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How to run a strong virtual meeting while working out of office

With working from home being part of the new normal, plenty of teams are coming up against new communication challenges every day. We’ve had to create workspaces at home to help us focus, adjust how we hand off work to colleagues, and change how we communicate daily.

One particularly tricky situation people are finding themselves in involves running meetings virtually. For many organizations it hasn’t been as simple as flipping from in-person to virtual, and hey – growing pains are to be expected.

With that in mind, I’ve brought together a handful of useful ideas to help ensure your next virtual meeting runs as seamlessly as possible.

Take care of accessibility before the meeting.

Can everyone connect and communicate? Before the meeting takes place, get in touch with meeting participants and ask if they have any accessibility requirements to make sure they feel included. It’s the responsibility of the meeting organizer to make sure there are no technology roadblocks before the meeting starts.

Make sure you have a strong moderator.

And no, I don’t mean the office arm wrestling champion. To run a virtual meeting, you’ll need someone who knows how to bring people together, keep people engaged, and make sure things continue to flow evenly. When running a meeting virtually, it’s much easier for participants to get distracted (I’m sure plenty of people have gotten the dishes done while sitting through a less than thrilling meeting). A strong moderator can keep people engaged, and keep the meeting hopping along.

Ask yourself: What’s the purpose of the meeting?

Is your meeting a one-on-one meeting, a team meeting, a department meeting, or even bigger? Should this even be a meeting? Could it be a quick email or message? It’s much less taxing for a team to jump into a meeting when everyone is already in a centralized location like an office. When working from home some participants will need to put in much more effort to create an environment free from barking dogs, crying babies, or other distractions.

Set an agenda and stick to it.

Before the meeting, send out an agenda to make more efficient use of everyone’s time. Making sure you stick to your agenda will avoid the meeting running long and helps everyone stay focused. If you have details you’d like to go over in the meeting that don’t apply to everyone, consider scheduling one-on-one meetings.

Build in opportunities for participation!

It falls on the moderator to ask participants if they have anything to contribute to the discussion, and to create structured opportunities for people to contribute. If you’re running your meeting in something like Zoom, you can encourage the use of the “raise hand” feature to allow people to contribute without worrying about folks talking over each other. Consider building in breaks into the meeting flow where people can ask questions before moving on to the next topic to keep things focused.

Hopefully implementing some of the advice above can make your next meeting run a little more smoothly. Remember that while this is unexplored territory for many organizations, preparation and thoughtfulness can mean the difference between a dull meeting and an engaging one!