Many people experience virtual meetings as more exhausting than normal ones. Why? Something is missing, they tell me. In pre-Corona life, our meetings gave us valuable opportunities to talk to our colleagues informally, before or after the meeting. We squeezed in short one-on-one discussions. We joked around. Drank coffee together. Had lunch. We enjoyed each other’s 3D presence.
Stripped of these added benefits, it suddenly becomes painfully clear to us, that our meetings often take more time than necessary (think 3 hour status updates), are not relevant enough to everyone present (we waste our time multitasking our way through them), or fail to reach clear outcomes. This becomes even more painful when we also have kids at home that need our attention, leaving us with less time to spare.
So for us to experience virtual meetings as productive, they need to be way more focused and efficient. In order to achieve that, answer each of the following questions before each meeting.
- What is our goal? When planning a meeting, especially if it is a recurrent meeting, ask: What do we want to get out of this meeting, and why is that important (now)? Of course there can be multiple goals to a meeting, the point is to get clarity on what they are. Discussing something is not a goal, deciding between multiple courses of action is. Updating one another is usually not a goal, creating meaningful ways to help each other on our projects is. Challenge yourself phrase your goals clearly by asking questions like: why do we want to do that? What do we want to achieve? What is the desired outcome of that? How will we know that this meeting has been useful?
- Is a meeting the best way to achieve this goal? If we want to share information, there are better ways, like sending a one-page infographic to our co-workers. Meetings are often good for decision making, brainstorming, but even for those, it is useful to consider alternatives before defaulting to calling a meeting. When designing a meeting, consider options like break-out rooms, individual brainstorming before sharing our ideas (which is a great way to give more introverted, secondary team members a chance to contribute equally). Sometimes a brief brainstorm can be a starting point, followed by individual or smaller group work.
- Who needs to be on the meeting to achieve the goal? Make sure everyone knows the purpose of their presence on the call. Make it explicit. If not all team members are needed to reach some of the goals, consider dividing the meeting into multiple shorter meetings with different people present.
Oh, and don’t confuse focused, efficient meetings with meetings that are impersonal, and task-oriented-only. Important and deliberate goals of a virtual meeting can be to connect with each other, to elevate morale or to get a sense of how everyone is feeling in the current work situation. And by all means, go and have coffee together, before, or after your virtual meeting. You just have to bring your own coffee…
Wishing you good health and spirits!