In this guide you’ll learn:
The differences and similarities between virtual and physical meetings
Why virtual meetings will continue to be important and how to adapt
Survey results from managers and employees on virtual meetings
8 tactical strategies to improve virtual meeting productivity
Workplaces have evolved dramatically. With technology enabling people to work from anywhere, remote, distributed, and hybrid teams are fast becoming the norm, which means it’s necessary to connect with your team virtually. Although virtual meetings are extremely common, they still come with several challenges that make them difficult to facilitate.
Our team is completely remote, so we’ve been perfecting our virtual meetings for many years now. We’re continually trying to improve our processes, and we often reach out to our customers and community to learn more about the state of remote work, including a recent study on the state of virtual meetings in 2021.
What is a virtual meeting?
A virtual meeting is just that—a meeting conducted virtually. If you manage remote or distributed teams, getting everyone in the same physical space is nearly impossible, which makes it necessary to hold meetings online. And if you’re breathing a sigh of relief that you don’t manage a remote, distributed, or hybrid team, don’t think you’re free and clear just yet—after all, the ways in which we work are changing, and remote work and work from home options are on a steady rise. In other words, remote teams are here to stay, which means virtual meetings are too.
Virtual meetings come with many of the same challenges that physical meetings do. You need to organize the right people, collaborate on an agenda, ensure everyone is fully engaged and present during the meeting, and make sure that everyone understands exactly what they are responsible for after the meeting concludes.
While meetings, virtual or otherwise, often get a bad rep, they are necessary to align teams and team members on goals, connect with employees and direct reports, ideate and innovate, drive momentum, and stay accountable.
When team members have the right tools to prepare for a meeting and understand what outcomes they are accountable for, stress and confusion are minimized, and the employee experience is significantly improved. As the number of distributed teams continues to grow, employee experience during a virtual meeting must be an essential consideration.
📚 Learn how to make virtual meetings more engaging with our guide: Meeting Management: A Step by Step Guide to Better Team Discussions.
How to improve virtual meeting productivity
1. Build collaborative agendas
The most effective virtual meetings have collaborative meeting agendas that prepare every meeting member for what happens before, during, and after the meeting. It’s a process that ensures meetings stay on track with a clear purpose, goals, and time frame.
Without a meeting agenda, attendees don’t know what to expect, and meetings—especially virtual ones—can run off the rails fast. Who should speak when? Are those who need to speak prepared? What are you trying to achieve? How much time is allotted for each topic? Are the right people present? Who is taking notes and keeping track of action items?
Agendas need to be built collaboratively so that all of the important information is surfaced and organized before the meeting begins. The collaboration helps align team members and allows people to take ownership over how the meeting will play out.
Agendas should clearly define the purpose of the call and facilitate a framework for discussion and meeting organization.
We have an in-depth article that explains how to build an effective meeting agenda. Here are some of the most important points.
- Begin with a clearly defined meeting purpose and goals
- List discussion topics with clarity and detail
- Assign talking points to notify those who need to speak
- Collaborate on the agenda and share it with attendees before the meeting
- Empower team members to own parts of the agenda for a collaborative experience
- During the meeting, check off discussion topics as they occur
- Monitor timing to ensure topics stay on track and the meeting doesn’t go overtime
- Assign action items as they come up to ensure tasks are completed before the next meeting
If you’re facilitating the meeting, it’s important to build a little "water-cooler" time into the agenda—read our virtual team building activities round-up for ideas. It’s difficult to create a connection with your team when working remotely. In a WorkPatterns questionnaire on the state of virtual meetings, more than half of respondents said that establishing a personal connection is the biggest challenge with one on ones. Building rapport during regular check-ins, especially during 1:1 meetings, is essential.
2. Invite the right people
Meetings eat up time, and virtual meetings are no exception. When the wrong people are invited to a meeting, it wastes precious time, hinders the productivity of the meeting, and kills team morale—no one wants their time to be wasted. 😤
If you invite too many people to the meeting, you risk low engagement and frustrated team members, but there are also consequences to inviting too few people. If the right people aren’t present, the whole meeting can slow or stall because you need clarification or approval from someone who should be present but isn’t.
Both of these issues are solved by ensuring the exact right people are invited to each meeting. Setting a clear purpose for the meeting and working through the process of creating a meeting agenda will help you sort through who needs to attend and who would be superfluous.
Don’t get caught up with the status quo. Just because your attendee list worked for a recurring meeting in the past doesn’t mean it’s still the right set of attendees. Always assess your processes and ask for feedback along the way to make sure you have the right people tuning in to each virtual meeting.
3. Schedule meetings only when necessary
Meetings are a point of contention for many businesses. There are always going to be those who feel they have too many meetings, whereas others believe more meetings are necessary. While it may be difficult to get everyone to agree on an ideal number of meetings, scheduling too many meetings can seriously hinder productivity—especially when meetings lack structure or clear objectives.
39% of managers and 35% of individual contributors said they find ‘meeting fatigue’ to be the biggest challenge of virtual meetings, followed by making personal connections, connecting with technology, and brainstorming and collaborating.
