As people realized they need not necessarily be present physically to attend meetings, virtual meetings have become more common than ever. But just like in-person meetings, virtual meetings also need to be properly planned to make it successful. 

In remote teams, virtual meetings can be very effective when implemented correctly. They provide a way for distributed teams to come together and collaborate on projects together without having to meet in person. In fact, a study shows that 94% of businesses say video conferencing increases productivity.

Before we go any further, let us first understand what a virtual meeting is. A virtual meeting is a meeting that takes place remotely and not face to face. As with physical meetings, virtual meetings also allow teams to interact, collaborate, and brainstorm on ideas.

Virtual meetings can sometimes be inefficient, time-consuming, and a waste of energy. While it brings the team members closer together via technology, but that’s no guarantee of it being productive and effective. Moreover, the efficiency of virtual meetings drops when you increase the number of participants and the meeting time. 

One of the biggest challenges that remote teams face is running effective meetings with team members. Here, I’ll share several methods to facilitate effective meetings for your remote team.

Preparing an Agenda

Meetings are more effective when there is an agenda and a precise plan. So, prior to your meeting, create an agenda to make sure you don’t miss anything important. 

Be clear on what you want to achieve in the meeting and prepare the meeting agenda accordingly. Having this information will give attendees an idea of what to expect during the meeting. Ensure that everyone who needs to be involved in the virtual meeting knows about it before it happens so there are no surprises when people show up. It is also important to determine who will lead the call and what each person’s responsibilities are.

Every virtual meeting is better planned when you take on the role of a guardian. A simple meeting agenda can include details such as the Meeting Name, Date, Time, Meeting Link, Speakers and their topics and lastly, the conclusion and action items.

Lastly, it’s important to keep meetings short and only schedule them when there is a clear purpose. This will ensure that everyone’s time is spent in the best way possible.

Establishing meeting norms and facilitating actively

In remote meetings, setting meeting guidelines helps to avoid ambiguity and paves the way for productive discussions. Meeting norms provide instructions on what is expected of each member of the team. Some guidelines that you can set your virtual meetings are as follows:

  1. Assign specific tasks to each person so they can contribute their ideas. 
  2. Set a time limit for each person to talk so that they don’t overshoot it. 
  3. Stay focused on the video conference and don’t work on anything else during this time
  4. Make sure your microphone is muted when you aren’t speaking to reduce background noise. 

Furthermore, it is also helpful to assign a moderator to each meeting to intervene if anyone is being interrupted. Moderators can also probe and encourage participants to speak up. Moderators should also be on the lookout for questions from the audience and facilitate discussions. For example, drawing out participants like ‘What are your thoughts on the new guidelines, John?’ as opposed to generic comments like ‘Does anyone have anything to say?’.

A moderator controls the pace and tone and can influence how people engage. So, here are a few tips you can use to host meetings effectively.

  1. Be sure to speak clearly into your microphone and speak more slowly than you normally would. 
  2. Encourage questions and additional opinions from participants.
  3. Mute notifications for all your other apps
  4. Allow ample time for people to respond after you finish each sentence.
  5. Use additional icebreakers or icebreaker jokes to engage attendees

Getting the right people to attend

When meeting invitations are sent out, it’s easy to think that more is better. This is why most leaders include anyone and everyone to the meeting, so that their viewpoints are taken into account. While it is necessary to include people in the decision-making process, having too many invitees decrease the quality of meetings and discussions.

There is also the added hassle of finding a time that is convenient for everyone across different time zones. So, in a virtual meeting, it is important to invite people only with a stake or role in the outcome 

Whenever possible, you should try to have the fewest people attend a virtual meeting.  Furthermore, you always have the option of recording your discussions and storing them centrally (e.g. wiki) so that other people can access them later, if they are interested.

Avoiding conflicting schedules

When working on a distributed team, it is often difficult to arrange a common meeting time that works for everyone. Depending on the person, some may work better at night, while others may get more done during the day. There are a number of ways remote employees can run into conflicts when scheduling their time: simultaneous meetings, overlapping workdays and time zones, and more.

So, the first thing that you need to do is to ensure that the meeting time works for everyone in their own timezone. A good rule to follow is to make all virtual meetings within a certain time range.

There are lots of tools that help you pick the right time frame quickly, for e.g. World Time Buddy. If you are looking for more advanced, automatic scheduling, you should check out Undock or Clockwise.

Timing your virtual meetings accurately

People who work remotely have a false perception of time, which constitutes one of the remote work anti-patterns. Their belief is that virtual meetings typically last longer than office meetings.

Rather, in a virtual meeting, people’s attention spans are shorter, so you should limit the duration of the meeting.

There’s no rule that your meetings should be at least half-hour or an hour-long – never hesitate to schedule a 15 or 20 min meeting or even lesser. Studies have shown that shorter meeting times create time pressure and encourage better performance through increased motivation and focus.

Choosing the right tools

As a remote worker, it is necessary to stay on top of the most recent technology since the role depends heavily on technology and the adoption of tools. A website called Remote Tools lists the most recent tools that are very helpful to remote workers. Here you can also find alternatives for the tools you currently use.

The best tools to use for virtual meetings are Zoom, GoToMeeting and Google Meet. You can use tools such as Miro and Whiteboard Fox when whiteboarding or brainstorming. Klaxoon, Mentimeter, PollEverywhere are some of the best voting tools. Otter and are helpful for taking meeting notes. 

Having a Plan B

In a remote environment, there is a good chance that you might face difficulties with your internet or suddenly your audio device may stop working. As a result, it is good to have a plan B to prevent embarrassing situations.

You should always have a backup connection, an extra pair of earphones, and possibly even a spare laptop. Having a backup for all the things that enable you to work remotely is essential, particularly if you’re on the go. 

Furthermore, knowing your tools and what works and does not work helps a lot. For example, when you screen share on Zoom, there’s a visible lag you will notice when browsing the web. In this case, closing your usual set of apps and clearing some memory on your computer will be helpful.

Meeting takeaways and action plans

A successful meeting concludes with everyone agreeing that the meeting’s goals have been met. The meeting takeaways are the conclusions and actions that have been discussed in the meeting. The following are three things you can do after ending a meeting.

  • Sharing takeaways

When something has been discussed verbally, it is always beneficial to write down a note to reinforce it. Having the key takeaways in your central location (wiki) allows you and your teammates to easily refer to them later. In fact, this is much more effective than storing entire meeting recordings.

  • Action items

An action item refers to a task that has been assigned to the person. After the meeting, everyone should be clear about their roles, without any ambiguity about what they are responsible for.

  • Asking for feedback

For your future virtual meetings, you may want to conduct a quick survey (for larger groups of participants) or have an informal chat afterwards.