Many global companies rely on the success of virtual meetings. While traditional engagement paradigms are heavy on live interactions and building personal relationships, the digital landscape often seems to erase these. However, virtual meetings bring together high-quality professionals regardless of geography and hold promise for highly productive and energetic meetings, all while maintaining the personal quality of traditional meetings.
The best way to manage virtual meetings and get the most value out of the format and participants is to build authentic relationships among your team members. Plan an agenda that is relatively simple and allows for clarity and alignment; cushion your time so you don’t take away from member participation. Lay out your plans for managing the meeting and the expectations you have for participation and sticking to the agenda.
Focus on Relationships
Virtual meetings using video conferencing can facilitate the traditional face-to-face format but bring together a globally diverse group of participants. For teams with flexible work environments or remote members, virtual meetings are crucial for keeping everyone connected. To derive the most success from meetings in the virtual sphere, you need to be diligent about building relationships among members. After all, high-quality relationships produce high-quality conversations and ultimately make for more productive meetings.
Reserving some time at the beginning or end of the meeting for relationship-building opportunities is a valuable practice. One way to do this is to open up the conference lines early or make it a practice to catch up with the other members in the first 10 minutes of the meeting. It helps if you or someone on your team can be ready to initiate the dialogue. Prepare some questions to ask the team. Ask about family or what’s happening in their country, or have them update you about other projects.
Another way to build relationships is to use people’s names when referring to their earlier comments—this not only gives recognition to a person’s contributions, but it also helps create a tighter sense of community in a virtual space. If you can, set up opportunities for members to meet in real life; for example, if someone is traveling to your city, offer to pick them up from the airport or invite them to dinner. Personalizing team relationships builds trust, a crucial element for authentic communication and sharing important insights.
Besides facilitating sustainable and productive relationships, the most important aspect of managing a virtual meeting is to publish an agenda prior to the meeting. Providing a clear agenda along with supportive content helps the participants prepare for the topics of discussion. This is especially valuable for your global team members who speak English as a second language. A published agenda enables your team to be more fully engaged in the discussion and to contribute as active participants.
Be thoughtful about timing. Plan ahead how much time you want to allocate for each topic and include it in the meeting agenda. A useful tip is to plan on spending 20% more time on each topic than you think you need—this ensures members have a chance to provide feedback and ask questions. As you prepare for the meeting, ask yourself why a topic is relevant to the agenda and how it can help achieve the meeting goals.
Before the meeting starts, identify which members you want to hear from for each topic of discussion. As mentioned, group participation adds value to a meeting. Consider who is most affected by the topic, who has different views you want to explore, and whose experience can truly illuminate the conversation. Knowing whom you want to pull into the conversation for each topic helps focus your time and keeps your discussions on track.
Set Up Expectations
The best approach to managing a productive virtual meeting is to establish expectations and create an atmosphere that allows meeting participants to relax, enjoy, and contribute. At the start of the meeting, review with your team how you intend to manage the conversation, the goals you hope to achieve, and how the agenda supports them.
One way to manage a virtual meeting effectively is to ask for certain permissions, including being firm about keeping on track with the topic of discussion and setting aside all devices unless a specific need comes up during the meeting. Clearly communicating your meeting plan and expectations is critical, but being open to others’ ideas on how to improve the meeting is also important.
Make sure your methods support broad participation but your management style also steers the conversations. Being transparent about how you want to guide the group further gives them permission to participate authentically by knowing what to expect. When you set up expectations for a virtual meeting, make sure they foster relationship building and provide opportunities that elicit group participation, ensuring productivity and value.