Maximizing Your Virtual Meetings: Staying on Time and on Target
Now that more of us are working at home, we must deal with meetings where nobody’s in the same room. Possibly not even in the same country. Luckily, we haven’t gotten to a place where we’re on different planets, but Elon Musk may get us there yet!
My point is, the job of getting everybody on time and on the same page on a Zoom get together has obviously become more complicated than simply pulling everyone in the office into a conference room. With that in mind, let me share a few tips on organizing and running virtual meetings, something I’ve been doing for decades.
How to Get the Most Out of Virtual Meetings
Don’t Zone Out
I’ve worked in New Zealand at 3 a.m., in Vietnam at midnight and in Newfoundland at…well, to tell you the truth, I wasn’t really sure what time it was! In other words, time zones complicate matters. So, when you schedule an online meeting, make sure you take into account everyone’s time zone if they vary, so Fred in Oregon doesn’t have to get up at 5 a.m.—or, worse, Pierre in Paris doesn’t have to stay up until 5 a.m.!
You might want to consider breaking up large meetings into regional ones as much as possible for everyone’s convenience—and try to establish four-hour common slots of time. Rotate meeting times for all-hands-on-deck virtual get-togethers, so everyone has the chance to operate within “normal” business hours. When planning your set up for virtual meetings, always, always, ALWAYS remind everyone of an upcoming meeting 24 hours in advance.
Flex Your Virtual Meeting Time
Online meetings give you an assortment of advantages, so don’t lock yourself into traditional thinking.
Speaking of time, be aware of how long you’re making people sit through these things. From managing hundreds of regional and global online events over the past decade, I can tell you, the maximum anyone should be in an online meeting is four hours (and even that’s pushing it—two hours would be better). When they run longer than that, your participants are going to experience significant muscle and eye fatigue, not to mention be tempted by the incredible distractions that come with working remotely. The answer is simple: set shorter sessions on a regular timetable over a longer time period. Even if someone misses a session, you can record everything and they can catch up on their own time.
Online meetings give you an assortment of advantages, so don’t lock yourself into traditional thinking. With virtual events, you can run smaller sessions and target your message by geography, functional area or industry. Just avoid Monday mornings and Friday afternoons for these kinds of video marathons!
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Template Everything that Moves
When you run a meeting or event where everyone’s in the same room, you have much more control—because you literally have a captive audience. You can ban smartphone usage, make sure all screens are down and be far more agile with agendas that you can online. When every member of your audience is at a different location, you lose that control.
So, you need to build virtual walls and a structure to keep things on track. This is where templates for meeting agendas, minutes, action items, project plans, file naming conventions, status updates, quarterly business reviews and a whole lot more come into play. Make these available from your central dashboard, reinforce on calls that they exist, and gently remind people to work from those templates when you see them straying. If you want examples and a few helpful downloads, check out our website.
Inevitably, people are going to adapt these templates to their own needs, which is something you should encourage. Meet quarterly, share best practices, agree on new formats and update your dashboard, so you have a continuous improvement process in place.
Add Wiggle Room to Preset Agendas
It’s easy for chaos to overtake a virtual meeting — so use organization as your primary weapon against that happening.
Even after an agenda for a meeting has been created, things come up and new items need to be added. So, capture your team’s input 24/7 and make it easy to change things up anytime.
This is where dashboards come in handy for managing virtual meetings. Ours has a link that people can click to submit risks, issues or ideas, which gets automatically added to our meeting agendas. These extra items are then covered during the weekly call and things are reprioritized if need be and actions assigned. Even though that agenda ends up being very fluid, everything gets captured in that online dashboard, so there’s a complete record that can be referred to.
If you're looking for some workable examples, we have an entire resource page that can help.
Remember, it’s easy for chaos to overtake a virtual meeting — so use organization as your primary weapon against that happening. When you stay organized -- with the right tools and processes -- you can prepare your virtual team for anything.