Meetings – in any context or setting – can be about as welcome as discovering the last Celebration in the box is a Bounty.
Mugs with messages like ‘I Survived Another Meeting that Should Have Been An Email’ and ‘Another Pointless Meeting’ exist for a reason.
When it comes to home or remote working, meetings can take on an even more soul-sapping experience.
Crackly connections, people who love to talk embracing their opportunity, actually having to get out of your pyjamas…
It does not have to be this way. Online meetings should be a welcome release for remote teams or home workers.
So let’s celebrate the format – here’s some inspiring ideas to make your online meetings a highlight of a home working day.
“What’s your latest Netflix fave?”
A bit of chit-chat is always shared as you shuffle into a meeting room with other people at work, so why make it different for an online get-together?
Allow people to share a joke or bit of goss when they first join the call – it helps them feel connected and should also usher in a relaxed atmosphere for the rest of the meeting.
A window into their world
If participants are at home, video calls can offer an insight into their world away from work.
Explore this with people and use it as an opportunity to get to know them a bit better as a person. It might be a picture of a child or pet on the wall, a certificate or award on the mantelpiece, or a homemade model of Windsor Castle fashioned solely from empty Pringles tubes. Whatever it is, use it to break down boundaries or awkwardness.
Break the ice
If you are aiming for something specific from your meeting (and frankly, should it be a meeting if you’re not?) an icebreaker can help to focus the attention.
For example, if your main task is to stimulate creative thinking, your icebreaker should inspire that thinking. Interactive meeting tools like Mentimeter are great for short quizzes or discussion points.
One study found that workers who shared a funny or embarrassing story about themselves produced 26% more ideas in brainstorming sessions than workers who didn’t.
Rules is rules
The best type of fun is organised fun, right?
While you want to keep your meeting relaxed, you also want it to remain focused and productive, so setting the rules at the start, or even before, is as important as it would be in person.
Set an agenda and share in advance if possible and agree the etiquette up front – muting your phone/line if you’re not speaking and so on.
Shut down the distractions…
One of the mega-probs with being on your laptop for a meeting is the myriad of other distractions it can throw at you – emails, notifications, tweets, news alerts.
Be strict with yourself and fair to the other people in the meeting in trying not to become distracted by these. If possible, shut down these windows while the meeting is going on to save yourself being drawn into them.
…but go with the flow
While online distractions may be avoidable, for people at home, other types of interruption may be unforeseen or unavoidable. Just ask the BBC’s expert on Korean diplomacy.
As with the pet pictures and models of Windsor Castle, accept and embrace crying babies or barking dogs as part of people’s lives and personas. Let them deal with anything that needs urgent attention off-camera, otherwise you’ll simply lose their attention anyway.
Comfort breaks are still needed for, err, comfort
Just because you’re online, it doesn’t mean people won’t get thirsty or need toilet breaks, especially if the meeting is anything longer than an hour.
Build in 5-10 minute breaks for longer meetings to allow people to rustle up a coffee or nip to the loo. Again, it’s likely to mean you keep people’s attention and focus for longer – and screen breaks are good for the eyes too.
It’s always the quiet ones
While an online environment providing a perfect platform for those who have lots to say, it equally provides a place to shrink into for the more introverted.
Ensure everyone is given equal opportunity to air their opinions and thoughts. If there are people you become aware of who haven’t contributed or are struggling to get heard, ask them specifically for their thoughts on a point. A round-table approach can be a good way to bring it everyone, offering every participant the chance to chip in. Virtual environments can make it hard to generate rapport and trust, so you have to work to create it intentionally.
Keep an eye on mental health
For those working remotely or at home regularly, isolation and mental health can become a problem. Online meetings offer an opportunity to observe how people are coping.
While asking people outright in the meeting would be totally inappropriate, take stock of people’s behaviours and how they present. Are they quiet and withdrawn? Are they unfocused or not seeming to care? Are they looking tired, stressed or like they aren’t looking after themselves? If you’re worried about them, follow up one-to-one after the meeting finishes to find out if they’re ok and offer any support that might be needed.
That’s a wrap
Any other business – three words to strike fear into any meeting participant’s heart.
But for an online gathering, the parting shots take on greater significance – none of you may see or speak to each other for another week, so it’s important that ample opportunity is given for people to raise other issues or points they want to discuss or get answers to.
Equally, ensure actions or notes are circulated as soon after the meeting as possible so no-one is left hanging in uncertainty or indecision.