Before the pandemic hit, company leaders were already trying to solve the meeting problem. Many employees felt they spent too much time in unproductive meetings. Now, as more and more businesses navigate the challenges of remote work during COVID-19, digital connection has become the new normal for the foreseeable future. It’s not just a matter of figuring out how to have better meetings — you have to figure out how to do it virtually.

If that sounds like a daunting task on top of all the other challenges brought about by this pandemic, that’s absolutely understandable. We’re all figuring out how to operate in this new normal. But the good news is that you have the power to reclaim meetings and make them the most productive part of your employees’ week; it just takes learning a few new skills and strategies.

How to Make Virtual Meetings Less of a Pain Point

Startups and small businesses, in particular, have a lot to gain from revamping their virtual meeting strategies. They tend to have fewer employees juggling more tasks, so it’s important to spend their time wisely and efficiently. If you fill your employees’ calendars with unnecessary, unfocused meetings that serve no real purpose, you’re losing a lot of value for your business at large.

By having fewer yet more productive meetings — rather than frequent unfocused and unorganized ones — you can keep employees engaged and use their time as efficiently as possible. Doing so in a virtual setting can be challenging, yes, but it’s worth it. Here are a few ways to refocus your meeting strategy, show your employees you value their time and talents, and remind them that you’re all working toward the same goals:

1. Set one mandatory weekly meeting.

The reasons behind meetings can vary, but it’s important to have one uncompromised and dedicated meeting where team members can align and get together to solve the biggest issues at hand. A weekly cadence is good for this type of meeting so you can solve problems when they’re fresh on employees’ minds and not let them pile up until it’s too much to tackle in one meeting.

The weekly meeting should take precedence over all other meetings — sales calls and client meetings included. Nothing should be scheduled over it, and vacation and emergencies should be the only viable excuses for missing it. Of course, if the meeting is mandatory for all employees, you will have to make the most of it. Get good and clear about which issues are deserving of that time.

2. Save higher-level company updates for quarterly meetings.
As you have weekly meetings focused on solving immediate issues or opportunities, reserve a separate time to discuss bigger-picture company updates. Holding these meetings quarterly can be a great way to review overall company success metrics, ensure the company is rowing in the same direction, and gauge employee sentiments.

Reserving this time for higher-level discussions can help you keep the weekly meetings more focused on the issues at hand. Your weekly meeting agenda will change based on the specific problems you’re addressing, but your quarterly meeting agenda should stay evergreen and consistent so everyone knows what to expect.

Along with the set cadence of your weekly and quarterly meetings, be sure to allow the flexibility for new topic-specific deep-dive meetings to pop us as needed. Find a space between uncompromising rigidity that can turn off employees and too much flexibility that can lead to unfocused, unnecessary meetings. You want your employees to feel organized and structured, not controlled or micromanaged.

3. Dedicate a meeting leader.

An important step in any meeting strategy is to nominate one person to keep things on track. Having a consistent leader to keep the agenda structured and employees focused will be especially important in virtual meetings, where distractions can be harder for employees to ignore. Setting rules beforehand — such as no phones or internet browsing while on a video call — can also help keep employees focused.

As one person leads the meeting, another should take notes. Divide the labor so one person can focus on taking down important details while another focuses on steering the flow of the meeting. The notetaker should also be sure to highlight any follow-ups or to-dos to hold people accountable after the meeting. This enables the team to make the most of their time while they’re together and reduces the need for follow-up meetings to address missed points.

The point here is definitely not to operate meetings under authoritarian control. You want employees to feel comfortable sharing ideas, comments, and concerns. Having someone there to make judgment calls and get the conversation back on track if it strays off course ensures that each minute of the meeting is working productively toward the right goals. And having a notetaker record details and to-dos helps make sure the meeting leads to productive next steps.

4. Establish a framework for solving problems.

As we’re all facing new and abundant challenges during COVID-19, it will be important to remind ourselves that each challenge can be a great opportunity to get to the root source of a problem. The key to doing so is having an already established framework to address problems as a team in meetings. Without a set process, employees can send meetings in a thousand different directions when they bring up new issues.

To maintain a solutions-focused meeting, tackle each issue with the following three steps in this order: identify the issue, discuss the problem, and create solutions. Make decisions about your next steps as a team, but beware of ruling by consensus. Everyone should be able to voice an opinion and be heard, but don’t delay further action if you don’t have 100% buy-in.

The first step, identifying the issue, will be an important skill to practice if you want to get to the root of and solve problems within your business. Ask a lot of questions at this stage. You’ll either get down to the main cause of the issue or discover that you’re actually talking about multiple problems that each need focused, separate discussions. Think like a doctor: Truly diagnose the issue rather than jumping to ideas or solutions too quickly. If you start creating solutions before you truly understand what you’re solving for, meeting discussions are likely to feel scattered and unfocused.

The world has changed more than any of us could have imagined this year, and the way we work must change right alongside it. Perhaps this is just the opportunity you needed to rethink your company’s meeting strategy. If you can figure out how to have effective, productive meetings remotely and keep your employees engaged and focused even as they are physically apart, your team will only grow stronger.

To learn more about how to use your team’s time wisely, download the free e-book on how to have world-class meetings today.