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Virtual Meetings Require An Entirely Different Strategy. Have You Adapted?

Many organizations have had to reinvent their playbooks in 2020 as they’ve adapted to remote work without time to plan or acclimate to a different workplace model. A stumbling-block many companies face when transitioning to remote work is adjusting their in-person meetings to a virtual setting.

Don’t assume your in-person meeting formats will transfer well to a virtual environment. While a video conference approximates in-person meetings, it’s often more difficult to keep attendees’ attention and engagement in this format—many of your in-person meetings will be far less necessary, or effective, in a remote workplace.

Transitioning to remote work is the perfect time to take stock of your meeting strategy overall. In an office environment, meetings become a default—it’s easier to have a colleague stop by your office for 15 minutes to figure something out, rather than passing emails back and forth for an hour. Virtual meetings are harder to schedule, and it’s more difficult to know whether you’re interrupting your colleagues’ workflow.

With purposeful thought and intentional action, you can adjust your team’s meeting practices to fit our new, remote-work driven normal. Here are three ways to start:

Cut Unnecessary Meetings

When people move, they take an assessment of all the belongings they don’t use anymore and use it as a time to clean house. The same is true with meetings; the first things you should cut are meetings that don’t provide value for everyone attending.

It’s helpful to think about the objective for each meeting and whether it’s being met, especially in a remote setting. If you need to brainstorm ideas or have an important discussion on a core company focus, a meeting might be the best option. However, too many people hold meetings where not everyone participates and the information discussed could be distributed in a different way.

Shorter Is Better

Zoom fatigue has become a popular term lately, with good reason: people just don’t have the energy to sit on video calls all day. As a ground rule, virtual meetings probably need to be half the length they were in person.

It helps to keep meetings shorter, but it’s also crucial to ensure that no single person is speaking uninterrupted for too long. Otherwise, it’s not a meeting, it’s a monologue, and employees will inevitably stop listening.

Similarly, it’s useful to consider the proper cadence for meetings between managers and direct reports. In an office, managers may have direct reports join them for a 15-minute check-in over coffee each morning, or have hour-long meetings once a week. When leading a virtual team, you may find it better to cut down and consolidate these meetings, to help clear your employees’ schedule for project time, and to avoid adding to video call fatigue.

Video conferencing provides the great gift of allowing people to hold fully interactive meetings in a virtual workplace. However, it can also build complacency, misleading managers, and leaders into thinking they can take their in-person meeting approaches and simply transfer them online.

Stop “Update Meetings”

The meetings that waste the most time for organizations are “update meetings.” Update meetings are when a single or a small number of speakers read a bunch of information, often from notes or a shared PowerPoint deck, that could have been sent to attendees in advance as a written memo. There is very little discussion or interactivity in these meetings, and they often can feel like a waste of valuable time, especially in a remote setting.

Even if the information is important, update meetings present content in such a dry way that team members pay limited attention. There are better ways to keep your team in the loop of what everybody else is doing and hold people accountable.

One of these tactics is a memo system, most recently popularized by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. At Amazon, Bezos requires team members to create a written memo before each meeting that provides the background material and relevant information for discussion. Then, the memo is distributed to all attendees at the beginning of the meeting and everyone takes the time to read the relevant information individually before the discussion begins, so they can take notes and prepare questions.

We have modified this system for a remote environment: memos are sent out before the meeting and employees are expected to arrive having read the memo and prepared to discuss it. The memo itself reduces the time needed for the meeting by at least half, and productivity and engagement are much higher.

For topics that require a more nuance, consider replacing a meeting with an asynchronous, or one-way, video. If you have to answer a complicated question, or give a detailed explanation to a colleague, consider taking a few minutes to record a video of yourself walking through the response or sharing an update. This is not only more personal than an email, but it’s also clearer—it ensures that key things like tone and body-language are included in your response.

Asynchronous video also takes less time than a meeting, for both the sender and the recipient. Depending on how fast your written communication is, it may be quicker than writing a detailed email as well—and you don’t have to worry about spelling or grammar.

The truth is, virtual meetings are a whole different game. But if you focus on limiting unnecessary meetings, using asynchronous video, trying a memo system, and shortening the meetings you do have, you can hold world-class meetings in a remote environment.

About the Author(s)

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Robert is the CEO of Acceleration Partners, a top-rated keynote speaker, and bestselling author

CEO and Founder, Acceleration Partners
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