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Virtual meetings are a necessity for geographically dispersed teams that need to collaborate on projects, solve problems, and exchange vital information. One of the benefits of virtual meetings is that they allow team members to contribute ideas and work toward solutions as a group. Inefficient meetings, however, present roadblocks to productivity, wasting everyone’s time and undermining engagement. Virtual team leaders cannot approach these meetings with the same strategies they use for in-person meetings. They must keep in mind the unique challenges of virtual communication to ensure their teams get the most out of every meeting.

Here Are 4 Tips for Planning Effective Virtual Meetings

1: Know Your Team

One of the keys to successfully managing a virtual team is to know and understand the characteristics of every team member. Everyone has a unique personality that can manifest in a variety of ways during virtual team meetings. In many cases, they can develop bad habits that cause disruptions and distractions in the meeting, so it’s important to understand how to handle these people before the meeting even begins. Implementing a few simple strategies can help to overcome the challenges these people present to virtual teams.

There are five common types of disruptive people:

  • The Multitasker: This person spends much of the time during the meeting working on some other task. While they’re trying to be efficient, their distraction causes them to miss important details and waste everyone else’s time when they ask for clarification later.

Possible Solutions: Keep virtual group meetings shorter, clarify expectations, and have them paraphrase things to make sure they understood.

  • The Background Noise-Bringer: When working remotely, sometimes it’s not possible to find a quiet space for a virtual meeting. Whether they’re meeting in a busy cafe or some other public place, this person forgets that the background noise picked up by their microphone can be distracting to others.

Possible Solutions: Ask them to mute their mic until they’re ready to contribute or have them find a quieter meeting place.

  • The Disorganized and Confused: Some team members are less organized than others, causing them to forget to prepare for meetings or even forget that they’re scheduled until they’re already underway. Their lack of preparation leaves them confused and flustered when the meeting begins, forcing others to take valuable time to catch them up or causing them to miss important information.

Possible Solutions: Have them set up calendar reminders and provide them with a meeting agenda with some guidance in advance.

  • The Interrupter: This person doesn’t show respect for other team members’ opinions and frequently talks over them or prevents them from responding. While conversation is valuable in a virtual meeting, interrupters are more interested in dominating the discussion than in exchanging ideas. By cutting others off and talking excessively, they create friction and interrupt the flow of the meeting.

Possible Solutions: Use collaborative software to indicate when it’s acceptable to speak and enable webcams to help people observe visual cues.

  • The Checked Out: Sometimes people show up for a meeting, but no one knows they’re there because they never speak up or show any initiative to participate. Indifferent team members are more likely to miss important information and fail to communicate important details about their own work. Their lack of participation also enables other forms of disruptive behavior, making it easier, for instance, for an interruptor to go on monopolizing the conversation.

Possible Solutions: Make them responsible for an agenda item, ask for their input on a topic you know they are interested in, or establish a task for them to perform during the meeting.

2: Set the Agenda

This might seem like an obvious point, but a meeting without a clear agenda is more likely to be a waste of everyone’s time. Make sure the meeting is absolutely necessary. A status update when you do not need to solve a problem or make a decision rarely requires a meeting, for instance. When a meeting does need to take place, it’s important to determine what it needs to accomplish, who should attend, and what will be expected of the participants. Once the attendee list and agenda is determined, a copy of the agenda and all information that might be needed should be sent to the participants to give them enough time to prepare.

3: Scheduling

One of the challenges with virtual teams is coordinating scheduling for team members who are located in different time zones or keep different schedules. Meetings should be scheduled at times that are least inconvenient for all members, but this shouldn’t be a simple majority rules decision. It’s not fair to employees in different time zones if they’re continually having to attend meetings at odd hours. Meeting times should rotate at least somewhat to accommodate all members. More frequent, short meetings are also easier to schedule and manage than long meetings, which make it harder to keep members engaged in. It also may not be necessary for all team members to attend the entire meeting, so the meeting can be scheduled in a way that allows people to drop out or in at certain points.

4: Strive for Consistency

For teams that incorporate both remote and colocated team members, virtual meetings can often be an inconsistent experience. If half the team is located in a conference room while the rest log in remotely, there’s a strong likelihood that remote members will miss out on discussions or not be able to follow along with shared documents. It can also make them feel disconnected from the rest of the team and make it harder to participate in discussion. For these reasons, it’s a best practice for all virtual team members to attend the meeting using the same technology. While it may seem strange to have co-located team members attending virtually from separate rooms, it puts remote located employees on equal footing and makes them more likely to participate productively.

Organizing effective virtual group meetings is critically important for every company seeking to leverage technology to bring together its globally distributed workforce. By applying a few key strategies, virtual leaders can do a better job of planning for these meetings and setting their team members up for sustained success.