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Your One-Stop Primer on Virtual Meeting Etiquette

IT leaders have had to learn to facilitate remote meetings overnight. If this transition has been difficult, refer to these guidelines for help.

Pressed by the rapidly evolving COVID-19 situation, organizations have been thrust into full-time remote work with no opportunity to prepare. The time to hope for a smooth transition is past and there is a new word of the day:

"Adapt."

If you have suddenly found yourself moderating remote meetings on critical business issues, with little experience and less room for failure, you are not alone. And like most leaders over the past few weeks, you might be wondering whether your participants are truly engaged and whether you're getting your message across effectively.

The organizer and the attendees all have a part to play to ensure virtual meetings are effective. Refer to the following checklist to see how you can move beyond coping with virtual meetings to using them to your advantage:

Organizer

Attendees

Before the meeting

  • Announce that you will use video and give people enough time to set it up properly
  • Test ahead of time: camera, microphone, and any features of your teleconferencing software you anticipate needing, such as screen sharing or chat; ask your participants to do the same.
    • If your software has a virtual raised-hand function, test it out beforehand and ensure everyone knows to use it.
  • Invite only people who need to participate; stakeholders who only need to be informed of the outcome are best reached with a summary email. This helps keep every participant engaged, as disengagement on the part of a few will dampen the engagement of the group overall.
  • As for any meeting, set an agenda (include clear, concrete, and specific objectives, and set a time limit for discussion).
  • Schedule separate meetings for social chat, no work. This helps replace some of the in-office conversation and keep morale high, leading to better productivity overall.


  • Take the time in advance to set up your workstation for video conferencing: ensure you have good lighting, camera angles, and an appropriate background.
  • Test ahead of time: ensure your camera and microphone are working and you are familiar with the software your organization uses.
  • Review the meeting agenda and ensure you understand:
    • Why you've been included
    • How you are expected to contribute
    • Any prep you need to do
  • Ensure your environment is free of distractions, your phone is silenced, and family members know not to disturb you during the meeting.

During the meeting

  • Stick to the timed agenda and set aside any issues that require further attention.
  • Move from free-form discussion to turn-based sharing, round-robin style. This ensures everyone, including introverted team members, can contribute and avoids participants talking over each other. Use a virtual raised-hand function if available.
  • Address people by name instead of the generic "anyone on the phone have anything to add?" and say their name before asking a question to get their attention if their mind has wandered.
  • Use the chat function for gathering ideas. If there is no explicit need for participants to speak sequentially, the chat function can feel more fluid and provide a written record.
  • Reserve the last few minutes for a recap and review of action items.
  • Have someone record and distribute minutes.
  • End the meeting early, as you would if people had to physically walk to another location for their next one. This provides a much-needed mental break that is easy to forget in a work-from-home situation.

  • Be aware that you're using video; don't check email, look at your phone, or hold extraneous conversations over chat.
  • Mute your microphone when you're not speaking.
  • Wait your turn to speak, don't interrupt others, and use the raise-hand functionality if it's available.

After the meeting

  • Send around minutes, action items, and any materials shared during the meeting.
  • Follow up on any items that had to be deferred due to lack of time.
  • Inform any stakeholders that were not included as participants.
  • Solicit feedback from attendees on what worked and what didn't, especially if your organization is new to virtual meetings.

  • Follow up on any action items.
  • Reflect on what went well, and offer any constructive feedback on the remote meeting setup for next time.

Switching to remote meetings requires adjustment, but the end goal is the same: to achieve your meeting objectives efficiently. If you are considering changing how you run virtual meetings, the only question that matters is, "Will this improve my ability to achieve my objectives?" Use this question as a guide and you will find your remote meetings improve without spending an inordinate amount of time sifting through gimmicky vendor offerings or wondering which best practice to implement next.

Our Take

  • Remote meetings can work just as well as, or better than, in-person meetings if you tailor them to your needs.
  • Running them smoothly requires cooperation from both facilitators and attendees, outlined in the above best practices.
  • Implement only what will help you achieve your meeting objectives and cut out any extra (technology, activities, participants) for clear, efficient communication.

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