact, taking your meetings virtually can even help take work off your plate if you leverage the tools effectively.
Here are five tips on how to run a successful virtual meeting, whether it’s your company’s town hall or an after-work virtual happy hour.
Head into meetings with a plan
Virtual meetings can quickly run off the rails if they aren’t organized ahead of time, so try to send out an agenda and sign on five minutes early to make sure everything is running smoothly, says Tim Ihlefeld, CEO of remote interviewing platform Harqen. Even if you have everyone set up on the same platform, technical glitches can arise, as you can’t control individual meeting members’ Wi-Fi connectivity and any software bugs or hardware failures on their devices. Having a plan and establishing best practices ahead of time can save you from an IT headache during the meeting.
Establish who will be responsible for fielding questions, troubleshooting connectivity issues and taking or distributing meeting notes. You should also decide whether you will need to mute participants, who will moderate the meeting, which participants will need screenshare and how listeners can ask questions. For smaller meetings, these issues may be less pressing and stressful, but for larger meetings it’s a good idea to set guidelines so everyone knows their role and what is expected of them.
Make sure everyone is heard
As with most any meeting format, some personalities are going to stand out more in virtual meetings, but differing presence dynamics in online settings versus in-person meetings can heighten issues around participation. Some people might find the online setting that much more difficult to know when to chime in, especially if people start debating or discussing a hot business topic.
Because of this, you might find yourself playing “referee” in virtual meetings, says Ihlefeld. You need to know when to let people discuss a topic and when to pull back, maybe even use the mute button to get control of the virtual room and then go person to person, giving everyone a chance to voice their opinion or idea.
You can use collaboration tools to help people speak up in other ways — whether it’s by posting comments, messaging moderators or sending updates to a chat. Kristin Tertreault, vice president of internal communications at Stanley Black & Decker, says they use Workplace by Facebook to keep the global company connected. It allows users to call, message and chat with any coworker, share questions and ideas with colleagues and to collaborate in real time, especially during meetings.
“It's a level playing field where everyone has a voice, a profile and the ability to engage. When our leaders are in that space, they're acknowledging that they see you as an employee, they hear what you're saying and then respond to your questions. It has been a real game-changer for us,” she says.
Take advantage of virtual meeting tools
One major advantage of virtual meetings is that they can easily be recorded, generate automatic transcripts and allow for real-time collaboration. Tettreault says her team finds it easier than ever to record meetings now that they’ve gone virtual. Previously, her team would have to have someone on-site filming meetings in order to create content from those recorded meetings. Now it’s almost completely automated.
Other useful tools include the ability to spin off into smaller, more focused meetings in the middle of a call. For example, Mark Maybury, CTO at Stanley Black & Decker, recently met with other executives in the organization and during the meeting they wanted to break out into six different groups. They were able to instantly send out an invite to break out into side sessions for 10 to 15 minutes before seamlessly resuming the full meeting. There are plenty of ways to get innovative with your virtual meetings — and these tools can be leveraged to make the experience even better than in-person meetings.
Explore all the features available in your virtual tools to see whether there are processes you can automate that you were doing manually before and to get creative with how collaborative features can inject greater productivity into your meetings.
Get creative if you have unconventional meetings to run
If your company has non-traditional meetings, it might require some creative thinking to go fully online. For instance, Michael Coakley, CIO of White Plains NY, says his team was in the unique position of figuring out how to take large city council meetings online. Using Zoom, his team decided to leverage the “waiting room” feature, which helps keep meetings organized and more secure by allowing moderators to verify each participant.
The COVID-19 pandemic is reshaping the world as we know it, presenting unique challenges that many business leaders have never confronted before.
Another challenge was ensuring that citizens could attend meetings and still comment or ask questions, as if they were there in-person. To solve this, his team posts an alert to citizens telling them to “call or email the City Clerk’s office at a specific date and time range.” Once the meeting starts, Coakley’s team has a list of people who want to participate who are then allowed into the meeting turn-by-turn.
Since implementing virtual city council meetings, Coakley says his team will likely keep up Zoom integration, even once things get back to normal. For employees or citizens who can’t make a meeting or have a schedule conflict, Zoom can help them participate when they wouldn’t have been able to before.
Use virtual meetings to get to know your team
With companies world-wide working remote, virtual meetings are taking place in our home offices, kitchens, living rooms and bedrooms. There’s a chance pets, spouses, roommates and kids could walk through the frame at any moment. Instead of seeing it as a disruption, use it as an opportunity to get to know your team and coworkers better. Consider hosting team happy hours to boost morale during the COVID-19 lockdowns and take advantage of the unique situation to strengthen the bond with your teammates and employees.
“We all have this awareness that we're all people outside of work, but when it's in your face — literally from a video meeting perspective — it gives you a much deeper appreciation and it brings your workforce closer together. I think one of the silver linings of this is what has created such a distance has also brought us closer together,” Tetreault says.