Before scheduling a meeting, ask yourself if it is truly necessary. Could your questions or concerns be answered in an email or with a brief Slack conversation? If you have regularly scheduled recurring meetings when was the last time you assessed the significance and purpose of those meetings? Is every member still required to attend? Is the meeting providing everyone value? Is it still the right length? Is it held at a convenient recurring time, or is it hindering people’s schedules? Do you even remember why you started meeting in the first place?
Regular check-ins and meetings with your team are vital to optimizing productivity and team alignment, but bouncing around from meeting to meeting means that other important work is being pushed aside. Carefully review each of your meetings to ensure each one serves a clear purpose and concludes with tangible action items for every attending team member.
📚 Learn how to tell if you’re having too many meetings in our article: Too many meetings? The good, the bad, and the unnecessary.
4. Don’t forget about team building
One exception to this ‘only when necessary’ rule is finding time for fun team-building opportunities. Working remotely can leave employees feeling isolated since there are fewer naturally occurring chances for them to engage with other team members about subjects not related to work. There’s not a shared physical space to have lunch, and people can’t simply bump into each other at the water cooler.
Simple, fun, and engaging virtual team-building opportunities can combat work from home isolation, build workplace trust, and boost team morale. Notably, managers and individuals say that these types of fun, happy hour events are the most difficult to curate virtually.
This is why it’s so important for managers and business owners to prioritize team building for remote teams. These shared activities keep remote teams connected and engaged with each other outside of work tasks, and when done well, they can fuel a cohesive, happy team that truly enjoys working with one another. And if that’s not enough, entertaining team-building activities will do wonders for your employee retention and attraction.
5. Meeting etiquette applies
Even though the meeting is virtual and you may be participating from home, proper meeting etiquette still applies. If you wouldn’t do it in person, don’t do it virtually.
Virtual meeting etiquette tips:
- Review the meeting agenda and come prepared
- Ensure the space behind you is clean
- Ensure you are clean and presentable
- Check your tech before the meeting begins
- Arrive on time (which means a few minutes early)
- Silence your phone (or leave it in another room)
- Stay focused and engaged
- Take notes and record action items
- Don’t move around a lot on camera (it’s distracting)
- Don’t eat during the meeting
- Keep any pets, roommates, children, or spouses out (ensure your space is quiet)
- Mute your mic when you’re not speaking
📚 Learn more in our guide: Zoom Etiquette 101.
6. Discourage multitasking
Do not multitask during the meeting. Just don’t do it. It’s disrespectful to the other attendees and signals to them you have more important things to do. Keep all of your focus on the meeting; it’s not a chance to catch up on some other tasks, and if you do feel that way, it’s certainly a sign that you’re having too many meetings!
Multitasking won’t be an issue if everyone knows exactly why they are attending the meeting and what their specific role is. Since everything being discussed is relevant and essential to each meeting participant, there shouldn’t be an opportunity to jump over to another task.
As a manager, it’s up to you to ensure meetings are engaging, informative, and purposeful to prevent multitasking from occurring in the first place. If you notice it happening during your meetings, resist the urge to scold or call people out. Instead, provide constructive feedback and ask them if there’s anything you can do to help. Are meetings occurring at a busy time in their schedule? Are they having trouble keeping up with their work? Did they need to take care of an unforeseen emergency?
Facilitate team engagement with WorkPatterns Meeting Mode, which allows all meeting attendees to follow along together with discussion topics and action items, keeping everyone engaged and limiting distractions.
7. Set action items and remember to follow-up
The meeting doesn’t end when you exit the Zoom window. Conclude the meeting by reviewing the action items and asking if anyone needs clarity about what happens next.
Attendees should leave the meeting with clear goals in mind, and they should have a time frame for when action items need to be completed by. How are people held accountable after the meeting wraps up and team members go their separate ways?
Ensure nothing slips through the cracks by establishing clear action items that are directly assigned to a person or team. If people leave the meeting unsure of their tasks, the meeting wasn’t a success. Accountability is important to ensure your next meeting runs smoothly and that work continues to move forward in between meetings.
💡 Accountability isn’t the same as responsibility. Learn how to Build a Culture of Accountability in the Workplace.
8. Choose the right tools
There are more tools and resources available for remote teams than ever before, which could be why more than 70% of our survey respondents say virtual meetings are getting easier.
Virtual tools help teams connect online, keep track of tasks, manage workflows, and document progress. Without these critical tools, working remotely would be nearly impossible, but with a lot of choices comes more responsibility in choosing the tools that work best for your team.
Virtual meeting tools should improve your productivity and wellbeing. They exist to make your life easier, not more complicated. Before investing in a new tool, consider how it will improve your systems, how it will interact with your team and the other tools you are already using, and whether or not your team will be on board.
At WorkPatterns, it’s probably no surprise that our team loves using the WorkPatterns platform for creating meeting agendas, managing action items, and providing consistent and constructive feedback.
Virtual meetings are the new status quo
Virtual meetings are here to stay, and although they may be getting easier, many of us still have a long way to go toward optimizing the effectiveness and efficiency of our virtual meetings.
Clear agendas, discussion topics, and action items are vital for virtual meetings, and WorkPatterns can help. Our platform provides One on Ones, Team Collaboration, Feedback, Recognition & Goals — all in one place. With WorkPatterns, meetings are made simple with clear schedules, goals, shared agendas, and outcomes.