10 tips for more productive remote meetings

Remember, not everyone is comfortable participating in online communication platforms: Use these tips to help inspire all your team members speak up
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In this time of social distancing and remote work, it’s hard to “feel” the buzz of team activity. It is especially difficult to receive the immediate and easy feedback you’d typically get in a live meeting.

While online meeting platforms make it easy to schedule calls, send invitations, and incorporate visual aids to presentations, there is one thing that they cannot facilitate: engagement. It is all too easy to participate in a remote meeting in person yet be detached from the conversation.

[ For more advice on leading remote teams, read 8 remote work lessons: Stay agile and expect surprises. ]

With everyone working in different places, how can you encourage your team members to engage? Here are nine factors that drive people to participate in online meetings, followed by a set of proven engagement tactics that can bring these factors to life.

  • Clear tangible value: What is in it for them? Personal value or team gain?
  • Investment: If team members have already completed work, they feel more obligated or willing to share it.
  • Visibility: People want the chance to be seen and interact with leadership or other influential audiences.
  • Collaboration/Creation: They also value the opportunity to create something new with peers.
  • Recognition: People are motivated when their work is acknowledged and appreciated.
  • Sufficient time/Skills: Team members must feel that they have enough time and the ability to effectively prepare.
  • Ease: Participation is more likely if it does not require an outsized amount of effort or time.
  • Space and permission: Help people know when it’s time to speak.
  • Fun/entertainment: People are drawn to fun, and it helps lower inhibitions and encourage sharing.

10 tips to encourage team participation

So how do you get the most from your remote team? Try these tactics:

Communicate context: Use a pre-meeting email or opening comment to highlight the importance of the meeting and of participants’ contributions. Set expectations for what the experience will be: review topics, duration, etc. Prime your audience to participate.

Use small breakouts: A proven tactic for encouraging participation is to break any larger group into smaller groups. This creates an intimacy that gives space for contribution, builds community, creates “allies,” and inspires pride and a desire to share. Use “virtual breakouts” on online meeting tools or suggest meeting separately as part of the meeting.

Write collaborative assignments: Provide step-by-step instructions that break down activities into “what to do” and then “what to share” – but keep it simple. Have teams report out. Use instructions to build more cross-team participation into the experience.

Gamify! For any activity, add a tight deadline and other competitive rules to build in fun and excitement and boost productivity.

For any activity, add a tight deadline and other competitive rules to build in fun and excitement and boost productivity.

Orchestrate speaking time: Lay out a sequence describing who will share what and when, or let people know in advance if you plan to call on them to speak. This is particularly important for online meetings, where visual cues are harder to see. Coordinating input helps to minimize dead air, which saps meeting energy. It also helps you to engage with most, if not all, participants and gives more deferential people space and permission to share.

“Jot down a few thoughts:” Ask meeting participants to take a few moments to think about a question or two and jot down ideas. This prompts participants to share: “I’ve already written it down; I might as well say it.” It also breaks the ice for future input.

Ask meeting participants to take a few moments to think about a question or two and jot down ideas.

Assign pre-work: A more involved version of the “jot down thoughts” idea, assigning work before a meeting requires added effort, but it serves a number of purposes: It gets people invested before the meeting has started. People get their heads into the topic. And introverted people have more ramp-up time before the meeting.

Open online communication channels: There is a wide range of options to help team members express themselves online. These can make it less daunting and encourage more people to contribute.

Turn on video: This draws people in visually and increases the feeling of connectedness. Physical hand-raising on video feels natural (for those not on video, most online meeting tools provide a “raise hand” feature.) Reaction features such as thumbs-up and clapping icons, also convey emotion. Recommend use of chat or Q&A, especially for larger groups, and have someone monitor chat.

Unmute phones: This can make it easier for participants to jump into a discussion. Selectively unmute for larger groups to enable some quick back and forth. Unmute everyone, even briefly, to share an energized cheer or a group hello.

Each of these tactics can instill a sense of comfort among even the most reticent remote meeting participants. Combined with your own knowledge of the personalities, chemistry, and habits of your team members, they can help you enjoy more robust and effective meetings.

[ Want to build your leadership EQ? See 10 emotional intelligence must-reads for leaders. ]

Heidi Wisbach is SVP of Business Innovation at FROM, the digital transformation agency. She is also the co-author of the book Impactful Online Meetings: How to Run Polished Virtual Working Sessions That are Engaging and Effective.

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