The rise of remote work and virtual collaboration has seen many teams adopt video meetings as the go-to for team communication and collaborations. Although meetings can be productive, it’s arguable that meetings when not managed effectively can be overwhelming or intimidating and this makes it even more complicated for workers to share their thoughts and paint a clear picture of their ideas in a hybrid or remote-first work setup.
Most productivity experts always point out the need for an async-first approach to virtual collaboration as this approach evidently makes meetings more purposeful and speeds up work process, from ideation to execution and delivery. While this goes a long way in helping teams better collaborate, the reality is that not all teams have the luxury of going async-first as the weight of daily deliverables vary and more in-person and real-time communication might be required for teams that own strategic decision-making processes that affect the growth of the company in the long run. If this is the reality of professionals, it’s fair to say virtual meetings would continue to be the go-to for virtual collaborations for some time and the question now would be how we could make these meetings more purposeful.
How can we make meetings better and create the right balance?
1. Start with Inclusive meetings: In a hybrid or distributed team where knowledge bases differ and there is little or no physical communication, the first priority of any leader should be setting out a meeting structure that gives room for ideation, this means having an open floor for diverse opinions and giving the podium to even the least experienced in the room to share ideas and be part of brainstorming processes, this helps everyone speak up and overcome challenges of having to connect virtually with teams on the ground. This can be achieved by reviewing attendees to ensure diverse representation, sending the agenda before hand and setting a more conversational & empathetic tone for the room rather than a dominating one. This helps teams become even better at collaboration as everyone understand their input is valid and team meetings become more about collective innovations rather than a race to be the loudest voice in the room.
2. Timing & Balance: While every leader likes to work with proactive teams that champion the vision of their companies, it’s important to note that back to back meetings without breaks can be overwhelming and might cause even experienced professionals to struggle with balance as there is still work to be done after meetings and even top-notch prioritization might not make up for the lack of personal care and limited family time workers may experience. It’s now the job of leaders looking to work with teams with ruthless prioritization skills to also make sure meetings are better by setting meetings at a central time that would accommodate all time zones, setting sprints rather than marathons as studies have shown that the average attention time span for meetings is around 45 minutes. Also, consider taking breaks within meetings to give everyone the chance to rejuvenate as the brain uses 20–25% of the body’s energy and a specific time to relax is all it takes to get the team firing at it’s full potential again.
3. Collaborate & Execute on the go: One can never over-emphasize the need for execution on the go during virtual meetings, meetings are about coming up with instant solutions as much as they are about coming up with ideas. Generally, meetings should transcend just ideas as a room full of talented & intellectual minds would definitely come up with valid suggestions, it’s left for the leader to immediately decide the course of action after weighing up all alternatives with the team. This would help the team stay on course and of course be in sync going forward even with lesser meetings.
Execution in this case refers to the 3 C’s - Critical thinking, Commitment and Communication.
- Critical thinking: Think through the steps you need to take to get from point A to point Z, including what persons or teams need to be involved, create an initial outline and poke holes in it until it seems air tight.
- Commitment: Gather representatives from the team(s) and create an action plan together as alignment at the beginning of the process means less scrambling at the end.
- Communication: Talk to each other constantly about progress, feedbacks and key metrics so you can quickly pivot as needed.
One of the best tools that can help teams ideate and execute on the go is Miro, with this tool, meetings don’t just end with ideation but goes on to research & design, agile workflows, strategy & planning, mapping & diagramming and much more.
4. Go async-first: Finally, we come back to asynchronous collaboration, meetings can be better if we only had them with a specific purpose that matches a desired outcome, meetings shouldn’t be seen as a form of communication because the need for constant communication will always lead to a need for more and more meetings which would in turn expose workers to burn-out that was pretty avoidable from the onset. When looking at communication & collaboration, teams can leverage mailing systems, async voice and video messages, in-app comments, project management & communication tools like todoist, yac, slack, miro and more to make sure meetings are more purposeful and result-driven when they are organized.
In summary, meetings will be better when they are inclusive, strategically planned, result-driven and created out of necessity.