March 11, 2021 | Molly Neel and Felicia Truong
Whether you're on Team Sweatpants All Day or Team Dress Like You're Going to the Office, COVID-19 has hastened the transition to remote work for many occupations, and it doesn't appear to be changing anytime soon. Many of us have been learning new remote working skills or dusting them off. It's likely you've been tasked with facilitating a virtual meeting to keep your team moving and relationships growing. We're here to take it back to the basics and help you not screw it up! With these do's and don'ts in mind, your next remote gathering could be smooth, painless, and even dare we say...fun?
For virtual meetings, well-thought-out and clear agendas are especially important. Ask yourself what you're trying to achieve and what inputs or decisions you need to achieve it. Consider estimated allotted times for each item to help you plan for the meeting time and prioritize should things start to go longer than the time that has been allotted.
Then Test it Again! There are many virtual platform options, from Zoom to WebEx to Microsoft Teams and beyond. To accommodate everyone's needs, you may be running two to three for different contexts. Tech issues will happen! Do your best to avoid them by running practice meetings, sending out user-friendly guides, offering to help orient participants to the technology beforehand, and designating a separate team member for tech support during larger remote events. And, while you're at it, learn about all of the options available at your organization. Maybe you have access to whiteboard apps, built-in polls, custom music, and other tools that will help your team connect and feel productive. Encourage your team or other participants to keep their cameras on for better social connections and non-verbal clues, then lead by example.
Accept that when you try new things, there is always a risk that things may not work out. That's OK! We're living in an exceptionally stressful time and have been forced to adapt rapidly in the past year. It helps builds trust and informal bonds – two things that are harder to form virtually – when you can openly acknowledge and discuss missteps, then learn from them.
Trust your team's perspective and skills, and don't be scared to delegate portions of your meeting or workshop to the team to lead. Involve your team in planning and solicit their opinions. Knowle's Principles of Adult Learning teach us that adults are problem-based learners and learn best by doing. You'll improve your team and create a more dynamic meeting if you allow others to take the reins and lead portions of the agenda. And, if you've followed tip #3, your team might be more likely to take acceptable risks in the safe space you've created!
Whether you call them icebreakers, warm-ups, or energizers, quick activities help transition into meetings keep everyone engaged, and improve collaboration between team members. Describing what these activities will be on the agenda shared beforehand can help reduce participants' anxiety and increase participation. Using the break-out room feature to create smaller groups for ice breakers can also help introverted or new participants connect with the team. Try some of our favorite resources here, here, and here to get started!
With the potential technology issues and reduction of in-person social cues, don't assume the same meeting held virtually will take the same amount of time as in-person. It's vital to add in time to ensure completion of critical group tasks, build consensus, gather feedback, make decisions, and, last by not least, build relationships (e.g., see tips #4 and #5). Also, consider scheduling "water cooler" time for the end of the meeting to allow space for participants to connect informally and reflect like after in-person meetings. It also helps to designate one person to be in charge of recording and clarifying clear next steps and action items and then have these notes shared with all participants.
Virtual meetings can offer many benefits to your team and organization, opening a world of possibility in connecting with those physically near or far. Whether these tips were a reminder or new ideas for you, we hope you go forth and not only not screw up, but also thrive in planning and leading your next virtual meeting.