We all know the routine of working in virtual environments. Even now, we still ask how virtual meetings can be more productive. How can we make a virtual meeting feel like what we were used to with in-person work?
In many ways, virtual meetings have both simplified and complicated the way we work. Luckily, there are some simple, easy ways we can make a virtual meeting great.
Tips for Running a Great Virtual Meeting
Over-Communicate With Your Coworkers
We are not communicating in person with virtual meetings. That already leaves chances for critical pieces of information to get lost.
More often, though, bits of what we say might get lost through an iffy Internet connection. That might mean pausing every so often to let people ask questions or catch up with what you’ve been saying.
A rule of thumb is to allow at least 10-15 extra minutes for questions or discussion. That’ll also allow more time to repeat or clarify key points. We also take opportunities for people to ask questions, even if it doesn’t look like anyone has any.
Give your coworkers the freedom to pose their questions in any way they like. Usually, that means speaking them aloud to the whole group or using the chat feature to type them out in private. Either way, it’s good to help your coworkers feel comfortable communicating with you.
In short, don’t be afraid of over-communicating with your coworkers. It’s better to hammer the point across too many times than not enough.
What Gets Lost in Remote Work
Remote work has created a whole different work environment. We no longer walk into an office to the sounds of coffee grinders, pencil sharpeners, and chatter. Many people work better when they have other people and noise around them. So, losing that gentle background ambiance is sometimes a jarring change.
In some ways, in-person work brings a natural camaraderie to the workplace. We sit among other people in the same room or building, sharing their energy as they work. Working from home, especially if we are alone in our space, eliminates that energy.
You might have had a workspace where you could walk up to your coworker or knock on your boss’s door. Nowadays, sending emails and using chat features has replaced talking in person. Sometimes, those emails don’t get answered before the workday ends, hindering productivity.
How We Can Make Up for What We’ve Lost
It’s no secret that virtual meetings need a lot more work than normal ones. Luckily, there are a few simple ways to make virtual meetings less challenging. The first step is to look at the beginning of your meeting or the preamble.
Have a Preamble
The fun part of the preamble is that you can get creative with bringing your meeting together. For one thing, you can invite everyone to say hello in the group chat. Doing so lets you know who’s present in the meeting. It is also a gentle exercise for getting comfortable with the technology.
You can also thank everyone for coming, even if the meeting is mandatory. Starting everyone on the same note grounds the meeting and starts it off fresh. Something as simple as reminding your group about the meeting’s recording can help.
Be Intentional with Small Talk
Small talk is usually the most significant thing lost in a virtual meeting. In-person, you can talk to whoever you like without feeling like the whole room is listening in. So, it’s kind of awkward to have small talk in a video chat.
Even if you want to chat with a few other people, it’s hard to keep the conversation private. Of course, you could use the message chat, but that’s not the same as talking to people in-person. Most often, people leave their mikes and cameras off until the meeting starts. It’s not always preferable to have such silence before a meeting.
To make up for losing the small-talk aspect, you should make time for it with the group. You can ask preliminary questions that get people willing to speak up. You could also ask what people did to relax the day before and state something you did to get things started.
Running a Meeting
Time to get down to brass tax: when should you use agendas and communicate in a virtual environment?
When to Use an Agenda
Most meetings, whether they have a formal agenda or not, happen for a reason. Stating clearly what you hope to get done with this meeting will help everyone start on the same foot.
Using a virtual agenda allows everyone to take notes and come up with questions. Plus, it helps everyone see what that meeting’s focus will be.
Here’s the thing: you don’t have to be ambitious and solve every little problem in one meeting. You must also consider what kind of meeting you’re trying to have because the key is to focus. Are you updating your staff on some policy changes? Are you trying to brainstorm ideas together? The type of meeting you have will dictate how you and your staff approach it.
Having a set agenda also means the meeting can be shorter. Much of the time, people like knowing what they have to do and then set out to do it. When there is no direction, nothing gets done. Try setting time blocks for each meeting, so everyone knows how long a part of the discussion will go.
Sidebar: The Ask Me Anything Model
The Ask Me Anything model creates an open-ended platform. With this model, anyone can ask questions that anyone present can answer.
That’s not to say that the AMA model has no focus. More often, these meetings tackle general topics. The great part is that all participants can ask questions or make comments. Questions can pop up in the meeting itself, or people can send them to the meeting host ahead of time. The point is to make everyone more comfortable with speaking up.
The AMA model works best when your team is trying to brainstorm. It also works when you’re addressing feedback or complaints. People can submit these things anonymously for better comfort. Then, leaders have the freedom to answer these questions and complaints in private.
How to Make Sure Everyone is on the Same Page
Getting everyone comfortable in the meeting is one thing. So, what happens when cultural differences in language or formality are present?
We often assume that using the same technology puts us on the same page. Cultural differences in a virtual environment are a lot more nuanced than that.
What is the Customer’s Language?
An old work adage is that the meeting’s language is the customer’s language. If your customer is French, then someone on the team needs to speak that language. If your customer is Chinese, then someone needs to speak Mandarin, etc.
In short, whatever language your meeting will be in, someone will need to know how to speak and handle it. Doing so will better accommodate the customer.
Some people might use other variants of English, like British English. Having a working knowledge of such variants will help create effective communication.
Slow Down Your Speech
Using familiar English phrases can help international team members better understand you. So can slowing down your speech and enunciating your words.
Remember that these team members may need extra time to listen, translate, and come up with a response. All those steps take a lot of work. So give them space to respond without making them feel self-conscious.
That also means no using “baseball English” where you use phrases like, “step up to the plate” or “Let’s hit a home run.” Unless baseball is a common sport for all team members, language like that will not mean anything.
Translate Meeting Agenda into Different Languages
It’s beneficial to create a meeting agenda that all team members can understand. If team members prefer a non-English language, prepare materials in that language.
Also, be aware of how other cultures might expect the meeting to go. Many Asian countries prefer asking questions or making suggestions rather than making decisions. As a cultural rule, they need time and space to process information. Only then are they comfortable bringing ideas to the table.
If they don’t, you might find them “huddling,” speaking together in their native language. If everyone is wondering what those team members are saying, that will slow things down.
Virtual meetings can leave some people feeling vulnerable and the slightest bit uncomfortable. That sometimes means digging deeper into the values and traditions they hold closest.
On that note, you’ll need to allot more time to comprehend the conversation and respond. Most important of all, keep in mind what different cultures expect from the meeting.
Technology is helpful, but we have to do more work with virtual meetings. Prepare agendas ahead so people know what to discuss. Write them in other languages as necessary to help with cultural barriers. You must also be mindful of the meeting’s purpose.
Virtual meetings are not going away anytime soon. So we encourage you to keep trying new things with them. Even if you’re worried about cultural barriers, be patient and stay optimistic.