You’ve recently held a Zoom or Google Meet video call, but it didn’t go the way you planned.
Employees were distracted, people repeatedly and unwittingly talked over each other, someone’s frame froze and audio cut out while explaining an important project, and the conversational flow you’re used to just wasn’t there.
You left frustrated and eager for the day when your team can physically meet again.
If this is you, you may need to rethink your approach to virtual meetings.
Rather than a less-than-effective replacement for in-person meetings, consider viewing video conferencing software as a distinct business tool—just like any other software your company uses—with its own purposes and functions.
Video Communication as a Business Tool
Virtual meetings are used to achieve similar objectives as in-person meetings, but they often don’t accomplish them in the same way.
When using any collaborative business tool—whether it’s email, google docs, or a chat software like Slack—you need to first establish an agreed upon set of rules and best practices amongst your team.
The same should be true for video calls. This article from Harvard Business Review is a good starting point for establishing what those rules should be.
Next, you need to know the right time to use your video conferencing software.
This is when most people make a mistake. They assume that they can accomplish something virtually just as efficiently as they would in-person. But that’s not always the case.
Here are four questions to ask yourself before scheduling your next virtual meeting to help you determine if it’s necessary.
Question #1: What’s my intended outcome?
Begin each week by writing down the things you and your team need to accomplish.
Make this list as specific as possible. Instead of something like, “We need to brainstorm ideas for our next marketing campaign,” write, “Determine our next
Having a specific outcome gives you a target to reach. You can now identify the necessary steps needed to get there.
Question #2: What is the best way to achieve the outcome?
Let’s look at the marketing campaign example.
You’ve determined the objective and now you’re deciding what steps to take. You’ll need to brainstorm ideas, whittle your list down to two or three options, then choose the best one.
Typically, you could book a conference room and knock out all three of these steps in one session. But, for various reasons, that’s harder to do in a virtual setting.
So what do you do?
You may decide that it’s more efficient to create a shared document where team members can write down ideas on their own time. They can also comment and make suggestions to help keep the process collaborative. Then you can send an email to your team asking everyone to reply with their three favorites.
This should give you a good idea of your best options. Your team is now ready to decide which campaign you’ll move forward with. Now is the right time to schedule a video call where you can present the best options and make a final decision as a group.
This is a wise use of your team’s time. Using emails, shared documents, or group chat channels allows people the freedom to work within their own schedule. This reduces disruption to your team’s workflow and makes your team more productive. Your employees will also appreciate the flexibility and will be more engaged when you do decide to schedule a meeting.
Question #3: Who needs to attend the meeting?
You need to distinguish between two types of people: the person who will help you achieve your intended outcome versus the person who simply needs to know what the conclusion is in order to perform their part of their project.
Going back to the marketing example, a copywriter doesn’t need to be included in the decision-making process for the marketing campaign. They will, however, need to know the details and objectives of the campaign in order to write for it.
It may seem at first like you’re leaving people out. If needed, explain the reasoning behind your decision and that your goal is ultimately to protect their time.
Of course, you don’t want to hurt their feelings, but you may find that people appreciate having less disruptions and more time to do the things they’re best at. Plus, you’ll have less distracted participants.
Question #4: Does everyone know the objective?
After you write down your specific outcome, tell everyone what it is before the call.
This shouldn’t necessarily replace your typical agenda. It should shape it. The agenda should clearly state the desired result of the meeting and provide the structure that will get you there.
If everyone knows the end goal, the call will run smoother and it'll be easier to stay on track.
Get the Most Out of Virtual Meetings
When you don't ask these questions, your meetings can become distractions to your team. They’ll leave you feeling like you do a lot of talking and not as much achieving.
Begin every week by listing out the most important things you need to accomplish. Highlight the ones that require input from multiple people. Then, ask yourself these four questions to determine if a virtual meeting is needed to accomplish that task:
• What’s my intended outcome?
• What is the best way to achieve the outcome?
• Who needs to attend the meeting?
• Does everyone know the objective?
You’ll waste less of your team’s time and get the most out of your virtual meetings.