March 25, 2020 11:06:47 AM EDT

COVID-19 Strategies: Maximizing Remote Meetings

As companies and teams get used to social distancing and working from home, we must all continue to execute our responsibilities, one part of which means having productive meetings with our coworkers, suppliers, clients, and others. To maximize these virtual meetings, you need to adapt. But you’d be surprised how easy that can be.
“It’s just not the same,” is a mentality often held – and said – regarding remote meetings. If you or your team believe that this “new normal” means that you can’t have an effective meeting, here is a three-step playbook to change that impression and maximize your virtual meetings.

Step 1: Recognize That the Goals Remain Unchanged. Effective meetings have the same criteria whether in-person or remote.

The need for meetings is the same when working remotely as it was in-person. Whether it is a quick team check-in or a quarterly business review, you have a goal. For example, when working in-person, three emails in a chain is a sign that a meeting is necessary. Similarly, when working remotely, once the messages in IM or chat become paragraphs in length or complex issues come up, then you might need a meeting.

However, needs for a meeting do change. Situations sort themselves out, new clarity arises, or the underlying topic goes away, which make a meeting unnecessary. If you don’t need the meeting to be productive, cancel it.

For the meetings that remain, accept that you – and everyone else in the meeting – deserve it to be as effective as possible. Whether remote or in-person, effective meetings:

  • Start and end on time.
  • Include only the people necessary to contribute to the decision.
  • Explicitly state clear decision authority.
  • Utilize clear agendas, outcomes, roles, and next steps.
  • Have action items and notes shared immediately after for reinforcement.

Step 2: Utilize Your Tools. You can achieve that “in-person feel” with two easy rules and a few quick tips.

Whether using Skype, Teams, Zoom, WebEx or another virtual meeting software, there are easy ways to make your virtual meeting more effective.

Require video! I know that you’ve heard it before, but we really do mean it. Require everyone to use their webcam. At all times. As our time apart continues, we all need stronger interactions with others. But it’s more than that – nonverbal communication is crucial, and video enables this!

Being able to look “around the room” is a key feature of in-person meetings that you need to duplicate for your remote meetings. This allows everyone to read the room and keep each other engaged in the discussion. Tip: explain to everyone how to use gallery view, like the Brady Bunch (a quick Google search will explain how to do it for your software; here's how to do it using Zoom).

In addition, you should utilize hand gestures, facial expressions, headnods, and more to allow others to understand you more clearly. Tip: have your webcam at eye level or slightly higher and set three feet away from you to get the most out of your nonverbal language.

Struggling with transition to working from home, virtual meetings, and other  business concerns related to COVID-19? Connect with us to brainstorm and talk about strategies.

Ban the mute button! None of us want to be distracted during a meeting. However, some of your meeting participants (and you!) might be working in the same room as others. Kids and pets are home, too. It’s ok! Banning the mute button allows for more spontaneous responses, and a more fluid conversation, just like a live discussion.

Hopefully, everyone has taken the time to set up their workspace, but there may still be background noise. As we all get better with our remote tools, there will be less echoes and technical flaws, but there may still be some. Don’t worry – banning the mute button is worth it!

  • Engage others using verbal cues, such as “interesting,” “ah”, “yeah” and “go on.” Tip: as your team improves with these engagement techniques, they won’t be interruptions, just like they weren’t during your in-person meetings.
  • Enforce the pet tax – when someone’s pet makes noise, they must put them on video or share a photo in the chat!
    This is a fun way to humanize the situation and reinforce that it is understood that distractions will happen. Tip: We don’t recommend a similar “tax” for children or to enforce this in the most serious of meetings, e.g., client pitches or compensation negotiations.
  • If the mute button is necessary, such as for town halls, allow time for others to get off mute before you move on to the next topic. Tip: Meeting with your direct reports is not a town hall.

Step 3: Adapt Your Behavior. Back to what you would have done in-person.

Although it seems that you need to act differently during remote meetings, you actually don’t. You’re simply adapting your remote behavior to the fundamentals of what already makes an effective meeting.

Demonstrate your emotional intelligence! It may feel like you can’t show empathy over the phone or on video, but you can. Tone and intention may be harder to gauge during a remote meeting, but the path to success is the same as in-person: utilize your EQ skills to engage your participants!

  • Welcome your participants as they join and their video and audio pop up.
  • Acknowledge logistical and technology challenges, such as delays or lags.
  • Use open-ended questions to learn more, or gather more information and keep the conversation going: “How do you feel about the change? What do you think will be the outcome?”
  • Use closed-ended questions to minimize or close the conversation: “Have you heard about the change? Can you live with the decision?”
  • Paraphrase what was said to ensure you heard what was intended: “What I heard you say…”
  • Reflect feelings to show empathy and clarify your understanding: “It sounds like you felt…”
  • Be direct – don’t hint or use sarcasm – to avoid confusion.
  • Use inflections to avoid being monotone.

The goals of your meetings haven’t changed now that they are remote. Once you turn on video and ban mute, you can focus on key emotional intelligence skills. Your remote meeting will then be as similar to your in-person meeting as possible.

In fact, you may be able to make your virtual meetings better than your in-person ones! It is being surmised that this crisis will forever change the face of remote work around the world. As such, teams who are able to have effective remote meetings now will be positioned for success during and after this crisis.

Struggling with transition to working from home, virtual meetings, and other  business concerns related to COVID-19? Connect with us to brainstorm and talk about strategies.

Matt Abramson
Matt Abramson

Matt is a Senior Consultant, and a analytical problem solver with a passion for leading multi-disciplinary teams in order to create solutions to clients’ most difficult business problems. With a background in chemical engineering and more than five years of consulting experience, Matt applies his diverse experiences to a breadth of projects at Aspirant. He excels at translating complex challenges and opportunities into executable strategies.