March 1, 2021 • Tips5 min read

How to get the most out of virtual meetings | City Pantry

Many of us have been working from home for almost a year, so we're pretty familiar with video calls by now. But what makes meetings effective? In this guide, we reveal tips to help you hone your virtual meeting etiquette skills both as a host and a participant.

Got virtual meetings coming out of your ears? Conversations going round in circles? Distracted by a constant barrage of notifications? We've all been there - particularly during the past year of working from home! But luckily for you, we've written the ultimate guide to help you host and participate in effective and efficient virtual meetings. Say 'goodbye' to structureless Zoom calls, dull Google Meets, and chaotic Microsoft Teams, because working from home is about to get easier.

So, whether you spend most of your working day leading team meetings, or you find yourself as a participant in only a handful, the following tips will help you get the most out of your time working from home. You'll even find them useful for future face-to-face meetings when the office eventually reopens or for hybrid work situations.

Top tips for virtual meeting organisers

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1. Always have an agenda

Avoid lengthy meetings that go around in circles by providing a clear agenda ahead of time. This should include any links to materials that you'll be discussing in the meeting to ensure that all participants have the context required.

Allocate timeframes for each agenda point so that your meetings always run - and end - on time. Your colleagues will thank you!

2. Invite the right people

Everyone's time is precious - particularly while working from home where the lines between work and personal life can be blurred. So, be sure to invite the right people to your virtual meetings so that everyone can effectively use their time throughout the day.

To host a productive meeting, it's also important to let each participant know why they are being invited and what you're hoping to get from them being in the meeting. You could include names and actions next to your agenda points to make this extra clear.

3. Be understanding of circumstances

Whether it's children or pets running around in the background, dodgy WiFi signal, or construction noise from nextdoor neighbours, attending virtual meetings while working from home has its challenges. So, be understanding of your colleagues' circumstances.

You can help to minimise disruptions by asking attendees to mute their microphones when not speaking, as well as reassuring people that they can switch their webcam off at any point if needs be.

4. Provide an opportunity for input

Everyone is different: some of your co-workers will have no trouble unmuting themselves to contribute during meeting discussions, while others may be more introverted. So, it's important to give everyone a chance to speak.

You can do this by encouraging people to use the 'raise hand' feature on your video calling software to show the host that they'd like to speak, or by calling upon specific people during the discussion.

Another way of ensuring that everyone gets the opportunity to contribute is by leaving a 10-second silence after asking if anyone wants to add anything, as this gives people enough time to react and unmute if they'd like to.

Advice for virtual meeting participants

man sitting on sofa looking at laptop

1. Be prepared

Be sure to read the agenda and any pre-reads before the meeting so you know what to expect and if you need to prepare anything in advance. You should also add the meeting to your online calendar and set up alerts to go off just before the meeting starts to ensure you dial in on time.

If you're not sure why you're needed in a meeting, make sure to contact the organiser to ask and be willing decline where appropriate.

2. Be attentive and present

When working in an office, meetings are usually held in a distraction-free room, but the same cannot be said for work-from-home environments. Maybe you're homeschooling your children or sharing your work space with the rest of your housemates - distractions are plentiful.

While we can't avoid most of these distractions, we can make a conscious effort to reduce any digital disturbances like Slack notifications, email alerts, and social media doomscrolling. So, when you're next in a meeting pause notifications, minimise all other tabs, and keep your phone out of arm's reach.

3. Compensate for lack of body language

Even with the webcam switched on, body language just doesn't come across as well virtually as it does in person, so we have to make an extra effort to show that we're engaged and actively participating in virtual meetings.

If you can put your webcam on, do so as facial expressions and enthusiastic nods can really make a difference to whoever's speaking. But if you can't, for whatever reason, try to make up for lack of body language by communicating in the chat function with words of encouragement and emojis, where appropriate.

4. Speak up

It can be nerve-wracking to speak up in virtual meetings, particularly when you lack the regular social cues that you experience during face-to-face. Knowing when to speak can be tricky and it's easy to accidently start talking at the same time as someone else.

That's why it's best to make use of the 'raise hand' feature found on many video conferencing platforms. That way, the host knows you have something to say and will ask you to speak when appropriate.

If you're called on to speak, always make sure to respond verbally, even if it's just to say 'I agree and have nothing more to add'.

Finally, when you're not speaking be sure to mute your microphone so avoid distracting other listeners.

Virtual meeting help for managers

Two people on a Zoom call smiling

1. Ensure staff have the equipment they need

Check in with your colleagues to make sure they have everything they need to work from home, such as a laptop, headset, and a decent desk chair. Some companies offer work-from-home allowances to help with the extra costs incurred by creating your own work-from-home space, so encourage them to use it!

2. Support staff with any personal circumstances

As we've mentioned before, working from home can blur the lines between professional and personal lives, whether it's coping with homeschooling as well as work, or dealing with the lows of lockdown.

Try to create an open, honest relationship with your colleagues so that they can come to you with any issues that they're experiencing. Set up a regular one-to-one meeting with those you manage to foster a safe environment for them to disclose and address their concerns.

Allowing colleagues to work flexibly while they juggle childcare etc. or encouraging staff to reach out to Mental Health First Aiders or your HR department will make a difference to your team while they work from home. You could also share our work-from-home self-care tips to help them take care of their wellbeing while working remotely.

3. Address team-specific concerns

You know your team best, so if they're struggling in specific areas - such as making their voices heard during meetings - help them find ways to address those obstacles.

Hosting retrospective meetings at the end of each quarter can help address team or project-specific issues, and act as the first step to resolving them. Make these 'retros' interactive and get everyone involved using online whiteboards and collaboration tools like Miro.


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