The dos and don’ts of virtual meetings


The rise in digitalization and global hiring has changed the way a typical workforce operates today. The professional landscape now comprises employees who not only work remotely but also collaborate across international borders. So how does this affect team management and performance within a modern organisation?

Traditionally, managers could hold impromptu in-person meetings to connect with their teams. But with employees now working remotely, often based in different time zones, holding result-oriented team meetings has become more complex. Virtual meetings present a great opportunity for teams to bond, share ideas, and motivate each other to work through problems and reach goals together. However, for this to be achieved, managers need to be mindful of the common pitfalls in this way of working and adopt strategies to maximise its potential positive impact.  

Common pitfalls of virtual meetings

Virtual meetings lack the traditional aspects of an in-person meeting and can become exhausting for participants. In fact, many employees report suffering from ‘Zoom fatigue’ in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. This can result from the extra effort often required to connect with colleagues virtually given fewer non-verbal cues, too much screen time, and dealing with connectivity issues. 

A recent survey conducted on remote US workers revealed that 80% of the respondents were experiencing ‘Zoom fatigue’. A common reason quoted was that meetings ran for too long, or were held too frequently. Other issues cited by respondents were having to look at a screen for long periods of time, lack of clarity on the purpose of meetings, and limited physical mobility during virtual meetings. More broadly, other commonly observed challenges of virtual meetings are:

  • Time lost resolving technical issues during meetings. 
  • Limited time overlap for holding meetings when teams are distributed across different time zones. 
  • Introverts, or more reserved team members in general, can sometimes find it difficult to participate in meetings held virtually.
  • A tendency for some team members to go off-topic, thereby prolonging meetings. 

The virtual meeting playbook 

To deal effectively with these challenges, managers need to spend some time to devise a playbook for virtual meetings. Like any meeting, preparation ahead of time, a structured agenda for the meeting itself, and follow up steps should be the key components of any strategy to optimise virtual meetings.  

Prior to the meeting

  • Define the agendaPlan out clear objectives and what information needs to be shared. The agenda must be shared with participants beforehand so they are prepared and can contribute to the discussion.
  • Use scheduling tools. A team can be spread out across different time zones. With scheduling tools, a host should inform everyone of the meeting in a timely fashion and confirm attendance. Using automated alerts leading up to the meeting time is also a good idea. 
  • Use appropriate technologyWith various video conferencing tools available, managers should choose the best fit for their team and then stick with it, avoiding frequent changes. The necessary technical parameters should be tested beforehand, such as internet connection, software updates, and audio/video functionality.
  • Have an appropriate backgroundThere should be no distractions in your background, such as harsh lighting or disruptive noise. Virtual meeting tools allow you to blur or change your background altogether.

During the meeting

  • Assign roles. If participants are assigned roles, it’s easier to keep them active during the meeting. For example, someone can be made in charge of taking notes, monitoring time, or attendance.
  • Stick to the agendaTry to stick to the agenda closely and don’t go off-topic. Long meetings can quickly become monotonous, and cause team members to lose focus. 
  • Ensure two-way communication.  Every meeting should be planned for audience engagement. If only the host keeps speaking, participants may lose interest. As the host, you must stay proactive and actively engage participants.
  • Give an action-oriented summary. Every meeting should be concluded with a wrap up discussion. The objective should be to reiterate the key issues discussed, and what actions items have been agreed upon going forward. 

After the meeting

  • Document the meeting. Once a meeting is over, a follow-up email should be sent with key notes and action items. While these should be kept brief, they will serve as a reminder and source of reference for the team.  
  • Share recorded meetings. For those who are unable to attend, meetings can be recorded and shared with them so they can catch up with the rest of the team.
  • Solicit feedback. Note down any issues so they can be avoided for the next meeting. In particular, participant feedback can be helpful for improving future meetings.   

So what makes a virtual meeting successful?

We know that remote work is here to stay, and managing teams through virtual tools will become increasingly important for all organisations. Since teamwork is all about collectively working towards the same goals to achieve positive outcomes, every meeting should strive towards this. In other words, a virtual meeting can be considered successful if everyone is on the same page about what was discussed, what  is expected of them next, and teams are seen to become more productive as a result.