The perks of working from home are endless. You can set your own schedule, acquire top-class talents from all corners of the world, and productivity is better among employees to name but a few. However, a likely challenge that may arise is the question of how to conduct an engaging meeting with employees in varying countries with no physical interaction.
The nature of a virtual meeting presents additional hurdles that would not usually be present in face-to-face meetings. This article will detail some of the problems you can expect from virtual meetings and some useful tips and tactics so that your next virtual meeting goes off without a hitch.
Virtual Meetings Common Problems
Have you ever found yourself at the end of a virtual meeting completely drawing a blank about what was actually discussed? You’re not alone and there is a reason for that!
Memory-building relies a lot on body language and facial expressions as the brain attaches emotions to interactions for recollection. In fact, research has shown that 65% of the information in communication is taken in by interpreting the body language of the person that is speaking. A virtual meeting strips away much of the body language we are used to receiving from people in person so our ability to remember what happened in the meeting is hindered.
Attention spans are getting shorter and studies have found that our attention span may only last for 10 minutes. Add the distractions that surround us when we are at home away from a watchful eye - like our phones, browser tabs, an out-of-place book - and you can bet that the amount of time your virtual team can stay focused will plummet.
We’re sure you’ve heard of and probably even experienced Zoom fatigue - the extreme exhaustion you have during and after a virtual meeting. This is such a common problem that the communication professor at Stanford University, Jeremy Bailenson, conducted research to evaluate why so many people encounter this phenomenon. It turns out that the high amount of close-up eye contact, seeing yourself in real-time, the reduction in our mobility, and the high cognitive load of virtual meetings all contribute to the feeling of fatigue.
With the reduced ability to see and interpret body language and facial expressions, the likelihood of misunderstanding is increased. This can be particularly prevalent if you work in an international team that doesn't all share the same native language and culture. The lack of non-verbal cues can cause comments to be misinterpreted as we mainly have to rely on the tone of the speaker’s voice. Additionally, the lack of social cues can make it difficult to gauge whether attendees are lost, interested, or bored.
There are a host of technical issues attendants of a meeting are likely to encounter. This could be a poor internet connection, bad sound quality, display issues or software crashing. It seems as though internet connectivity is a major and common pain point for remote workers with the vast majority of the country’s internet speed falling below the global average of 105.15 Mbps.
Global broadband internet speeds (Source: Visual Capitalist)
Tips For Holding An Effective Virtual Meeting
Set an agenda
An important feature of all meetings is an agenda. Having a clear agenda will allow the meeting to be productive and efficient, meaning your employees will feel that their time is being invested wisely. With the right amount of detail, an agenda can help the meeting stay focused and run as smoothly as possible.
Also, when your attendees are aware of what to expect from the meeting, it allows them to prepare well for it so you should set a small number of goals. That will also help guide the conversation and prevent time wasted from veering off track. This can be further prevented by setting topics to be discussed, assigning owners of these topics and tasks with a strict time frame.
Defining the output of each part of your meeting and setting the time needed will help your virtual meeting remain concise and remain on track. (Source: We Can Advocate)
It’s also useful to allocate time for people to join and set up themselves for the meeting just in case of any technical issues. This time can also be used for friendly chatter or catch-up on the goings on of attendants outside of work-related business.
Be sure to send the agenda ideally a day before the meeting. This allows time for any pre-work that needs to be completed and also helps everyone mentally prepare for the meeting.
Test the software & optimize for use
If your team is new to virtual meetings or you are trying out new video conferencing software it’s a good idea to ensure everyone tests out the software beforehand so that they are familiar with it and its features. This will save valuable time and minimize technical issues.
Also, to help fight fatigue, it’s suggested that participants reduce the size of the software’s window relative to the monitor to decrease face size. The level of close-up eye contact can be lowered with the use of an external keyboard as it can act as a barrier between the participant and the grid as well as allow for additional mobility which mimics an in-person meeting - like note-taking.
The camera should also be positioned so that participants’ heads and shoulders are in frame and in the center. This will help keep facial expressions in view so that people’s emotions can be read. Not only can this help avoid misunderstandings and determine participant engagement and understanding, it can also help us remember the contents of the meeting better.
You’ll too want to make sure that everyone is devoid of distractions. To make room for good virtual meeting etiquette you should require all participants to be in a quiet room with their phones on silent and themselves on mute unless they are talking.
Plan how videos will be used
The use of video in a virtual meeting is great as it can help us pick up on non-verbal cues better, however, it is a key reason for fatigue. This places great importance on how and when a video is used throughout a virtual meeting.
As seeing yourself in real-time can cause you to experience exhaustion, all participants should hide the video grid of themselves on their display. On Zoom, this can simply be done by hovering over your video and clicking the ellipsis button. From there you can select Hide Self View. On Google Meets this can be activated by going to the participants’ menu and clicking on the hide video toggle. If you are using Skype, right-click on your video then click hide myself view.
It’s also a good idea to have audio-only moments if you are conducting a longer meeting. This reduces the cognitive load on participants as they can relieve the pressure of having to be non verbally active for a brief moment. You can plan for audio-only breaks in your agenda. Place them in a five-minute block after longer presentations or discussions, or when something is being re-caped.
Up engagement with group participation and brain breaks
With such short attention spans, it’s naive to think that participants will be receptive and fully focused when there are just a handful of people talking. That’s why it’s crucial to factor in and facilitate group discussions, activities and retrieve individual opinions to keep things interesting.
A great way to up the engagement levels of your virtual meeting is to use the wealth of online quizzes, surveys, and polling tools at your disposal to encourage active participation from everyone. Slido and Poll Everywhere are great options for capturing feedback in real-time. Plus, if you are using Zoom, it has its own in-house polling tool that you can use during meetings.
Poll Everywhere has tons of features to support virtual meetings. Real-time word clouds make capturing feedback more interesting. (Source: Poll Everywhere)
For whole team discussions, ensure that there are guidelines set on how to contribute and when the floor will be open for discussions beforehand. This will help you stick to the time frame of the meeting better as it will stop interruptions and also allow for smooth opinion giving absent of people talking over each other. Zoom, Google Meet and Skype all have a raise hand feature. Getting participants to use this during discussions can go a long way in controlling the flow of opinions coming in.
For group discussions and activities, make use of your meeting software features like breakout rooms and whiteboards. Include time for discussion and feedback in your agenda along with instructions on how to give it.
Brain breaks are also handy in preventing participants from drifting off. Moreover, they can help reinforce interpersonal relationships, something which is a common challenge in the remote workplace. This can be as simple as water-cooler conversations about weekend plans, or something more fun like a GIF/meme challenge where participants have to find the best image or video that suits a phrase.
Debrief and send out minutes
Memory is often lost after a videoconference, particularly if it’s a long one. Therefore, be sure to allocate someone to take down notes of key points that came up during the meeting. This can then be sent to yourself and your participants after the meeting to act as a refresher.
You should also allot time at the end of the meeting to summarize the major takeaways so it is fresh in their minds before they sign out.
The virtual meeting world comes with its own special set of obstacles to be overcome. However, with knowledge of potential problems and proper planning beforehand, hosts can step into their virtual meeting confident that they will get the most out of their attendees. We hope these tips will make your next remote meeting go off with flying colors.