Making (Virtual) Meetings Work …5 Tips for Your Team

by Chris Goldman

As we approach nearly a year of online work, quarantined co-workers, and virtual meetings, people are weary from Zoom fatigue and virtual meetings. We know part of this is the nature of extended screen time, but it’s also a result of forgetting how meetings work. 

Here are five basic tips about shaping your virtual meetings going forward with — hopefully — less fatigue. 

1. Let People Gather

Remember when people arrived to a room for your meetings? Some showed early, some slipped in at the last minute, and – as always – some scurried in late. What did people do as everyone arrived? 

Some asked how co-workers were doing, others caught up on a quick point of work. Others grabbed a cup of coffee and reviewed their notes. 

Online meetings need to allow a few minutes for human gathering. Because our platforms don’t allow multiple people to speak at the same time (like we would in a live meeting), you may need to formalize ways to communicate the same kind of human interactions. Here are a few ideas that seem to be working for teams:

  • Around the Room Check-In
    Have everyone respond to a quick question. For example, “All right everyone, let’s go around the room and share one thing you’re looking forward to this week.” Or, “Share one good experience you’ve had with a client/customer in recent days.” These starters can be on task or on mission for your company. They can also be more tailored to simple human interests. The point is to know where your team emotionally as you begin to meet. 

2. Freedom from Self Viewing

One added stress we face in online meetings is seeing ourselves. This is not normal and adds a layer of overlooked stress.  Workers are naturally how they come across, how they are viewed, and how they are perceived. In real meetings, we see others, but not ourselves. On Zoom or other platforms, we constantly see ourselves (especially if we choose gallery view). 

Most people believe stopping their video feed is the only approach to lower this kind of stress. However, you can encourage members of your team to “hide” their video. This can lower their personal energy invested in seeing themselves and constantly being concerned. 

You may also want to give team members freedom to block their video for short bursts to allow them to stand, stretch, etc., but not to exit the meeting. Assure them their presence and attention is vital to the team and keep them involved. 

3. Fewer Meetings, Shorter Lengths

Since everyone is feeling this fatigue at one level or another, give yourself and everyone a break by condensing both your meeting schedule and the length of your meetings. 

 Do a gut check with your core leadership team and ask these questions:

  • What meetings are absolutely essential for this organization to function? If a meeting can be eliminated, consider cancelling the meeting or reducing the frequency. 
  • What meetings can be shortened substantially? And, what would it take to reduce the time commitment for these? For example, if your team has a daily check-in, consider checking in only a few days a week, and only for 10-15 minutes max. Just optimize your purpose. Having a regular check-in with your team is another way to function efficiently and increase human connection. 
  • What is the optimal or maximum meeting length? Because people are sitting at computers so much, going too much beyond 45 minutes can really drain your team. If a meeting requires more than 45 minutes, give good breaks for people to grab a drink and rest their eyes/minds. 

4. Teach Best Practices for Your Team

Even in a face-to-face work world, we know back-to-back meetings can wipe you out. Teach your team to schedule “buffers” between their meetings…and support those buffers. Allowing your team members time to gather themselves mentally between meetings optimizes their performance during meetings. You want them at their best. They want to be at their best. You can help them by encouraging healthy schedules. 

This also requires you asking, “When is my team at their best? And, is that when we should meet? Or, is that when they should work?” When our best hours are consumed with meetings, our energy for customers and clients may suffer. 

It’s perfectly fine to ask team members who mentally check out of meetings to fight the urge and intentionally engage. You’ll need to decide if private chats, texting, working on the side, etc. are permissible behaviors. If your team members are focused, the meeting will be more productive. On-task teams have the ability to meet with speed and efficiency. 

One additional practice many top companies have engaged is this: Schedule a “no-meeting” day for your organization. Everyone needs a break from the increased screen time. However, if the entire organization isn’t on the same page, no one will have an actual break. 

5. If You Can’t Plan A Meeting, Don’t Call A Meeting

This one is possibly the most difficult. Owners, managers, and leaders often have standing meetings. Without the online fatigue factor, it was probably overlooked because people typically like being with people. However, in today’s virtual meeting world, a good rule is this: If you can’t plan your meeting, don’t call that meeting. It would be better to delay and shorten a meeting than to start it on time and try to wing it. 

Too often, attending meetings has been equated with work. However, most team meetings should only enhance worker productivity. This requires a meaningful, workable agenda everyone can value. 

Your team is critical to your success. Your team meetings can make or break your team. Work hard as a leader to help your team by crafting meetings that connect, inspire, and value the time everyone is investing.

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