Improving Virtual Meetings During COVID-19

One of the interesting topics addressed at a virtual social event I attended recently was the lament of virtual meetings. We all see the need of course, but the utility sometimes was lost with many of us on all these meetings, not to mention the sheer volume for those of us fortunate enough to be working from home.

As we have moved into the era of COVID-19 telework, the need to have required virtual meetings has also been a difficult adjustment. In fact, like many of us, I assumed the number of meetings would be less. However, and for the foreseeable future, it seems that the number of meetings seems to have gone up a great degree, according to Darren Chait, co-founder of Hugo, an open-source static site generator for creating websites. This certainly explains why Friday seems to not only come much faster these days but is also a welcome respite.

The Darren Chait article also argues that we need to be more judicious in how we are using these meetings. After being guilty myself of some of these issues, I agree with his premises and have since made adjustments.

According to Chait, his firm has an interesting metric:

…We’ve all seen the memes about meetings that should have been emails, and there’s certainly truth behind the anti-meeting rhetoric. Even though Hugo is a meeting-technology company, we have an internal rule for our team: No more than 10% of our workweek can be spent in meetings with the team

I also agree with when meetings should be conducted:

…Working from home should not be cause for more meetings. Applying a simple “when to meet” framework can slash the number of hours competing with productive time, and lead to meetings being reserved for a specific way of working that truly needs everyone’s attention. Count the number of internal meetings you and your team are attending this week and ask yourself what is left when you remove the updates, reviews, syncs, and discussions?…

So how can we improve the effectiveness of the meetings that we do need?

Have an agenda. The quality of these online meetings can be a function of the thought and care put into the meeting agenda, and then sticking to it! A best practice is to distribute the agenda ahead of time. If available or being used, display the agenda in online meeting software, in the comments, or shared on the screen. Since many of our virtual meeting are likely to be audio only, the meeting host or facilitator should go through the agenda and then move the discussion through each point.

Actively Facilitation. Virtual meetings require higher levels of facilitation than in-person discussions. Whoever is facilitating the meeting needs to play an active role in moving the conversation along and allowing time for people to give their updates and opinions. As I have learned long ago, do not be afraid to move the conversation along, even if that means cutting people off or redirecting to making progress at the task needing the discussion. As a facilitator, firmly direct the conversation through the agenda and across all the participants.

Have Clear Next Steps and End on Time. Next steps should always be at the tail end of any virtual meeting. All too often, and I am guilty of doing this myself, a great and productive discussion will go past the allotted time for the meeting, and next steps get rushed without clear and thoughtful discussion. Once captured and thoughtfully discussed as the last part of the agenda, next steps should then be emailed to meeting participants and the virtual meeting should always end on time.

Following some of these best practices may be difficult, but they will help alleviate some of the stress and huge workloads related to COVID-19. Nonetheless, let’s all practice extra patience and kindness to our colleagues in the coming weeks. We’ll get through this together!

What suggestions do you have to improve the quality of virtual meetings? Is COVID-19 causing more meetings for the sake of meeting in your line of work?

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