Virtual Meetings: Best Communication Practices

Virtual meetings existed as far back as the 1960s, but the pandemic made them a household word that people tend to love or hate. 

Zoom, Google Meets, Microsoft Teams, and WebEx have become a regular part of our vocabulary as we conduct work meetings and job interviews online. Zoom parties have become a way to network and socialize. However, are virtual meetings more or less effective than meeting in person?

For every benefit to meeting online, there is a benefit to meeting in person. Overall, since 2020, organizations have increased their use of video meetings. Here are some revealing statistics from Modality Systems, a technology solutions company:

  • Video meetings improve productivity by 50%.
  • Video conferencing has seen a 535% rise in daily traffic in 2020.
  • The value of the global video conferencing market in 2021 is estimated at $6.03 billion.
  • 90% of people find it easier to get their point across on video.
  • 76% of employees use video conferencing for remote work.
  • 40 million users are conferencing on Skype daily during the first half of 2020.

The statistics imply that virtual meetings are here to stay. People can connect and network with people in other cities and time zones. They can save time on commutes. 

However, these meetings are not the same as connecting in person. To create efficient meetings, people tend to cut down or cut out small talk. There is no time for side conversations or getting to know people in a group meeting. 

However, virtual meetings can be an effective way to communicate with team members, get things done, and meet those company objectives. Here are some best practices for conducting efficient and productive virtual meetings. 

Who should attend… and who to invite to meetings

For those of you who dislike virtual meetings – the good news is not everyone should be invited to every one. For those of you who like to participate and talk in meetings, the good news is people who should attend are those who have something to contribute.

Many professionals who have done the research have concluded that the optimal number of participants is eight. Department-wide meetings or company meetings with more than eight people become ineffective. Not everyone has a chance to participate and not everyone needs to be there.

Eight or fewer should be invited to a meeting. The objectives of the meeting (more on that later) determine who should attend. If the meeting is about a project progress update, the key people involved should attend, for example. 

A department update may be more effective as an email or report update, and only key members will attend the update. Instead of meetings, one company sends updates or newsletters to the entire department using a paper copy that each person must sign to show they have read the update.

A one-to-one meeting is usually the most productive – if you nod off at that meeting, you’ll be noticed. Also, for a two-person meeting, you only cover what you need to cover, and the meeting can be over sooner than the scheduled time.

How to avoid Zoom fatigue (virtual fatigue)

Some people groan at the mention of another Zoom call. They don’t want to spend time getting dressed up (from the waist up) to go on camera. For others, having to speak makes them nervous. (Especially if the meeting is being recorded – your words are immortalized forever.)

Virtual meetings have created new issues and situations that didn’t exist when people met in person. “Zoom fatigue” or “virtual fatigue” have become the term to describe the tiredness and burnout from too many virtual meetings. 

It’s just not natural to maintain constant eye contact or see yourself. Constantly staring at others can seem confrontational. And looking at yourself during the meeting can make you painfully aware of what you look like and what you’re doing. 

One solution is to turn off the camera. Mentally, it will be less stressful because you won’t feel like you’re being watched. But without the camera, it may feel less personal, like walking into an empty room and conducting a meeting with a bunch of disembodied voices. You can’t read facial expressions or judge people’s reactions from their body language. 

A perfect solution to remedy Zoom fatigue isn’t out there. It’s possible to do both: to have a combination of on and off camera meetings.

How long should the virtual meeting be?

The average meeting is about the length of a regular TV show: 30 minutes to an hour. Scheduling a meeting can be a challenge in the first place – getting people to stay for 60 minutes can be near impossible for various reasons. 

People who juggle multiple meetings in a single day may not attend each meeting they are invited to or stay for entire meetings. Another issue is time zone differences. A meeting to start the day for some may be a lunch break meeting for others.

These virtual meetings can become a game of Tetris, in which you’re trying to get as many key people to be available at a time that works best for everyone. 

Many agree that meetings should be between 30 to 60 minutes, but not exceed an hour. Having a moderator helps keep the meeting on track and finish on time. 

