Inefficient meetings are roadblocks to productivity. Beyond wasting the time of everyone in attendance, a bad meeting can sap otherwise productive employees of their commitment to their work—leaving them thinking: “Why do I need to even be here?”

The challenges of running an effective meeting are multiplied for virtual meetings. Because these meetings are often the primary means of communication and collaboration for virtual teams, the importance of having the best meetings possible cannot be overstated.

OnPoint’s global research into the topic of virtual meetings shows that while running them effectively is a priority for many organizations, few leaders of virtual teams have been trained in best practices. These leaders are being left to figure out best practices for themselves. With roughly half of virtual team leaders struggling to run effective virtual meetings, how can you make sure that you’re running the best possible meetings for a virtual team?

A few quick and relatively easy ways to improve virtual meetings include:

1: Knowing the Five Types of Disruptive People in Virtual Meetings (and How to Handle Them)

In a virtual setting, where a person cannot see others eye-to-eye, it is easy for an employee to develop certain bad habits. Broadly speaking, the bad virtual meeting habits that these employees develop can be grouped into one of five different categories.

Learning to recognize the five different kinds of disruptive people and how to counter them is a key part of running an effective virtual meeting:

  1. The Multitasker. This person often spends their time in virtual meetings working on other projects in the belief that it will be a more efficient use of their time. Because of this, they’re often distracted, distract others, fail to pay attention to the content of the meeting, and end up wasting time. Ways to counter multitaskers include:
    1. Asking participants to enable webcams
    2. Having team members paraphrase things to verify they understood them
    3. Scheduling shorter meetings that have focused agendas (keeping the multitasker from having the time to get distracted)
    4. Clarifying expectations for participation ahead of time and discussing how multitasking hurts productivity
  2. The Background Noise-Bringer. Sometimes, employees have little choice but to start a virtual meeting in a busy environment that has a lot of background noise. However, some seem to forget that the noise around them can be disruptive to the group. To counter people who bring too much background noise with them, consider:
    1. Asking participants to find a quieter place or use a noise-cancelling headset
    2. Asking participants to mute themselves until they have a contribution to make (or having presenters do it for them using their conference call system’s controls)
  3. The Disorganized and Confused. In any team, there can be members who struggle to remain organized, appearing late to meetings because they’re too busy or are forgetful. The late arrival of these members can disrupt the flow of a meeting, and their disorganization can make them slow to catch on—forcing everyone else to wait for them to “catch up” or leave the confused team member without the support they need. Some effective counters for these disruptive virtual team members include:
    1. Providing a meeting agenda with clear instructions in advance of the meeting so these members can prepare
    2. Asking habitually late meeting members to log in a few minutes early and set reminders so they don’t interrupt
    3. Turning off the “doorbell” greeting that announces a new caller joining to prevent interruptions when late comers join the meeting
  4. The Interrupter. In meetings, there are times where providing insight and input is valuable. However, the interrupter has a tendency to talk over people and be disrespectful of their opinions—causing friction and interrupting the flow of the conversation. Some counters for interrupters include:
    1. Enabling webcams so people can see visual cues
    2. Using collaborative software that allows you to manage participation
    3. Encouraging people to perform a mental countdown before interjecting in a conversation—giving them time to think about what they want to say
  5. The Checked Out. With these employees, the lights are on, but nobody’s home. These participants are typically seen, but not heard—failing to respond or show initiative. This checked-out, indifferent attitude prevents employees from getting the full benefit out of the meeting. Some counters for these non-participants include:
    1. Ensuring that each attendee is responsible for at least one item on the agenda—giving them incentive to pay attention
    2. Establishing responsibilities for each participant going forward
    3. Sending reminder/recap emails following a meeting with notes and highlights
    4. Holding each participant responsible for their actions

By identifying the five kinds of highly disruptive people in virtual meetings and taking measures to reduce the problems they cause, it is possible to vastly improve the effectiveness of these meetings.

2: Choosing the Right Medium for the Meeting

Using the right kind of collaboration technology for your virtual team can have a major impact on the effectiveness of the meeting. Using the wrong technology can actually hurt meeting effectiveness rather than help it, so careful consideration is a must.

Some experts classify communication media and tools by their “richness.” This includes factors such as capacity for feedback, visual cues, sense of personal connection, etc. If face-to-face meetings are the “richest” form of communication, video would be second, followed by telephone, and email would be last.

In some situations, emails—though the least “rich” form of communication—can be more valuable than arranging a conference call, such as when all that is required is the sharing of information. Meanwhile, video conferences can be great for encouraging participation in virtual meetings by creating a richer sense of participation and immediacy.

By choosing your communication methods based on the goals you have in mind for your collaboration, you can save time and effort in virtual meetings.

3: Be Cognizant of Time Zone Differences

One of the most inconvenient facts of life for a virtual team is that they may have members who are in vastly different time zones. The geographical diversity of different teams can make coordinating a virtual meeting difficult—forcing employees to wake up very early or stay up late for the convenience of the majority of the group.

When setting up a series of virtual meetings, consider rotating the timing of the meetings so that the same team members aren’t constantly asked to work the same undesirable hours. This can help alleviate the burden on some team members and improve participation.

4: Reinforce Shared Responsibility

High-performing virtual teams have members that will take on a facilitation role as needed. Basically, everyone assumes responsibility for keeping the group on track and ensuring that time is well-managed both during and after the meeting.

Having different people lead different parts of the virtual meeting agenda as well as assuming responsibility for different meeting goals can help improve participation and commitment to team objectives. Additionally, it can be an effective way to keep team members from “checking out” during meetings.

Making sure all of the above are a consistent part of your virtual team meetings until they become habit is crucial for making sure you’re running such meetings effectively. Following each of these best practices consistently will help you make the most of the time your virtual team spends in meetings so they can achieve the best possible results.

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