Let's be real - online meetings can be a total drag if they're not done right. We've all been in those meetings where people seem to be tuning out, people start to switch off, topics go on tangents, attendees stop participating – and the end result? Meetings take way longer than they have to, and key issues remain unresolved.
Can you imagine every year, businesses in the US alone waste $37 billion on these unproductive meetings. And that’s not all... In a study, 73% of participants admitted to multitasking during meetings, 69% admitted they get bored, and 91% admitted to have slept during a meeting!
But fear not. The good news is, there are ways to make your virtual meetings more productive, engaging, and overall just better. In this article, we'll walk you through the steps to make sure your online meetings are a success, from preparing beforehand to following up afterward. Whether you're a remote worker, team leader, or manager, these tips will help you build a positive meeting culture and strengthen your connections with colleagues, regardless of their location.
In the US alone, there are over 55 million meetings conducted each week. That's over a billion a year! Surprisingly, only about 11% of these meetings are productive. In order for us to make our meetings productive we need to prepare and ensure that everyone is on the same page at the start of the meeting.
And that begins with ‘meeting etiquette’ - or - the (un)written rules and regulations that you want people to follow when it comes to meetings. Because the last thing you want is meeting chaos within your organization. For example - the master of efficiency himself Elon Musk, has a very distinct meeting etiquette in place at SpaceX and Tesla. Now, you can think of Elon what you want of course, but if there’s one thing that his companies are not, and that is inefficient. Here are the 6 rules for meetings that he believes leads to productive meetings:
- No large meetings: Invite only those who will contribute to the meeting and keep it short.
- Leave if you're not contributing: Walk out or drop off a call if you're not adding value.
- No frequent meetings: don’t waste everyone’s time. Use meetings only to collaborate, attack issues head-on, and solve urgent problems. Instead of meetings, send a text, send an email, or communicate on a slack channel.
- Forget the chain of command: Communicate with colleagues directly. Not through supervisors or managers.
- Be clear, not clever: Avoid nonsense words and technical jargon. It slows down communication.
- Use common sense: If a company rule doesn’t make sense, use your common sense to decide when to follow the rules and when to break them.
With our meeting etiquette in place, let’s move on to the next part - prepping the meeting. Because a successful remote meeting starts with some simple yet effective preparation steps.
First things first, define the meeting objective. 72% of professionals believe that setting clear objectives is what makes a meeting successful. So just simply ask yourself, what’s the purpose of this meeting? Ask yourself if it’s absolutely necessary to have it, or can the goals be communicated just via email or slack? You don’t want your colleagues to say your meeting "could have been an email". By defining the objective upfront, you'll be able to stay on track and make sure the meeting is beneficial for team members.
The next step is to create the agenda and get those objectives down there in writing. The agenda is not just a hygiene thing, but a way to plan out what you want to talk about so you don't waste time going off on tangents. Using a meeting agenda cuts down meeting time by up to 80% according to Cornerstone Dynamics - which means more time for you to get stuff done.
When you're planning the time and length of a meeting in an agenda, think about your colleagues in different time zones. Pick a time that works for everyone or as many people as possible. And, to keep everyone engaged and productive, keep the meeting as short as possible - but give some room for a joke here or there of course. And if the meeting can't be planned for a shorter time, you can always break the meeting into 30 or 60-minute segments, depending on total meeting time, and take short breaks to keep everyone energized. For reference, here’s a handy guide for ideal meeting length based on different types of meetings:
Now that we have taken care of general meeting etiquette, and are properly prepared, it's time to gather the troops and get everyone on board. Invite relevant participants and put your agenda in the invite. If you add it later, notify people. That way, everyone comes prepared with any important information or questions they might have. In a study by Harvard Business Review, 71 percent of senior managers believe that inviting the wrong people is one of the biggest reasons for unproductive meetings. So, be intentional about who to invite and what we discuss. Also keep in mind that smaller size meetings in general, are more efficient:
So, how do you determine if one should, or should not be part of the meeting? That is of course up to you, but it’s good to keep in mind that there are different types of attendees in a meeting:
- Contributors are the individuals who drive the meeting forward by presenting information and leading discussions. These are typically the people in charge of the meeting, such as managers and team leads.
