Best Practice

5 tips for great virtual team meeting experiences during the coronavirus crisis

Whether you like the thought or not, virtual and remote working looks like the real future of work post Coronavirus lockdown.

Employees are proving that almost everything they did in the office can be done remotely, and probably better.

While we grapple with the personal intrusion of video-conferencing, dabble with different forms of technology and discover new boundaries to our working world, here are five ways to ensure your virtual team meetings are a great experience.

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1. Use the right video software

There is no substitute for real-life, in-person interaction.  However, video conferencing provides a very good second option.  Video calls are a fabulous way to help satisfy our innate need for human connectivity during the coronavirus outbreak.

Through this medium, we see facial expressions and body language cues during conversations which help create a more real-life experience.  So, let’s agree that to run virtual team meetings better, we have to include the use of video conferencing.

There’s a lot of choice in terms of which video software to use.  Some are free. Some have limitations on meeting length or number of attendees. 

Others have helpful or fun functionality like session recording, screen sharing, playing games or breakout group options, for example.  So it may be that you decide to use different platforms to serve your varying meeting needs.

Here are two articles that might help you see what’s available and best for your needs:

useful at-a-glance comparison article 

video conferencing comparison 

And of course, our cell phones lend themselves well to one-to-one or small group video calls thanks to FaceTime, WhatsApp, Houseparty, and Hangouts, with the added bonuses of being completely free and very easy to use.

2. Preparation is king

When it comes to using technology, one thing is for sure, you must test it in advance.  Familiarise yourself with using whichever video conferencing software you intend to use. 

Run a test meeting and try out the functionality. If you’re setting it up on behalf of a leader, run a test meeting together in advance of the real thing so you’re both confident and more relaxed on the day.  

Always join meetings early so you can troubleshoot, get everything set up on the screen and allow others to join on time.  A welcoming, happy face on-screen sets a much more positive tone for others than a late-joining, stressed-out meeting host.

3. Apply usual good meeting practices

Virtual meetings are… yes, meetings, so good practice still applies.

  • Be clear on the purpose of your meeting (and the need to meet at all).
  • Set and send out the agenda to attendees in advance so they know what to prepare and expect.
  • Invite people appropriately.  They should either be a key contributor, providing information, ideas or decision-making or the content should be relevant for them.  Virtual meetings still take up precious time so make sure it’s time well spent for every attendee.
  • Schedule according to everyone’s availability by using tools like Doodle poll (with date and time options for people to select) or a World Clock Meeting Planner (to make sure the time selected works for people across different time zones).
  • Make sure everyone enables their video and audio (obviously!) and then use the mute button to reduce background noise distractions.
  • Allocate key roles to attendees for chairing, timekeeping, noting actions etc., to keep the meeting running smoothly and boost engagement from participants.
  • Chair inclusively by ensuring each meeting attendee has the opportunity to contribute and share their thoughts equally.  
  • Agree and adhere to meeting rules like joining on time, phones on silent and listening to and respecting the input of others, as you normally would do.

4. Create a toolkit to enhance the meeting experience

To enhance your video meeting experience while boosting team effectiveness and interactivity further, consider using apps, technology and tools during the meeting, as well as afterwards, to keep the virtual conversation and team spirit going.

Decide what you need to get done or achieve during the meeting and select the right tools from your technical toolkit to help.

Project management tools are great for keeping a track of tasks, responsibilities, decisions, and progress.  Popular tools include Asana, Trello, and Slack. For those who can’t attend the meeting, these platforms serve as an inclusive and trusted way to find information updates, actions and decisions at a later date.

Real-time collaboration tools enable document creation or real-time editing to enhance the feeling of working together on a project or idea.  Google Docs and Microsoft Online are the obvious choices here.

Engagement tools and functionality boost attendee participation.  Use polls, quizzes, posting questions in the chat function or break-out group functionality to keep energy levels high.  

5. Connect on a human level

Virtual meetings should not be all work and no play.  When run well they help create a psychologically safe space for all team members to feel able to contribute. They help bond a team and boost productivity and collaboration.

  • Have casual check-ins at the beginning of each meeting to find out how everyone is feeling and set the tone and pace of the rest of the meeting accordingly.  
  • Vary the type of virtual meetings to ensure a balance between work and fun.  Great work gets done when teams trust and understand one another so value and allow time for informal chat.  Just bring your own drinks to a ‘coffee and catch-up’, ‘post-work online social event’ or ‘virtual fancy dress party’ to liven things up!

There is no doubt in my mind that virtual meetings are here to stay.  And I’m sure the quality of our far-flung relationships will improve ten-fold because we are fortunate to have the technology to support us. 

This is definitely one blessing during these unsettling times of change.

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