According to Modality Systems, “Bad meeting organization leads to a loss of over $399 billion per year.” Like buying a ticket to watch a good movie, that meeting should be worthwhile and productive for everyone attending.

What qualifies as an effective virtual meeting?

Let’s start with the most fundamental question. Should a meeting be called in the first place? And if the answer is Yes, will every attendee leave the meeting thinking, “that meeting was a solid use of my time”?

Some meetings don’t need to take place at all. It may be more efficient to send everyone an email to read at their earliest convenience. Another possibility is to use a video messaging tool such as Loom. You can record yourself talking while you share your screen. This method is effective for providing instructions for one or more team members without coordinating everyone for a meeting.

If a virtual meeting is the best way to achieve some objectives, establish clear goals and objectives for the meeting. A moderator will monitor the time remaining to ensure that enough time is allocated to achieve the objectives. 

Each person at the meeting should also have a specific role. For example, lead the meeting, provide progress updates, take meeting minutes to provide a report, or give feedback or insight on a topic.

To evaluate the effectiveness of a meeting, all participants should fill out a brief survey, such as questions in which you select a number from 0 to 10. They rate items such as meeting duration, the purpose of the meeting, their participation, and how the meeting was conducted.

Someone who gives low scores because the meeting was a waste of their time should not be at the meeting. Everyone should be giving scores from 7 and up.

Should people socialize at virtual meetings? 

What do you prefer: getting down to the business of eating at a fast food joint, or having a social dining experience at a sit-down restaurant? 

Virtual meetings are so precisely timed that socializing doesn’t happen. When you attend in-person meetings you have the chance for small talk when you run into someone in the hallway. Or you can do a quick catch up with people as you file out the door.

But when you have a virtual meeting, you really do “jump on a call.” You jump in, discuss what needs to be discussed, and then leave with the press of a button. Even if you want to have a social conversation as you wait for stragglers, everyone present is part of that conversation. You can’t chat quietly off to the side.

Some people lead their meetings with a brief check in, which is the only social touchpoint. They ask a general question, such as how is everyone doing, or make a neutral remark about the weather or something happening in their city. These moments are a brief window that humanizes people into more than Meeting Participants. 

People have used these meeting openings as an opportunity to reveal something personal about themselves or share a joke. At one meeting I attended, the meeting lead commented on the construction crew lifting a porta-potty in the line of sight of her condo window. During the meeting, she shared a photo of her view in the chat. It was an off-topic moment, but a nice break from project objectives.

Working with remote teams makes it difficult to build relationships through emails, messages, and to-the-point virtual meetings. Team members seem to have no personal life because you don’t know any details about them outside of work. It does benefit everyone to spend at least a minute or two to have a social moment before getting down to business.

Key Takeaways

Virtual meetings will permanently be a part of the work culture as we continue to be a global community. As a best practice, the meetings we schedule should continually be evaluated for them to be effective and productive. 

Meetings should have value for all who attend; otherwise, they should not be there. The number of attendees and the meeting length are also important factors. In some cases, a meeting may not be necessary because the information can be more effectively conveyed with a different medium.

Best practices will constantly evolve as our technology evolves. In the future, if we can virtually attend a meeting in 4D without having to physically be present, we may face new problems (virtual travel fatigue?) but the upside is we must always be open to new and better solutions for communicating in this ever-changing world. 

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8 thoughts on “Virtual Meetings: Best Communication Practices

  1. This is a very important post and discourse, Vanya. I agree, the increased use of virtual meetings is here to stay. At least we now mirror what happens in many movies and tv shows re video conferencing 😊

    The biggest challenges I have found are virtual meetings run by others that lack discipline and those who sign in late. Funnily enough, these are two of my pets re in-person meetings. I don’t mind a bit of socialising, but I much prefer getting down to business and following the agenda.

    I look forward to when I can project my image virtually!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Agreed! Efficiency is the most important element of virtual meetings. Especially now that more and more companies have entire teams of people living in different cities, in person meetings aren’t that practical.

      Thanks for reading my post!

      Like

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