How to get work done in virtual meetings
Expectations for meetings have dramatically shifted in recent weeks. Virtual meetings are no longer just for checking in; real work is getting done. However, you cannot use the same meeting standards and best practices you used in the office for your virtual meetings and expect to be as productive.
Think of a group meeting you have coming up soon that you will be facilitating, adopt this process to that meeting, and you will see results in the amount of work your team can get done virtually.
Step 1: Try to talk yourself out of having the meeting
As a meeting attendee, you have surely thought “this meeting could have been an email” at one time or another. As the host of the next meeting, you should ask yourself that same question. If it’s not a critical meeting, don’t have it. If the information is urgent, or if your team must hear this information directly from you, still hold the meeting. If the information is self-explanatory, make it an email. Remember that real work is still getting done and the fewer, better-quality meetings you have, the more good work can be done.
We are all having more meetings than we typically would right now and that’s perfectly normal. Since we’re not seeing each other in the hallways or break room, it is important to have meetings just to check in and see how everyone is doing. Don’t let these check-ins overtake the critical, important meetings, but still check on your teammates and see how they’re doing — we all need to stay connected right now.
Step 2: Get clear on your outcomes
Once you know this is a meeting that must happen, determine what must be on the table by the end of the meeting. Does a decision need to be made? Are you writing a timeline or criteria? Do you need a list of options? The more you think about what needs to be done or decided by the end of the meeting, the better you can write an agenda for it and invite the right people to the meeting. Get clear on your thoughts and write it all down. Use verbs like “decide,” “establish,” and “outline” to clearly know what the outcome will need to be.
Step 3: Craft your agenda
Now that you have an outcome in mind, how are you going to get there? Your agenda is not a list of topics to discuss but rather a thought process to guide you from point A to point B. When you know where you need to land, you can plan your meeting accordingly. If you get caught up in the discussion and are not focused as a team on the final decision, you will wind up having another meeting and that doesn’t need to happen. Stay focused on the outcome.
Step 4: Invite the right people and prepare them
Notice that deciding who actually needs to be at your meeting is step four and not step one. The whole team likely does not need to be invited to your meeting. Think instead of who needs to be “in the room” and free up the team members who don’t need to be there so they can keep working on their own tasks. Remember that fewer, better-quality meetings are key right now. If they are not a decision-maker on this matter, don’t invite them. Get as many decision-makers to attend as possible — if the meeting is full of their representatives, no decisions can be made in the end.
Set the tone and build a healthy virtual meeting culture by setting the purpose of the meeting ahead of time and give attendees prework with consequences should they not complete it. Highly disciplined meetings might take some getting used to, but it will establish expectations and your leadership style, which attendees will respect. Once that is established, attendees will realize that actual decisions are made in your meetings and real work is getting done, which will make them excited to attend your meetings again in the future.
Step 5: Facilitate the heck out of it
As the host of the meeting, it is your job to keep the attendees moving in the right direction, stay focused, and manage time — all classic elements of a good facilitator. But now that meetings are of a more virtual nature, you also need to mix it up and “geek” out a little:
- Include video in your presentations, make them as visual as possible, and keep them interesting.
- Ask thought-provoking questions and get everyone talking by changing speakers from time to time.
- Set ground rules as you see fit to silence phones and notifications to stay as present as possible.
- Incorporate some time at the beginning or end of the meeting to catch up and enjoy “seeing” your team members while you have them there with you!
Productive virtual meetings start with great meeting practices and preparation. By deciding if meetings actually need to happen, setting clear outcomes, crafting strong agendas, inviting the right people, and facilitating a great meeting, you’ll be on the path to virtual meeting success. Watch this full webinar for even more actionable tips on making your virtual meetings productive: https://www.uwcped.org/virtual-meetings-webinar.
Susan Finerty is an instructor at the Wisconsin School of Business, Center for Professional & Executive Development.
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