In today’s world of remote working, it is vital that we make virtual meetings work for us. We are lucky to have platforms that help us maintain human connections, but somehow, for me, remote working has turned into almost back-to-back meetings. Last week, I estimated that I had little more than 20% of my time to work on actual tasks and projects.
We all need quality time to work and the space for innovative thinking, brainstorming or just to get away from the desk to our statutory once-a-day exercise outside. I strive to block off chunks of my work calendar so as not to allow anyone to slip in yet another meeting… but sometimes there is little choice but to move that ring-fenced time for my own work to attend yet another meeting.
So, I’ve resolved to find the best way to have the most effective meeting, assuming it needs to happen at all. Here are five ways to approach virtual meeting management.
Do you really need a meeting?
Ask yourself, do you really need to formally meet? Is the outcome worth the investment of time and energy to set up a WebEx and then schedule the ideal time where all attendees can fit it in?
If the answer to this question is yes, be mindful of who needs to be there. Ensure your agenda is organised so that attendees who only need minimal involvement can leave as soon as their part is over whenever possible.
Let people know if they will be core to the meeting (would you have to reschedule it if they couldn’t attend?) or if they are non-essential. Do your best exclude non-essential attendees unless they've specifically asked for the option to attend or be informed.
Keep meetings short: change the default to 25 and 50 minutes
Some organisations have stopped having 30 and 60-minute meetings, changing the defaults to 25 and 50 minutes instead. This removes risk of overlap and allows valuable time to prepare before your next call.
Strive to start and finish on time and consider using a timer to help you keep it on track.
Communicate your purpose and goal
Start each meeting with an outline of your agenda (“This meeting is about…”) and desired objectives or outcomes (“What I’d like for us to accomplish is…”).
To ensure you’re helping yourself and others get the most out of the session, consider these etiquette tips:
- Introduce everyone during the meeting, and give everyone a chance to contribute
- Give people the chance to leave the meeting before it starts if they have learned from the summary that they don't need to be involved
- Let people know they're free to leave as soon as their contribution is complete
- Be present—mute your notifications, put down your phone, limit your distractions
Create tasks and assign them
Be really clear about why everyone is in the session and what they’re being asked to contribute and how. Finish the session with a list of agreed action items against names to send following the meeting. To help ensure the conversation keeps moving, consider recording the session to so participants have the assurance they can play back the meeting to help them fill in notes later.
Is it a working session or a meeting?
Sometimes teams set up calendar invites to request collaborative sessions so that time can be protected. That makes sense, and can be a good use of the Outlook calendar function, but it’s important to note that these sessions have slightly different goals and outcomes than a standard meeting.
Make sure you define working sessions differently to meetings and to make it clear in the meeting invitation to help manage expectations and how people chose to use the time.
These tips may not suit everyone, or maybe you are doing them already, but if even one of the above suggestions helps you to manage your time more efficiently and curb meeting overload, you’re welcome!
Steve Chambers, director of information systems and security, RAPP