As the face of the modern-day professional world changes radically, so too do our work habits. And, we know that one of the most visible ways we’re seeing this shift, is in where people work.
According to Gallup, the percentage of employees who work remotely in some capacity rose from 39% in 2012 to 43% in 2016. So, the reality is that work can’t be done the way it was before.
Having looked at how to manage remote teams in our recent blog, we’ll now zoom in on one of the aspects that comes with remote working: virtual team meetings, and how to run these effectively.
As a national team that collaborates with consultants and partners around the world, we know just how important it is to run effective virtual meetings.
We also know it’s not always easy.
There are a handful of challenges that come with presenting and attending virtual meetings, but these shouldn’t prevent you from doing so successfully and with the desired results.
We’ll start by discussing some of the common challenges project managers and other professionals face during virtual meetings and will then look at how you can overcome these obstacles (helping you to lead your team well and make progress on your projects).
Unpacking the challenges
1. Time factors
Ask most professionals and they’ll tell you that they feel virtual meetings aren’t the best use of their time. Many times, virtual team meetings lack formal agendas and can go on far too long. This is exacerbated by other factors that we’ll discuss below. When this is the case (bearing in mind that many of these meetings happen across different time zones), someone might be left hanging on at an awkward time.
2. Practical deterrents
In line with the above point, meetings can take too long to start or may be interrupted, thanks to technical glitches. Sometimes, people have difficulty signing in to the meeting space or they have issues with their connectivity – you’re familiar with the scene.
Some suggest that our attention spans are dwindling. It’s not hard to believe when considering all the information rushing at us every day. The truth is, it’s tricky to stay focused in a lengthy meeting – and even more so when one isn’t surrounded by the meeting’s participants.
The temptation to check emails and social media, or carry on with other tasks during the meeting is very real, so you may be left competing for your team’s focus.
4. Poor communication
Clear communication is really the essence of a successful virtual meeting. But, it doesn’t always happen, unfortunately. Aside from background noise that can really interfere with one’s ability to hear what is being said, it’s not always easy to tell who is doing the talking.
Getting a word in can also become more difficult in virtual team meetings, especially where there is no agenda and discussions are drawn out. Conversely, it’s easy to “hide” behind one’s screen and not participate – and when everyone has the same idea, long silences (especially following questions) can follow.
5. Low accountability
Oftentimes, participants don’t prepare as thoroughly for a virtual meeting as they would for an in-person meeting. This also contributes to meetings not being focused or time efficient. Further, participants may be less inclined to do the necessary follow through after a virtual meeting.
How to overcome these challenges
To move virtual meetings in the right direction, and in a time-conscious manner, clarify and share the meeting objectives before the call.
Share your agenda, as well as presentations, notes and plans before the meeting and ask people to discuss the necessary points during the meeting.
In addition, share any relevant technical information or sign-in steps in an easily accessible place to avoid glitches that might delay the start of a meeting.
2. Get others involved
Ask others to contribute to the agenda, but don’t try to cram it – leave space for creativity and end early if nothing unexpected crops up.
Getting people to contribute will encourage engagement and keep participants focused on the discussions, and will also prompt the flow of discussion. When individuals feel prepared and that their input is valuable, they’ll be more likely to participate in a meaningful way.
3. Stick to the agenda
Nobody has time to waste, so keep meetings as concise as possible by sticking to the agenda (and ending early if there is room to do so, as mentioned above). Showing that you value others’ time will no doubt go a long way in earning their favor and respect.
Time your agenda and be strict about avoiding tangents. Where applicable, take some conversations offline for a separate conversation with specific individuals.
4. Have a “video on” rule
To avoid losing people to their emails and social media accounts, put a “video on” rule in place when hosting Zoom, Teams or similar meetings. Not only does this encourage focus, but it also reveals facial expression and body language to some extent, which are helpful (and often necessary) aspects of communication.
5. Follow up
To enhance accountability and to encourage participants to do what they need to beyond the virtual meeting, it’s important to document the required action points. Record actions and meeting notes, and share these immediately after the meeting to keep everyone on the same page and accountable.
Although some challenges are presented with the evolution of the professional world, we are also equipped with powerful technology and software solutions that help us succeed.
Project management software supports the hosting of successful virtual team meetings by keeping all stakeholders in the loop and up to date on the latest developments.
With cloud-based project management platforms, like Viewpath, you can be sure that everyone on your team is looking at the same version of the project plan. Viewpath enables you to assign tasks and set reminders, as well as track task status and project progress in real-time.
When it comes to virtual meetings, this helps sharpen the focus of discussions and can save you valuable time.