How to Keep Your Team Engaged During Remote Meetings

Like it or not, there’s no doubt that remote meetings are here to stay. In fact, remote meetings might be the only way team meetings are happening due to the pandemic.

Since they’ve become part of most organization’s daily routine, it’s important to make sure remote meetings are time well spent.

That responsibility falls on leaders to ensure teams follow best practices for leading team meetings.

According to meeting-expert Dr. Steven Rogelberg, our time in meetings has grown 500% in about a 40-year period. Some of the casual conversations we used to have next to the coffee machine have now morphed into official meetings. It’s safe to say we are spending more time in meetings than ever before.

And now that most meetings are remote because many teams are completely remote, there are new challenges making it even harder for meetings to be effective. The leaders managing remote employees also face new hardships when it comes to leading completely virtual communication.

What are the challenges of leading a remote team?

As a leadership consultant, I spend a lot of time talking to leaders about the challenges they are facing with remote leadership. What I hear most is, “How can I keep my remote team engaged?” And “How can I maintain visibility and maintain a connection with my remote workforce?”

If you look at those questions, it all comes back to communication. And how communication happens now is through virtual channels like Zoom, Teams, Google Meet, and more. All communication now is virtual, and a lot of the communication is happening in meetings.

What goes wrong with virtual meetings today?

The biggest problem with remote meetings? How many there are! How much time have you spent in remote meetings this week? Probably way too much.

It has become so quick and easy to set up a virtual meeting. Why? There’s no need to book a conference room, arrange for travel, etc. With more meetings than we’ve ever had in the past, we need to start asking, “Is that meeting really needed?” So, before you set up a meeting, ask, “Do I need input from others? Do things really need to be discussed?” If your answer is, “Yes!” go for it, and set up that meeting.

But if you find yourself thinking that the meeting is more about sharing information or giving an update after a decision has already been made, then maybe you should skip the meeting and send out an email instead.

What else goes wrong with virtual meetings today? It’s easy to forget the human aspect. Communicating screen-to-screen makes it easier to forget that there is a physical person on the other end. As you would in a face-to-face context, think of what personal and practical needs the person might have.

Spend some time thinking through those leadership essentials such as showing empathy, providing support, and asking for involvement. And be sure to listen and respond authentically. People still need to feel that their perspectives are heard and valued. They need to know they have been understood and respected. This is a universal truth, no matter the channel of communication.

What are other best practices for leading a remote meeting? Let’s talk about meeting size below.

How many people need to be involved in virtual meetings?

So we all know we should keep meeting attendees to a minimum. But what does this mean for virtual meetings?

Our tools make it so easy to add additional people to a meeting. This can happen with a simple click. However, as for a face-to-face meeting, you shouldn’t ask a person to join your meeting if you are not looking for their input.

The idea is that for every selected attendee, you should ask: Does this person need to be in the meeting? If a person is “just” listening in without providing input or asking clarifying questions, consider recording the meeting or sending follow up notes to those people.

Every meeting attendee should know why they are there and what they are expected to contribute. Concepts such as “social loafing” still apply in the virtual world. And the rule — keep attendees to a minimum to have engagement at a maximum — also still very much applies to virtual meetings.

7 Tips for an Effective Virtual Meeting

What are some best practices for leading productive remote meetings? Here are my top tips:

1.Set the scene early on. Clarify what you expect people to do. For example, make it known who will take notes, when questions should be asked, and what attendees should plan to share.

2. Check the tech upfront. This might sound simple, but it can be very frustrating for you as a meeting leader and for attendees if the tech doesn’t work properly, links don’t work, slide sharing doesn’t work, etc. So, try it all out before the meeting starts to be set up for success and to avoid frustration.

3. Cameras on. This is the only way to get some of those essential non-verbal clues from meeting attendees. It also helps to decrease multitasking.

4. Be aware of your own mood. As the meeting leader you are a host, almost like the host of a party. Have you ever been at a party where the host is in a bad mood? How has this impacted you? Being in the right mood can have a positive impact on how people are feeling in your meeting, and how they move forward with the rest of their day.

5. Prepare an agenda upfront. Start with the most important agenda point first and allow for some Q&A time at the end. Also, send out the meeting agenda a couple of days before to see if others have agenda points to add. Don’t let this important step slip through in a virtual team meeting.

6. Use the tech features available. Whichever platform you chose, make use of the features and remote collaboration tools available to provide variety. For example, use a virtual whiteboard for brainstorming. This also helps to keep the engagement level high after longer periods of talking.

7. Consider unconventional meeting types. Even in the virtual world you can make use of more creative meetings types. Ask people to stand up for a short meeting or have a walking meeting, which is especially good for brainstorming.

For more tips on leading remote meetings, including how to ensure each meeting is inclusive, read “Best Practices for Leading Remote Meetings” and listen to “How to Lead Virtual Meetings” on the Leadership 480 Podcast.

Greta Permann is a leadership consultant at DDI. When she’s not busy delivering virtual leadership trainings, you’ll most likely find her in one of London’s parks playing with her toddler boy.

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DDI is a global leadership company that helps organizations transform the way they hire, promote and develop leaders at every level. www.ddiworld.com