Keeping Your Team Engaged as Virtual Meetings Become New Norm
July 8, 2020 | Design Thinking
by ExperiencePoint

As the Covid-19 pandemic continues, businesses around the world are being challenged to rapidly adopt and sustain new, best practices in remote and virtual working. 

Where once a quick exchange in the office hallway could solve any number of issues, now the vast majority of company interaction and problem-solving has been relegated to the confines of a computer screen — turning remote meetings into the unexpected emblem of company culture.

Kimberly Douglas, CEO and Founder of FireFly Facilitation and Partner of ExperiencePoint, says this is a critical time for leaders to refine and optimize the way they run remote meetings. She says igniting productivity and fostering connection is not only possible in a remote context, but imperative to fortifying a loyal and driven workforce during a time of uncertainty. 


Preparation Drives Participation 

Douglas emphasizes that a successful remote meeting does not simply begin when the "join" button is clicked. Instead, a leader must proactively prepare for participants. This, she advises, begins with relaying a clear purpose for the meeting 48 hours in advance, allowing participants to plan ahead, and empowering them to confidently engage without fear of being put on the spot. 

 “Is this an update meeting? Is this a brainstorming meeting?,” she asks. “This can vary by meeting and it can even vary within the same meeting — so it’s very important to begin with purpose and to then design an agenda to fit that purpose.” 

Once the meeting purpose has been designated and agenda prepared, Douglas encourages leaders to timebox each item and link them to their own individual purpose, be it "discuss" or "develop an action plan." She adds that the meeting leader might also consider sharing content that they wish for the group to read or engage with in advance of the meeting to further forge a sense of commitment and incite unhindered participation.  

“It is also a common mistake of remote team leaders to cover topics that don’t apply to the entire group in hopes that they can catch up on information that would best be covered in a one-on-one,” says Douglas. “This is a terrible waste of time and creates disengagement from team members who the meeting or topics don't apply to.” 

Set Expectations for Engagement

In the same way that everyone participating in a remote meeting must be on the same page about its purpose, Douglas emphasizes that setting clear expectations for the group is vital to a meeting’s success. 

“Setting ground rules is particularly critical as we face this unique working environment,” she says. “Doing so sets the stage for what’s called psychological safety. In a time where people aren’t necessarily feeling entirely comfortable in their day-to-day life, knowing what to expect during these unique workplace interactions can set tone for safety, trust and productivity.”

Douglas suggests that one such expectation would be for everyone to turn on their video during the meeting, or for all to be on mute, or rather, to remain unmuted.  

“My recommendation is to ask everyone to remain unmuted,” she says, acknowledging that this may not be the obvious choice. “The reason I say this is because people are much more engaged if they know they’re not muted.”

“Let’s say a thought suddenly occurs to you — that little bit of hesitation that you have in leaning forward, unmuting… by the time you make that decision the moment has passed. Just like lack of video, this is a recipe for limiting team engagement. “ 

A Human Approach to Colleagues

In these incredibly unique times, where in-person interaction with teammates has been made temporarily impossible, Douglas says that it’s more important than ever to prioritize the "human" before the "colleague."

“At the outset of your meeting, I recommend you add in a human, emotional element,” she says. “One example would be, instead of saying a casual, "how are you?’, you ask that question like you mean it: "how are you doing today?”

She adds that doing so genuinely opens the door for people to share that perhaps they’ve had a tough evening the night before or experienced a challenging call with a customer — resulting again in a sense of safety in sharing and in turn, empathy from the group. 

“You might also leave an icebreaker question in the chat, so as to not put people on the spot, and encourage your team to sign in a little earlier to answer it there,” she says. “Once the meeting starts you can have a brief, candid or even humorous  discussion about some of the answers.”

Manage Personalities

In any meeting, whether in-person or remote, a diverse range of personalities will be present. To manage what could very well be a mix of extroverts and introverts, Douglas recommends deploying a round robin technique. 

“When discussions take place, use the gallery view and go from person to person, asking them to be, what I like to call, ‘crispy’ with their answers,” she says, explaining that the term means tight and focused. “This is another reason why it’s constructive to send out information about the meeting in advance.”

Douglas reminds  that introverts don’t love having a question thrown at them live, while extroverts will be happy to speak, but may not provide their most rational, well-thought out answers on the spot without prior reflection. 

“The ability to prepare will go a long way towards ensuring that everyone’s voice is heard, and that they keep things ‘crispy’ when it comes to their turn.”

Douglas adds that another way of engaging all voices and ensuring the  leader does not become an unengaging talking head, is to assign different people to take the lead on certain items in the agenda.  

“Team leaders often make the mistake of thinking the meeting is solely their responsibility,” she says, “If they do so, everyone shows up to the meeting expecting to be entertained or reserving the right to not pay attention and multitask. This collaborative approach will encourage different perspectives and empower different members of your team.” 

Take Stock of What Worked and What Didn’t 

Your team meeting may have reached its conclusion, but Douglas advises that the human-centered leader not push the "end meeting" button too quickly  

“Be sure that you or someone on your team has captured action items for each component of your agenda before the meeting closes,” she says, suggesting that a ‘who, what and by when’ could be recorded in a rolling, live document. “This is a way to ensure each meeting has clear takeaways and helps to reinforce that it was a productive use of time.”

“Further, I strongly encourage you to conduct a plus-delta evaluation at the end of every meeting,” she says. “Take a few minutes to ask what did we do really well in this meeting and what do we want to improve for future meetings?”

She adds that this is also a great time to roughly design what your next meeting will look like, including who will take ownership of different aspects of that agenda and what’s going to be sent out in advance. 

“This is a new realm for all involved, so take time to figure out what’s working well in terms of productivity and engagement in your meetings and keep doing it,” she says. “Involving your team in refining the delivery of these meetings will help them to be even more engaged.”

“Remember that this is a work in progress,” Douglas reminds “The leadership and care you show in bringing your team together in these ways will be remembered long after this crisis has come to an end.”

In the wake of the global pandemic, the ability for organizations to rapidly adopt new processes and practices  is more critical than ever. Our live, virtual and expert-guided workshop prepares individuals and teams to lead their people through change in a time of historical business disruption and transformation. Register for our ExperienceChange workshop beginning July 20.