More than ever within the unsettled and remote world we find ourselves living in today, face-to-face meetings are fast becoming the exception rather than the norm.

At Aspira, we have embraced “project team meetings” or “virtual meetings” as I’ll refer to them, as a means to maintain the status quo with our clients as well as with each other. As with everything in life, there are pros & cons to the methods of our interactions.

  • Virtual meetings offer the ability to invite more people; potentially happier people, since attending meetings remotely is usually more convenient than doing so in person; and there is no travel time, which breeds efficiency and helps the environment.
  • Of course, these virtual meetings also pose challenges: distracting noises; side-tracked participants who multitask or tune out; and technology glitches.

As such, meeting facilitators really need to be organised to overcome these challenges and keep people engaged. Here are some tips for overcoming these hurdles and keeping virtual meetings running smoothly based on my own learnings more recently…

  1. Early Login. Make it a habit to dial-in a few minutes early when facilitating the meeting, so you can be ready and welcome your colleagues as they arrive …it’s also professional in my opinion for the facilitator to be present before everyone else, as it would be for a face-to-face meeting…or maybe that’s just me!
  2. Ground Rules / Distractions. Participants should agree on the ground rules, especially if the group meets regularly. For example: Everyone must attend, be on time, stick to a timeline, read the agenda, stay on task. Remind participants to use their mute button, if necessary. Distractions can really ruin a call whether it’s a vibrating mobile phone or a kango hammer outside your window!
  3. The Invitees. It’s difficult to hold a virtual meeting with a very large number of participants, due sometimes to the capabilities of the technology and everyone’s ability to contribute to the conversation. If a participant has nothing to gain or contribute you should really consider why they are involved in the first place?
  4. Socialise. Don’t miss a chance to connect with your colleagues (before starting the meeting or at the end) now more than ever. We are all under stresses due to the current unprecedented situation that is COVID-19, so simply connecting on a personal level can do more than you might realise for some people. I find the pre-meeting chit-chat helps me stay connected and sharing our observations, funny stories or woes can also be very therapeutic!
  5. Face-time. I feel way more engaged when I can see you! Encourage participants to show their faces online (if only when speaking) and by association get them out of their PJ’s and into their casuals!
  6. Objective & Agenda. Always prepare a clear meeting objective and associated agenda. If appropriate, distribute the agenda and other materials to attendees in advance, and explain if/why they need to review them prior to meeting. Be as conscious about people’s time for virtual meetings as you would for face-to face meetings.
  7. Encourage Participation. Asking directly for input really helps team members feel engaged. Seek out those who may not be as vocal but avoid putting them on the spot.
  8. Avoid Back-to-Back Meetings. It is important that you give yourself sometime between meetings…a chance to catch breath, consider the outcomes and actions and to reset your mind for the next virtual meeting. Meeting burn-out is as probable for virtual meetings as it is for face-to-face meetings.
  9. Try to be engaging. This does not mean attempting a stand-up comedy routine, but simply try to make it interesting with lively interaction and even to be conscious of your tone…again, the use of your video will help here as suggested earlier.
  10. Check out action items are in progress. It’s vital in virtual meeting forums that we get clear and actionable outcomes for participants. Remind those who participated the main points of the meeting and the follow-up actions, owners and due dates agreed etc. Everyone needs to know that commitments are being tracked to completion.

The biggest challenge of virtual meetings is to keep people interested and engaged. The suggestions listed are not all encompassing…employ what works for your own team situation and dynamic and adapt as you proceed. Take feedback from your colleagues and make it everyone’s meeting. On look back, many of the suggestions outlined apply to traditional face-to-face meetings also, so the adoption of a virtual working world should not be so difficult, in theory!

Work smart, Stay safe.

Author:  Thomas McGrath, Senior Project Manager, Aspira

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