The Modern Workplace is undergoing a big test. Here’s some advice on how to make sure your meetings earn a passing grade.
Thrust into an unusual – and for some, unprecedented – working environment, everyone with the good fortune to still be employed is doing their best to replicate the familiar tropes of office life in a remote setting. Chief among those endeavors is almost certainly conducting virtual meetings.
Whether you’re a total novice running a meeting online or it’s old hat for you, we find ourselves in strange times and even online meeting veterans might benefit from some advice. Here at Kiefer we’re also navigating this situation. While our consultants have long worked remotely on projects large and small, organizationally we’ve always had Kiefer HQ to fall back on. So, we wanted to share some of what we’ve learned as well as what some industry leaders recommend when it comes to online meeting best practices.
Tip #1: The Purpose-Driven Meeting
Remember back in the halcyon days of February when things still seemed relatively normal? Back then, it was probably commonplace for you to issue an email to colleagues that went something like this:
“Hey, can we meet in the conference room on this in 15 minutes?”
For the moment, calling meetings in such a haphazard fashion may be impractical.
The optimization of meetings is an art and science that has been studied for centuries. Back in 1976, the Harvard Business Review published what some consider a definitive guide to conducting meetings with purpose. Titled, concisely, How to Run a Meeting, the paper lays out, in fairly exhaustive detail, a strategy for getting the most out of your meetings.
The key takeaways serve largely to reinforce the fundamentals we know but often overlook or ignore. Who should be at the meeting? How frequently should we meet? Why are we meeting? What is the meeting’s objective? How long should the meeting last?
In other words, define the purpose of your meetings before you call people to meet. As we adjust to working remotely, leaders should take care to ensure the meetings they’re planning are being driven by purpose.
Tip #2: Formulate and Stick to an Agenda
The next logical step in conducting a meeting driven by purpose is to set an agenda. And then, importantly, sticking to the agenda. This bit requires some leadership savvy. We’ve all been in meetings wherein the organizer is unable to maintain the group’s focus and soon side conversations and other distractions send the meeting spiraling out of control.
According to The New York Times’ guide, How to Run an Effective Meeting, “The agenda provides a compass for the conversation, so the meeting can get back on track if the discussion wanders off course. If leaders make sure there is an agenda before a meeting starts, everyone will fall in line quickly.”
When conducting meetings remotely, it is especially critical that your meeting has a purpose and that there is an agenda which outlines the steps you’ll be taking to achieve the meeting’s goal(s).
Tip #3: Build in Breathing Room
Many of us are new to this. We’re trying to find our way and trying to carry on with as close an approximation of business as usual as possible. Back at the office, it would be probably be typical to look at your calendar and see you have meetings scheduled back-to-back. But, as a recent Microsoft Blog points out, in-person meetings have a natural flow where there are usually chances to take short breaks in between.
“There’s the walk down the hallway, those first few moments at the table when you wait for everyone to arrive, and the casual conversation that happens as teammates greet one another and quickly catch up,” writes Jared Spataro, Corporate Vice President for Microsoft 365.
These breaks are important and when you’re scheduling virtual meetings those breaks may not materialize as readily. The simple tactic Spataro says Microsoft is adopting is to build in breathing room.
“We are encouraging employees to schedule meetings to conclude five minutes before the end of the hour or half hour.” Those five minutes will allow for some of that natural transition which, Spataro says, will help reduce the burnout that may come with back-to-back meetings.
Tip #4: Be Patient
Again, remember that many of your employees and colleagues may be new to working remotely. Add to the newness the profound sense of worry and good deal of stress individuals in your organization may be experiencing and you have a situation in which it may be challenging to command peoples’ full attention.
At Kiefer, our project managers and their delivery teams often find themselves in meetings with people at varying levels of technology maturity. If, say, we’re helping a state agency with a SharePoint migration, some in the agency may be SharePoint pros, some may be novices and some may be in the middle. Our goal is always to make sure our clients have been thoroughly trained in the technology we’re delivering and that we’ve escorted them through a comprehensive knowledge transfer process. To reach our goal, we have to practice patience with all end users so we can make sure everyone gets to where they need to be in order to ensure the project’s long-term success.
When conducting meetings remotely, you as a facilitator will not have access to all the visual, auditory and body language cues that come with an in-person meeting. You will also have some people in the meeting that maybe better attuned to visual learning rather than learning by listening. So in these early days and weeks of remote work, do yourself a favor and practice patience with your team and your organization as everyone adjusts.
Tip #5: Celebrate Wins
If there’s one thing we know we’re doing well in our weekly, companywide virtual meetings here at Kiefer, it’s that we use them as an opportunity to recognize wins – big or small. This final tip is just our recommendation but it’s one we think you’ll find valuable.
It may feel like wins are hard to come by right now. As a leader in your organization, however, you hopefully feel a sense of obligation to draw your staff’s attention to the positives. Don’t neglect to call them out in your meetings. Your team is looking to you for guidance and for reassurance. You never know how much it might mean to an employee for him or her to be recognized for a job well done. Our suggestion: bookend your meetings with celebration whenever possible. Start your virtual meeting on a high note and try to end that way as well. Your meetings, your team and you will be better for it.