Hybrid work: 3 tips to improve virtual meetings

Off camera. Out of patience. Your colleagues' meeting fatigue is hitting new levels: Try these tips to keep meetings productive in a hybrid work environment
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How much longer is this meeting going to last?

Checking your watch for the sixth time in as many minutes, you notice that most attendees are muted, and many have turned off their cameras. As the minutes tick by and another colleague goes off on a long-winded tangent, nobody even tries to get the discussion back on track.

The meeting finally meanders to an end, but no overview or follow-up strategy is offered. Fretting over that day’s looming deadlines, you click out of the virtual meeting room – and your calendar notifies you that your next meeting starts in five minutes. Here we go again.

We feel your pain. These days many of us find ourselves sitting through meetings for hours at a time, unable to get more productive work done. Worse, too few of these meetings are worth the time they take.

[ Want more advice on remote meetings? Read also: Hybrid work culture: 5 tips on how to build a positive one. ]

With most companies now implementing hybrid work models, it’s more important than ever to make meetings as effective as possible. Here are three ways to make meetings more productive and – dare we say – engaging in the hybrid workplace.

1. Is this meeting necessary?

Look through your calendar and evaluate all of your meetings. Ask the following questions:

  • Just because you have a two-hour team meeting scheduled every other week, is it always necessary? If so, can it be shorter?
  • If a meeting could take only half the time currently allotted, could you still make it work? (If so, cut it in half.)
  • Are there any aspects that could be handled via email?
  • Are there any new meetings you should be scheduling that didn't happen pre-COVID?

2. Manage the number of participants

Meeting attendees should add value – no tourists! Tourists are folks who have little or no involvement with the meeting topic but who want to be included (usually because they want to feel important or learn about the subject being discussed). Tourists can grind meetings to a halt if they think they have a vote or veto power.

On the other hand, in a hybrid work model, it is important to make sure remote employees feel included. To keep people in the loop, ask them what information will be helpful to them. You can then either include them in the meeting, or when the meeting is over, determine what information to share.

3. Send an agenda and relevant material in advance

Consider sending action-oriented agendas such as “Debriefing first pilot plant run,” “Brainstorming to discover our next product,” or “Developing company rollout plan of the new bonus structure.” Action-oriented agenda items not only tell attendees what you’ll be covering, but they help motivate them to act. Try including agenda questions like “What great product should we produce next?” This gets the cogs turning and spurs dialogue. 

If you’re planning to spend your meeting reading a slide deck word for word, that's an unnecessary meeting.

If you’re planning to spend your meeting reading a slide deck word for word, that's an unnecessary meeting. If attendees can read these materials in advance, you can have a lively dialogue about issues and questions that came out of the reading.

Sending all relevant information in advance is also helpful for those who prefer to have time to think before they speak. Reviewing details ahead of time will enable them to form questions and come to meetings more prepared.

What if attendees don’t read the material in advance? You might try this approach, which Jeff Bezos has been said to take: Have everyone sit together and read the material silently at the beginning of the meeting. It may feel awkward enough to motivate meeting attendees to read the material beforehand next time (or perhaps it will become an expected part of the meeting agenda: “Read material silently”).

As you strategize your team’s return to work, now is the perfect time to meet with them to discuss what they like about working from home. What aspects can you carry forward, and how will you do it? If some team members will be returning to the office a few days every week, what changes would be helpful?

See if you can make a short, sweet, and engaging meeting out of this topic. We’re excited to hear your feedback.

[ Get exercises and approaches that make disparate teams stronger. Read the digital transformation ebook: Transformation Takes Practice. ]

Kate Yuan is a startup consultant with a focus on go-to-market strategies and enterprise sales. She has worked with startups in four continents and 30+ countries as an investor, advisor and operator. Most recently, she was the Operating Partner at Hemi Ventures, an early-stage fund investing in mobility, biotech and enterprise AI sectors.
Lori Dernavich is a Leadership Development Advisor with two decades of experience in advising high tech, deep tech, and life sciences executives. She works with Fortune 500 leaders and startup founders to develop the leadership skills they and their organizations need to be successful.

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