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It’s been over four years since our remote consulting team started exploring ways of using Zoom software to run effective virtual meetings.

Our single biggest objective was to provide our customers with ease of use. Zoom was the best product we found on the market at the time that fit this criteria so we were not surprised that, fast forward to 2020, and COVID-19, they have seen such significant gains in market share. Even my most technologically challenged friend suggests we hop on a “Zoom” these days.

But let’s back up. When building WNDYR, we understood that work spans five specific areas:

  • Time
  • Tasks
  • Communication
  • Documentation
  • Meetings

These items challenge brick-and-mortar businesses, but what happens to them in a virtual office, as a remote team? The switch from brick-and-mortar to WFH inspires various adjectives. Uncomfortable, being one.

Suddenly, with lockdowns around the world, companies are forced to accept remote work—complications and all. Despite years of resistance and failed attempts, traditional brick-and-mortar businesses are frantically having to set up employees to work from home.

At the beginning of the pandemic, teams accepted their situation. A laptop and Zoom login was all anyone really needed. Next came a security panic (we use Sophos and Express VPN to comply here) and now we’re plummeting head down freaking out that things aren’t working. I mean, why not, right?

Recently, the Wall Street Journal posted an article on the doubters of remote work. Yup.

Setting up your business as a virtual entity is not the same as setting up a traditional brick-and-mortar business.

If you adopt antiquated solutions to a new way of working, you’re going to get mediocre results—at best!

Through trial and error, pivoting and practice, we’re learning what really works for remote teams. It takes grit and nimbleness while you hang on by your fingernails to get things right. Some days feel so ridiculously frustrating that you want to hide in a corner and weep. Other days, you come away from work feeling like the hero in your kids’ favorite movie, which you’ve heard, played on repeat at least 67 times. And counting.

One of my best friends has a business that’s taken her around the globe facilitating amazingness to leading teams. She is the bees knees. COVID-19 hit, and her company dove straight into chaos. All in-person, onsite sessions needed to shift to virtual. She was already using Zoom, but only for meetings up until now. But keeping teams engaged in a virtual setting is a whole different ballgame.

We chatted through some virtual meeting challenges, some typical tricks and hacks for running effective, connected, fully remote meetings. Here’s what we discussed.

How to lead effective, connected virtual meetings

1. Know what to talk about and who to talk to

An agenda contains the objective for the meeting. Without this, your meeting might not be necessary at all. Once you know what you need to discuss, then you know who needs to attend. Letting them know the agenda beforehand helps them prepare. This saves time-waste and the common consequence of creating more meetings. Everyone should arrive on time, and the meeting should end on time. That just makes sense.

2. Designate time to break the ice

Expect to kickoff at least 5-10 minutes after your meeting’s start time. This is chitchat time (have it in the agenda) and allows for loose conversation about the weather, weekend, and interests. It provides a buffer for the stragglers, mitigates unexpected interruptions or issues, and helps get everyone in the “zone”.

Oh, and don’t schedule start and finish times on the hour. In my experience, this increases tension and contributes a sense of rigidity to the initial meeting impression. Why? It probably has something to do with the science behind best meeting times.

3. Book more time than you expect to use

First, it’s important to note that meetings that run longer than 90 minutes without a break are ineffective.

When scheduling meetings, add 5-15 minutes at the end of the call in the calendar. When time runs out and participants start hopping off (ping, ping, ping), you’ve now neglected your team’s time sensitivities and likely missed out on the opportunity to share critical information. The last 5-15 minutes of a meeting are essential in order to wrap things up, provide insight into next steps, and bring the session to close. Leave time for questions, clarifications, salutations, and (especially) good lucks!

4. Cover remote meeting etiquette as part of the kickoff

Obvious to most, but not to some. To minimize the amount of headaches, it’s best to nip issues in the bud. Include etiquette points on a slide for everyone in your remote team to read when they join the call. These can include 3-5 simple points like: Mute your microphone. Engage, but don’t interrupt. Don’t sneak off before we are done. Don’t eat a doughnut unless you plan to share. Smile.

That should do the trick.

5. Use a collaborative platform to keep everyone engaged

(And awake, even if they haven’t yet had their morning coffee).

Engagement is hard. Listening to a leader’s dull ravings about metrics and performance can often compare to watching paint dry. Give your team incentive to stay awake. We’ve started using Mural whiteboard app to keep meetings interactive and engaging. They have a free trial (we loved it, bought it, use it lots).

And of course, rewards help!

6. Allow everyone to be heard

Virtual meetings tend to be booked with less time than their onsite counterparts, this means you may find yourself racing the ticker.

  • For the dude that opens the big issue in the last 15 mins of your 90 minute session, let him know he’s been heard “Dear Concerned, though we don’t have time to dig into that today, I’m going to add that to the backlog and make a note to highlight it as a next action.”
  • Just because it’s remote, you can’t let the team go rogue.
  • End of scheduled time, but still more questions? Use Mural’s timer and vote session to run a post-it round. Designate 2 minutes for everyone to write down their burning questions. Then, let each member vote for one question they want answered.
  • Celebrate with virtual confetti (another Mural reference … you can tell I’m a fan!)

7. Cameras on to build engagement

Cameras exist for more than just performance reviews and disciplinary calls. Encouraging your team to have their cameras on during every call keeps people engaged. Not only do you get to see REAL people, despite the pandemic, you minimize the opportunity to distract yourself.

By making this the norm, it starts to feel more comfortable (even on your worst hair days). I recently took a 10:00 pm internal call in my dressing gown—not the norm, but very funny when I switched on my camera!

If you’re experiencing lags or other malfunctions, you may have too many people dialing in. Rotate whose cameras are on throughout the session.

Lead virtual meetings the powerful way

Teams have the potential to be more invested and engaged in virtual meetings now than in the old-school, in-person ones. While times are unfortunate and unpredictable, we’re extremely fortunate to have such capable tools, and a framework to be better at work.

WNDYR is a remote team of consultants that specializes in optimizing individuals and teams during times of work transformation. The ability to transform from in-office to virtual teams is more crucial now than ever. Our Change Management services can help!

Join us today and start your journey into the future of work.