In our work-from-home world, businesses everywhere have come to rely upon virtual meetings to foster collaboration among dispersed team members. These video meetings have proven to be almost exactly like conventional in-person staff meetings in one respect: they’re almost universally despised.
Research consistently shows that remote workers are overwhelmed by meetings that seem to be increasing in both duration and frequency. In one recent survey of more than 20,000 remote workers in the U.S. and U.K., most said that excessive video conferences have become distractions that divert their attention from essential duties and tasks.
That’s unfortunate because conferencing and team collaboration tools can provide exceptional value by enabling real-time collaboration, improving business agility and enhancing team unity. They give us the opportunity to evaluate project status, share information and exchange ideas from long distance. The following tips and suggestions can help you minimize distractions, keep your teams focused and get the most of these terrific technologies.
One way to make meetings more productive is by entering them with a concrete plan instead of just winging it. Organizers should create and circulate a meeting agenda so everyone can come prepared. When preparing the agenda, it’s important to look it over objectively. Ask yourself if the subject matter really requires a meeting or if everything could just as easily be addressed with a group email. Here are some additional questions to consider when creating your agenda:
- What purpose does your meeting have?
- What is the end goal?
- Are you meeting to establish an initiative’s timeframe?
- Are you resolving an issue?
- Are you brainstorming your next project?
At the very least, going through these questions will create clarity about the purpose and goals of the meeting.
If a meeting is necessary, invite only those who really need to be there. Too many participants can result in too many competing voices and frequent interruptions. Nonessential attendees can sometimes hijack the meeting by introducing business that isn’t on the agenda.
Organizers should also establish a reasonable time limit and stick to it. Anything longer than an hour is probably too long. Studies show that people start to lose focus after about 30 minutes. If you need longer than that, take breaks every 15 minutes or so.
Even if you aren’t the organizer or facilitator, there are steps you can take to keep meetings focused, productive and on schedule. Here are a few ways we can all improve virtual meetings:
- Be on time. Late arrivals are interruptions that distract other participants and waste everyone’s time. If you are running late, notify other participants by text or email.
- Limit the use of mobile devices. Although it is tempting to multitask, it can be a distraction that creates interruptions and causes meetings to run long.
- Call in from a quiet space. Background noises distract everyone and cause people to lose focus. While working from home, try to find a spot where kids, pets and televisions won’t be distractions.
- Be concise. Long-winded speakers try everyone's patience. Don't speak unless you have something relevant to say. When you do choose to speak, keep statements clear and concise to avoid crosstalk.
- Use the mute button effectively. Mute your phone when you aren't speaking. This will eliminate background noises and annoying echo sounds that can distract other participants.
- Take notes. Handwriting notes will keep you engaged in the call and can help you gain clarity about points you'd like to make and tasks you need to complete.
If you apply these tips and practices to your next meeting, you should start to see major improvements with how it’s run. Who knows, it may even make meetings (dare we say it) enjoyable.