- Collaborators are the individuals who actively participate in the meeting by asking questions, providing feedback, and contributing ideas. These are typically team members or peers.
- Listeners, as previously mentioned, are the individuals who have little to no contribution to the meeting. They simply sit and take in the information discussed.
The Contributors and Collaborators are generally the people required to actually attend the meeting, the listeners are not but, only if they have a way to catch up later: think meeting notes or summaries. So think about it next time you initiate a meeting with a large attendee list. Who are the contributors, collaborators and listeners, and do you have a way to have people catch up on what’s discussed later. If so - you can give the listeners their time back, and hold a productive meeting with just contributors and collaborators.
Let's finish our preparation section with one last tip: create a positive and inviting meeting environment for yourself at home. Why not spruce up your workspace with some vibrant plants or inspiring decoration pieces to make you feel at ease? By setting the scene for a warm and welcoming atmosphere, you'll create a positive tone that's sure to help make your meetings both more enjoyable.
During the meeting
Now that we’ve gone through the preparation stage, it's time for the ‘main event’: the meeting itself. Remember to try and stick to the rules and planned time you set in place beforehand but leave a little wiggle room. Give people the idea that they can discuss topics they feel are necessary, but don’t wander off too much. We have all been in those meetings that seem to drag on forever. That's why sticking to your agenda timings is important. By doing so, you not only show respect for other people's time but also create a virtual meeting culture, where each topic is discussed with focus.
From the beginning of the meeting record the meeting and take notes. Especially in virtual meetings, the moment you log off, the content turns to vaporware so It's essential to capture all the valuable information that's shared. Especially if some team members couldn't make it to the meeting. A recent study shows that people who have meeting notes consistently accomplish more tasks compared to those who don't. And taking notes doesn’t have to be a long winded process either, you can easily automate this by using meeting intelligence tools.
During the meeting, encourage participation and make sure everyone has a chance to contribute their thoughts and ideas. We want everyone to feel like they're part of the conversation. It not only leads to better ideas and outcomes but also helps to create a positive and collaborative environment. However, we also should keep in mind that there are different levels of participation in meetings, and not everybody participates actively:
Don't multitask during meetings - I know It's incredibly tempting to multitask during online meetings — especially when you know others can't see you scrolling through Instagram or chatting on Slack. But resist the urge. Train yourself to close all your browser windows and set your phone away from you and engage with the task at hand. By avoiding multitasking, you give your undivided attention to the meeting and contribute to a more productive and engaging discussion. An interesting Analysis by the university of Stanford shows people multitask more in longer meetings, larger meetings, recurring/scheduled meetings, morning meetings, and Tuesdays. These points are useful to consider while planning online meetings to increase the productivity of meetings.
Finally, a very important thing you should remember during online meetings is to prioritize your well-being by taking breaks. Especially during those long ones. Take a few minutes to stretch, walk or meditate. This helps you prevent stress and so-called meeting fatigue. Studies, such as one conducted by Microsoft, have shown that taking breaks between meetings significantly reduces stress levels. So, take those much-needed breaks, even if they're short.
After online meetings
Now that you've successfully completed your online meeting, it's time to follow up and ensure that everyone is on the same page. By sending a summary of the meeting you recorded, you ensure that everyone has a clear understanding of what was discussed and what the next steps are. Sharing meeting recordings or notes is a great way to keep everyone informed, particularly the ones who couldn’t attend.
Also, make sure to assign action items to the appropriate participants. By doing so, you ensure that everyone knows what they need to do and that the necessary tasks are being completed on time. This is especially important when it comes to online meetings, where it is easy to lose track things without a physical reminder.
Finally, don't forget to schedule the next meeting if necessary. By setting a date and time in advance, you ensure that everyone is able to attend and that the necessary discussions and decisions can be made. And don't forget to use the ground rules and etiquette we shared earlier to keep everyone engaged and productive throughout the meeting.
Are you ready to take your online meetings to the next level?
I know virtual meetings have taken a reputation for being a time suck, but they don’t have to be. Stick to this checklist of effective online meetings we’ve shared with you, choose the right tool and you’ll see hosting meetings isn’t a drain at all. And, like with most things, practice makes perfect. So, get ready to shine with online meetings.