(Previously published in December 2019)
We’ve all been there – a meeting is put on your calendar, taking an hour out of your work day to go over something that could have easily been discussed via email. And then, to make your day even better, it goes over the time set aside because someone joined 10 mins late and you had to fill them in, the group has gone off topic 3 times, and two people had their internet on the fritz and you had to wait for them to rejoin. This story is the same across workplaces all over the world and Friendship Force International is no different. However, after 2 years being a completely virtual office and innumerable online meetings before that, we’ve gotten a little better at utilizing our time more effectively. Here are 9 tips for a more productive online meeting:
Connection is Required
Living in a connected world doesn’t mean we always have internet signals strong enough for a video conference. Everyone joining needs to be sure that they can successfully take part in the meeting without their internet signal cutting in and out causing them to drop and then rejoin the meeting.
Sometimes this just can’t be avoided, but if it happens regularly, that person either needs to upgrade their internet or join from a different location.
And it isn’t just the internet signal that can cause issues. Everyone should make sure they know how to connect to the meeting and check that their camera and microphone work beforehand.
Sharing is Caring
If your meeting is going to include discussion of different documents (budget spreadsheets, quarterly reports, etc.) make sure they are shared beforehand and accessible to reference during the meeting. It is up to you whether or not to “share your screen” and show the report while it is being discussed or ask the participants to pull up the document themselves. There are pros and cons to both methods and you should do whatever works best for you and your coworkers.
The Agenda is King
Whether you have one topic to discuss or six, an agenda is the bedrock of any successful meeting. Even if you are gathering to discuss one topic, put together an agenda with a welcome, explanation of meeting topic, discussion points, and conclusion.
Make sure to distribute the agenda prior to the meeting, have it available to meeting attendees when the meeting begins, and refer to the agenda when needed to bring the discussion back on track.
At the beginning of the meeting, it is helpful to do a run through of the agenda and have any requests for agenda additions at that time. Anything else brought up throughout the meeting should be held for another time.
PRO TIP: A formal templated agenda isn’t always necessary. Utilize the notes or details section in the calendar invite to bullet the agenda.
Not Everyone can Lead
Online meetings will fall apart quickly if there is no one to take on the leader/moderator role. Even if certain discussions are led by others, there should always be one person who moves the meeting forward and makes sure the agenda is followed.
PRO TIP: Divide and conquer. Sometimes identifying a person to take minutes separate from the facilitator can help move the agenda along more efficiently.
Your Time is Valuable
Every meeting should have a start AND end time. Make sure that the leader/moderator verbally notes the end time of the meeting when it starts and reiterates that being respectful of everyone’s time is key. It is the task of the leader to move the agenda forward so that it can end at the specified time and/or get approval from everyone in the meeting if the time needs to be shifted and end later.
Parking Lots Aren’t Just for Cars
One helpful tool for many meetings is to create a “parking lot.” This is where those side conversations that often creep into discussion topics can be placed and then brought into future meetings or to offline meetings between those involved. This will help everyone stay on task and keep the agenda moving forward.
The parking lot can be included in the meeting minutes or kept by the leader/moderator to be distributed as needed after the meeting ends.
Look at Each Other
If possible, have everyone joining the meeting use their cameras. No, it is no fun to work from home and then have to put on your real clothes for a meeting. But it makes a huge difference when you can see the others you’re working with. You can feel like you’re talking into a void and meeting participants can feel disconnected from the subject if you are looking at a blank screen.
And I am sure we have all felt the urge – when our cameras are off or we are on a conference call – to check email, complete tasks, and effectively have the meeting as background noise.
Whether everyone is working remotely or only a few are joining virtually to a meeting where others are in the office, it is key to have cameras on so discussion can ensue and everyone remains engaged.
PRO TIP: Ask everyone to mute themselves when they’re not talking to reduce unwanted background noise.
Take and Share the Minutes
So, Angela can’t join until 10 minutes late and John’s internet signal is spotty but he’s doing his best. Things happen that can cause your agenda and timeframe to go off course but it isn’t necessary that these derail your meeting – if you have someone taking minutes.
Now, is it helpful for Marcus to be taking minutes on a personal document that no one can see? Not especially. If you have a virtual office, or people who work from home on a regular basis, it is likely that you have some sort of shared document editing system like Google Docs or Microsoft Office 365. If so (and I hope you do!), make sure the minutes are being taken in a live document that those who come late or get dropped from the meeting can check out when they join so that they can get caught up without disrupting the flow of the meeting.
This is also helpful to distribute afterward for those in attendance to look back through if they can’t remember what happened or if someone was unable to join but needs the information discussed there.
Make sure a minute-taker is identified either before or at the start of the meeting and the link to the minutes is shared on the discussion/chat function in the video conference. Minutes should:
– be thorough but NOT a verbatim rehash of the meeting
– include the action items for the participants in the meeting
– show the meeting date, topic, and those who participated
– be organized so that it is easy to follow and clearly show the discussion that took place
When We Meet Again…
At the end of the meeting, make sure everyone is aware of your next meeting time. If this is a set meeting, everyone should have it on their calendar already and you can just confirm its existence. If not, use that time to schedule the next meeting while everyone is there so that you don’t have to exchange 1,000 (yes, sometimes it seems to take 1,000) emails to get everyone together again.
There are handy dandy scheduling tools available to use. Even though these have been around for a while, not everyone is comfortable using them, and they still require taking additional time out of your day to set up, complete, compile the answers, and distribute the new time (with reminders) to everyone.
And the List Goes On
Everyone company, organization, and group is different but the keys to a successful online meeting are pretty standard. Does this list include everything needed to make sure your time is well-spent? No. But it is a good start for anyone who is frustrated with their current meetings or just venturing into the world of regular online meetings.
COVID-19’s social distancing need has disrupted life as we know it. In an effort to encourage communication, friendship, and cultural exploration, we have gathered the following resources for your convenience. Please feel free to share any additional articles, videos, or platforms that you have found helpful in staying digitally connected to friends and family with us at [email protected]!
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LAUGH AT YOURSELF!
Take a few minutes to enjoy a humorous look at some classic virtual get-together personas, assembled by Nexagy Education! A truly light-hearted reminder that we are all learning this together (even if we’re apart!)