The virtual meeting likely will become an aspect of business life that endures long beyond the end of COVID-19. Technology made this new way of assembling and addressing the workforce possible, but since humans are not machines, virtual meetings can use a little enhancement and humanizing as is found in these ideas for improving virtual meetings.
1. Schedule thoughtfully
Researchers at Microsoft, Stanford and UCLA have studied how virtual meetings and especially back-to-back successive virtual meetings cause energy- and focus-sapping stress in people.1 When participants in the Microsoft study were given 10-minute breaks between meetings and encouraged to use their breaks for meditation activities, their stress, fatigue and brain fog were dramatically reduced.
It actually pays to schedule virtual meetings so participants have time for the pauses that refresh. Start meetings a few minutes after the hour or end them a few minutes before the hour to build in that precious downtime.
2. Allow for the pleasantries
Encouraging and enabling full participation in virtual meetings requires an acknowledgement that humans are a social species. An article for the Association for Talent Development2 suggested planning a few minutes at the start of virtual meetings for some warm-up chitchat.
A Forbes.com article3 echoed the value of a little chitchat and suggested using “answer via the chat” to keep these meeting openers from gobbling up too much time. Pose one friendly question for all participants to answer via the chat as an ice breaker. The meeting leader then can call on a few people to elaborate briefly on their answers before switching to the business at hand.
3. Being “on” can be exhausting
A University of Arizona study4 found that being on camera during virtual meetings may be partly to blame for the energy and focus drain that often occurs in these meetings. Some people experience performance anxiety; others are camera shy; still others feel pressure to look their best and have a perfect background in their webcam shot.
This study also found that the fatigue experienced by participants reluctant to be on camera actually led to a notable decline in their engagement and participation in virtual meetings. To address these issues, encourage meeting participants to turn on their cameras but do not insist on it.
4. Lead by example
The Forbes.com article3 noted that meeting participants usually follow the leader, taking a cue from the first speaker as to how long to hold the floor with their answers or input. Leaders who answer succinctly are modeling behavior that will keep the meeting moving briskly forward; leaders who give concise answers plus a few bits of backup detail will find their colleagues doing the same; loquacious leaders may find that their meetings get bogged down with long-winded participants.
5. Empower a time sheriff
The Forbes.com article3 also offered a great idea for keeping virtual meetings democratic – with equal time for all participants. Appointing someone to be the meeting’s time monitor to clock each new speaker can be very helpful, especially if the monitor has a visual “wrap it up” cue (like a pair of scissors) that can be raised on camera to signal that it is time to move on so that more participants can weigh in.
- “Easing ‘Zoom gloom:’ How to reduce the stress of virtual meetings,” by Aaron Pressman, Fortune.com, April 20, 2021, https://fortune.com/2021/04/20/zoom-fatigue-covid-remote-work-meetings-conference-calls-video-meetings-stress-microsoft-research/.
- “Camera Shy? Ideas for Getting 100 Percent Participation in Virtual Meetings,” by Justin Hale, TD.org, Monday, April 19, 2021, https://www.td.org/atd-blog/camera-shy-ideas-for-getting-100-percent-participation-in-virtual-meetings.
- “35+ Questions To Help Make Virtual Meetings More Meaningful And Interactive,” by Christopher Littlefield, Forbes.com, August 31, 2021, https://www.forbes.com/sites/christopherlittlefield/2021/08/31/35-questions-to-help-make-virtual-meetings-more-meaningful-and-interactive/?sh=37a2e2fc41e2.
- “Turning cameras off during virtual meetings can reduce fatigue,” University of Arizona, ScienceDaily.com, August 30, 2021, www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/08/210830092203.htm.