Technology continues to change the way teams work and collaborate. Remote workforces and outsourcing only begin to tell the story of how the business world is changing. The changes have made virtual meetings more important than ever before. After all, getting team members together at one time to discuss work presents a great challenge in the business world.

Factors other than distance have made the old rules for meetings obsolete. As a manager, you need to find ways to encourage the participation of remote workers in virtual meetings. Doing so will develop the role of the remote employees beyond a mere reliance on following directions. Engaging everyone involved in a project or program requires the development of new skills and the use of new technology. Following the tips outlined below will help you successfully host virtual meetings with your remote employees.

Utilize the Right Technology

Virtual meetings often lack the same energy and personal feeling that employees experience in traditional meetings. Videoconferencing changes that. The technology no longer requires expensive equipment and can enable effective virtual meetings. Similarly, apps that make video conferencing easy abound. For example, Skype and GoToMeeting offer simple solutions as does Google Hangouts.

Tools for gathering data and generating ideas support the various types of meetings businesses require. Regardless of whether your session aims to solve problems or make decisions, you need to find the right technology that will enable the process.

Before hosting a virtual meeting with your remote employees, always define your goals first. Once you know what you want to accomplish with a meeting, you can choose the right tools to develop those goals. You should carefully evaluate all the meeting tools that are available on the market.

Additionally, you should always have a backup plan. Internet connections and computers can fail without notice, so always have emergency equipment and connections available. If you don’t, your virtual meeting will risk wasting a lot of time.

Be Mindful When Scheduling Meetings

Avoiding problems with your virtual meetings starts with proper scheduling. Make sure everyone knows the time of your meeting and has no scheduling conflicts. When remote employees forget about meetings you will find that tracking them down presents a bigger challenge than it does in the traditional work environment.

Always have a specific schedule for your meeting and make sure that all the participants confirm their ability to attend before you move forward with your plans. Remote workers often live in different time zones, so you need to explicitly specify the time zone you use. When scheduling meetings, make sure you respect your company’s telecommuting policy. If your remote employees aren’t required to be available outside office hours, then don’t schedule your meetings during those times.

Also, you need to manage the number of participants in your meetings to avoid introducing too many distractions and system overload. In many settings, you should limit the number of participants to five for optimal results. Doing so also preserves sound quality and helps systems work efficiently.

Meetings with a very limited number of participants often provide an even better experience for those involved because they give more time for interaction and result in a higher degree of engagement. The smaller size also promotes a more personalized culture where people can become intimately acquainted with each other.

Prepare the Agenda

Business meetings can sometimes stray from their intended topics. The same tendency applies to virtual meetings. When you have a group of people trying to talk to each other, they can chase issues not intended for the meeting time. Fight this phenomenon by defining your agenda before hosting a virtual meeting with your remote employees.

Know who your audience is, define your objectives, and decide what information will be shared. Then make sure you distribute your agenda to all participants well in advance of your meetings. Notify attendees about the objectives of your meeting and let everyone know that you intend to stay on topic so that they can save any other concerns for later discussions.

Get all the login information such as access codes and URLs in the hands of your participants well before your meeting begins. Doing so will help participants ensure they have the software and hardware necessary to make their participation meaningful. Encourage meeting members to log in to your online session at least 15 minutes early to prevent connection issues from causing delays.

Engage and Motivate your Employees to Participate

If you struggle with engaging and managing remote employees in daily operations, you might have problems with motivating them to participate in virtual meetings. People working from home or third-party office settings can easily become distracted and lose track of what is going on. Overcome such issues by keeping them engaged.

Asking questions, starting polls and brainstorming activities, for example, can prevent employees from spending the meeting time chatting or responding to email. Multitasking on the part of your participants will hinder the effectiveness of your meeting.

Require every attendee to have input during the meeting, so they all have a reason to pay attention as it progresses. When participants know they have a definite role, they will prepare themselves for it. Having your employees play a part in the meeting will also give them a sense of value and an opportunity to practice new skills.

You can keep participants involved by designating employees to track time or take notes. The responsibility of holding the meeting to its schedule and distributing the summary afterwards will keep those employees engaged through the whole meeting. You should also have a space available where all participants can post follow-up questions and feedback for later review.

Final Word

Hosted virtual meetings with your remote employees give you a chance to get to know your workers, brainstorm ideas, discuss projects, and resolve operational issues. Regardless of whether you work with full-time employees or freelancers, your virtual meetings will keep everyone up-to-date with the issues that affect their jobs. Getting to gather everyone in an online space for an efficient meeting will improve productivity and boost your credentials as a competent manager.