How to Keep Your Virtual Meetings Efficient and Productive

Techniques to help you streamline communication, keep everyone engaged, and avoid Zoom fatigue

Girts Ragelis/ Shutterstock
Girts Ragelis/ Shutterstock

The coronavirus pandemic has radically transformed the workplace, and for many of us, remote work has become a part of our new normal. But even with technology to keep us connected and productive, collaborating with teammates over instant messenger and keeping meetings focused over video conferences can be challenging.

We asked our Thrive community to share the small techniques they are using to keep their meetings efficient and productive during this time. Which of these will you try?

Give yourself permission to decline

“As an account director at an advertising agency, I have a lot of meetings each day, both internally with my team and externally with clients. It can become a hectic task to keep up with all Zoom meetings, so I do my best to only attend events that will need my direct input during them. Otherwise, I ask to be briefed on the meeting output in an email afterwards.”

—Nesma Naad, account director, Cairo, Egypt

Carve out five minutes of intro time

“I plan about five minutes for socializing in the beginning and sorting out any technical issues. This helps to ensure everyone gets to connect with one another before starting, and no one misses out on the meeting if they have to do a quick computer update.”

—Rianna M. Hill, digital marketer, Bremerton, WA

Do a team exercise before diving in

“To create a fun atmosphere in our weekly team Zoom meeting, each team member puts on a virtual background of their choice and the rest of the team must guess where the picture was taken. We share brief personal stories about our pictures, which helps us connect and feel closer before we dive into the meeting agenda.”

—Isabelle Bart, marketing director, Orange County, CA

Nominate a timekeeper

“Nominating a timekeeper who lets everyone know when we have five minutes left helps to keep everyone on track, especially during a busy day of back-to-back meetings. I find that setting up 15-minute or 45-minute meetings tends to be more optimal than the classic half hour or hour time slot, allowing for a buffer in case the meeting runs over. ”

—Marta Chavent, change and management consultant, France

Be mindful of your background

“I’ve found it helpful to adjust my setup before starting a meeting. I adjust the camera to sit at eye level, and then I adjust the distance I am sitting from the laptop so I’m truly comfortable.”

—Marta Chavent, change and management consultant, France

Set a focused agenda

“I find that it’s important to set a structure beforehand, where you identify a consistent list of focused topics to cover during each meeting. For example, your check-in agenda might cover important project updates, schedules and events, obstacles and opportunities, professional development, and action items. Instead of spending time going over everyday tasks, send an email for anything that doesn’t require discussion.”

—Armida Markarova, professional coach and conflict resolution mediator, Chicago, IL 

Have everyone turn their cameras on

“I’ve found the best way to conduct a virtual meeting is to have everyone with their camera on, but on mute when they are not talking. This eliminates distractions and helps facilitate the person to person connection.”

—Rianna M. Hill, digital marketer, Bremerton, WA

Stick to a 30-minute cap

“To keep our meetings productive, we are keeping them short. 30 minutes seems to be the maximum tolerance anyone has to stay focused. There are so many distractions competing for people’s attention and screen fatigue is real.”

—Julie Morgenstern, productivity expert, New York, NY 

Share your screen for visuals

“I’ve found it helpful to make the screen sharing feature your friend. Any time you’re discussing action items or shifting project activities, you’ll want to use a shared screen. I do this with my corporate innovation clients. It’s important to track what we’re deciding or aligning on. Utilizing screen share mimics being in the same room and promotes interactivity. When I start with a shared screen, everybody’s focused because we have to be present to contribute. You’ll also have more opportunities to be clear about action items and exactly who’s doing what.”

—Whitney A. White, entrepreneur and business coach, Washington, D.C.

Ask specific questions

“As I adjust to remote working in a pandemic, I am focused on keeping my productivity and engagement up in all of my meetings. One way I do this is by inviting everyone to contribute in each meeting. As the meeting facilitator, I ask specific questions, and actively coach to ensure no one is using too much airtime.  I also encourage everyone to use the chatbox to avoid interrupting the person who’s speaking.”

—Mita Mallick, head of diversity, Jersey City, NJ 

Send out an email before and after

“When you work with content creators and clients in marketing, it’s easy to lose focus in meetings, as everyone generally has ideas to share. I usually send out an email the day prior to the call, highlighting the main topics split in bullet points in order of priority, so if we run out of time and can’t get to the last bullet points of the list, it won’t be a big issue. I keep it to a maximum of five bullet points, trying to be mindful of people who are joining from different time zones as well. I also share a short summary of any call right after it ends in order to make it easy for anyone to refer to it whenever they need to.” 

—Marcio Delgado, content producer and influencer marketing campaign manager, London, U.K.

Use the last few minutes for questions

“There are lots of ways to run Q&A for online meetings. The text function is a great way to gather ongoing questions throughout the call, and then you can answer them at the end of the session. I recommend keeping the last five or ten minutes reserved to answer those questions.”

—Jennifer Zar, marketing strategist, New York, NY

Do you have a go-to tip that helps you keep your virtual meetings focused? Share it with us in the comments!

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