The coronavirus outbreak has resulted in a paradigm shift across all aspects of society. People are being made to adapt and rethink their traditional ways of working amid this crisis.

One such shift is the emergence of remote work. While remote working was already on the rise, COVID-19 and social distancing measures have further contributed to it, so much that it’s now being called the “new normal”.

This puts virtual meetings at the forefront, making them the primary mode of communication in this new setup.

While virtual meetings are convenient and save time, they do come with their share of hurdles ranging from technical glitches and greater scope for distraction to the lack of personal connection.

This means that business leaders and managers need to make conscious efforts to run productive virtual meetings that don’t hamper work. Here are six tips to run effective virtual meetings.

Test and prepare

How much time of your virtual meetings are spent in resolving technology issues wherein someone’s camera is acting up or mic isn’t working? That’s a colossal waste of time and also leads to loss of focus.

Know that technology can’t always be trusted -- there are times when it will let you down.

Hence, to avoid starting on such a chaotic note, make sure every meeting attendee tests their video conferencing software well in advance.

It’s also important to have a backup option ready. For instance, if your inbuilt mic isn’t functioning, always have a set of headphones handy which can be immediately used without disrupting the meeting.

Set meeting objectives

Setting meeting objectives is essential for all meetings but is exceptionally important in a virtual setup.

Unlike face-to-face meetings, there are higher chances of getting distracted and not feeling as engaged. So, make sure virtual meetings are short, to the point, and don’t go around in circles. Having an agenda helps you stay on track.

Share the meeting objectives with the meeting invite and also specify expectations so people come prepared.

If there are any documents or data visualization reports to be shared, it’s a good idea to do so before the meeting begins so attendees have reference material during the meeting and come equipped with their discussion points.

Make video mandatory

The biggest drawback of virtual meetings is the lack of personal connection that arises. One doesn’t entirely know if they’re being well-received or understood by their team.

The closest you can get to developing a sense of connection and reducing miscommunication is by making video mandatory. That means every attendee needs to keep their video switched on during the course of the meeting.

This makes it easier to comprehend and also creates a greater sense of team collaboration while making way for more effective communication. That’s not all, people are less likely to feel disengaged when they’re able to see each other’s expressions and body language.

Include icebreakers

Icebreakers are great for building rapport and putting everyone at ease. They set the tone for the meeting and keep everyone engaged while gradually moving into the agenda.

Icebreaker activities don’t have to take so much time. It can be something as simple as checking in with everyone asking them how they’re doing or how their weekend’s been. You can also conduct short activities such as asking people to show their working space at home.

Include an icebreaker session in the meeting timeline, thereby setting aside time for fun and work.

Practice meeting etiquette

You should maintain the same level of professionalism in a virtual meeting -- don’t get swayed by the seemingly “informal” environment while working from home and make the mistake of appearing lax.

From your background and attire to the way you address your colleagues and make your point -- it’s essential to practice meeting etiquette and treat everyone with respect.

Here are some meeting etiquette rules one must follow while conducting and participating in virtual meetings:

  • Be professionally dressed
  • Sit against a clean and non-distracting background
  • Ensure the lighting is appropriate
  • Mute your microphone when you’re not speaking
  • Take notes by hand (especially when it’s a video conference)
  • Look at the camera (not yourself) while speaking

Be inclusive

There is nothing worse in a team meeting than feeling unimportant and left out. In a virtual context, it gets harder to keep everyone equally engaged and make them feel heard.

Hence, the host or moderator needs to be doubly cautious about running an inclusive meeting that encourages equal participation. Every attendee needs to be allotted a time to speak and share their thoughts.

There will be quieter ones who will hesitate to speak up but at such times, it’s important to directly ask them for their point of view and make them feel included.

Run effective virtual meetings: The takeaway

Make sure every virtual meeting ends with the circulation of the minutes of the meeting, ensuring everyone’s on the same page in terms of the next steps and work plan.

Following these six essential tips will keep those common meeting challenges at bay, allowing you to run productive meetings that improve work efficiency and collaboration in a virtual environment.

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Simki Dutta is a content marketer at Venngage, a free infographic maker and design platform. When she's not working, she can be found refreshing her Twitter feed and binge-watching Netflix shows. Find her on Twitter and LinkedIn.