For the vast majority of the world, all work and meetings are now virtual. If you’re worried about what this means for productivity and meaningful meetings, fear not. A two-year study conducted by Stanford professor Nicholas Bloom found that working from home actually boosts productivity.

“It’s far easier to concentrate at home…the office is actually an amazingly noisy environment.” -Nicholas Bloom

Nicholas Bloom’s two-year-long study found an increase in productivity when working remotely. 

This is great news! A conducive environment plus the knowledge of the most effective tools and strategies to conduct virtual meetings is a recipe for remote work success. We have curated the tools you need to have successful virtual meetings below. 

Recipe to run an effective virtual meeting 

1. Pinpoint the purpose

Meeting rule number one, whether it’s in a virtual or in-person setting, is to have a worthwhile reason to bring people together. Why do you want to have a meeting? You must have a clear purpose if you want to have a productive meeting. Without one, the discussion will be vague and unfocused. You can’t work to meet a goal that you have not first identified. Ask yourself why you want to have the meeting in the first place. Are there decisions that need to be made? Do new concepts or processes need to be developed? Are you seeking advice from your team? Only when you have the concrete answer should you schedule a meeting. Matters that aren’t worth scheduling a collective discussion can be addressed with an email or newsletter. You don’t want to waste anyone’s time, not to mention the money that is lost to unproductive meetings–$37 billion annually. Schedule with purpose!

“The majority of meetings should be discussions that lead to decisions.” –Patrick Lencioni, author and President of The Table Group

2. Create and distribute an agenda

Prepare an agenda beforehand to outline what needs to be discussed. Include only essential topics. This will block out any unnecessary discussion that isn’t central to the objective and keep the meeting focused. An important aspect of an agenda, especially for a virtual meeting, is a realistic time table. What will be discussed when and for how long? Map it out, down to the minute, and follow it as closely as possible.

With that being said, timing and attention are much different in a virtual environment. Things take longer online because of the tools you must use and the need to get everyone on board. That means you must include time in the agenda to set people up in whatever tool you use (more on that later) as well as buffer time to troubleshoot any issues that may arise. Realistically, there will be lags and time-sucking overlaps that wouldn’t otherwise happen in an in-person meeting. That’s why it’s crucial to be concise with your schedule in content and timing. Be strategic. But also be flexible. The virtual meeting space is a novelty for most. It will take trial and error to get your meeting prep recipe down just right!

“If we have a clear agenda in advance and we are fully present and fully contributing, the meetings do go much faster.” –Arianna Huffington, Co-founder of Huffington Post website

Once you have created your agenda, send it to all attendees in advance. This will ensure that everyone is on the same page and ready to roll once they login to the meeting. Another beneficial aspect to consider is the need for any pre-work. Remember, you want to be ready to hit the ground running and only focus on your objective during the meeting, not spend time preparing attendees during the scheduled time. Is there anything that needs to be assigned to participants before the meeting in order for everyone to be fully prepared? If so, send that along with the agenda so that everyone is ready and on the same page from the jump. This saves time and increases engagement and productivity. 

3. Pick your tool

At Voltage Control we use and recommend Zoom, Google Hangouts, and Hopin for virtual meetings. They all have slightly different features, but all three support remote gatherings. Pick whichever platform best meets your needs then make sure everyone knows how to use it. Send out a how-to for any newbies and plan for an extra few minutes at the beginning of the meeting to show make sure everyone knows how to navigate the platform. Cover all the logistics, even if they seem trivial: how to activate audio and video, how to mute audio, how to use chat features, etc. Time is of the essence and you don’t want to waste any of the meeting making sure everyone is up to speed.

Throughout the virtual meetings and workshops we’ve hosted in the past several weeks, we have noticed being on our laptops can lead to extra distractions that can defer participant attention. Outside noise like email notifications, incoming text messages, and the temptation to scroll social media or other websites during a virtual meeting can contribute to unproductiveness. One solve we’ve identified is a noise-canceling app to mitigate outside distraction called Krisp. This could be a helpful tool to share with your team to get the most out of your virtual meetings.

4. Encourage the use of video

It’s super important to create as much human connection as possible in a virtual space.

Without everyone being in person, it can be difficult to feel like you’re truly engaging with others. Sometimes it can feel more like you’re watching a movie rather than participating in an active engagement from behind a screen. To put it simply, you will create greater connection and therefore greater collaboration and productivity if everyone in the meeting has their video on. It’s the virtual equivalent of someone calling into an in-person meeting on speakerphone rather than physically attending. The lack of connection and opportunity takes away from the experience instead of contributing to it. You can still be in your p.j. bottoms or sweatpants and no one will know the difference; business up top, party on the bottom! Encourage attendees to use their video to optimize participation and get the most out of the meeting.

5. Keep everyone involved and engaged

Making sure all participants are paying attention is much more difficult when people are ON their devices. We recommend you include periodic opportunities for everyone to work asynchronously and have key moments of high-engagement where the entire group is involved at the same time. Doing so will keep people from disengaging; no glazy-eye syndrome!

Part of keeping everyone engaged in the meeting is to create an opportunity for connection outside of it. Virtual meetings lack the ability for attendees to meet, mingle, and have watercooler conversations before and after the meeting as in the case at in-person meetings. Don’t underestimate the value of this. Team conversations outside of the meeting can be just as important as they are during the meeting. It builds trust, connection, and comradery with team members. You can make up for this by scheduling an extra few minutes before and/or after the meeting to have free chat. Or schedule a team happy or social hour to mingle and connect–it doesn’t have to be a full 60 minutes! Any time spent getting the team together to breathe, check-in, and network is invaluable to overall team performance when you’re back in work mode. 

The inability to meet in person doesn’t mean we can’t have purposeful and successful meetings! We just need to adapt to the virtual environment, help one another, and roll with the punches. We’re here to help you navigate this shift to virtual and set your business up to experience positive results. We’re all in this together!