The benefits of in-person meetings are hard to ignore. The truth is they make it easier to communicate, are much more personal, and help people remain more engaged and retain more information.
But as most businesses have found out during the pandemic, face-to-face meetings will not always be a possibility. With the pandemic forcing companies to switch to remote work, they had to learn to embrace virtual meetings, which has actually offered a few surprising advantages of its own.
However, if you want to make the most of what they have to offer, you have to understand the most important principles and implement the virtual meetings best practices that have become apparent in recent years.
With that in mind, let’s explore what virtual meetings are, why you might want to use them even in a post-pandemic world, what platforms you could consider, and how to run effective remote meetings.
Ready to get started? Then read on below.
What is a Virtual Meeting?
A virtual meeting is a type of meeting that’s organized using technology instead of in person. People can connect from anywhere in the world at the same time and participate in a virtual meeting that, in most aspects, is identical to a face-to-face one.
The top virtual meeting tools available today can provide a range of powerful features. These include the ability to view each participant on their camera, switch who is presenting, and even use visual presentation tools or screen sharing for an enhanced and more in-depth experience.
Even though virtual meetings have been around for half a century, connectivity issues and lack of high-quality cameras have made them a less-than-desirable alternative. But today, with high-speed internet and even the simplest laptop or smartphone cameras providing good quality video, they have become a feasible option and even a better fit for some organizations because of the unique benefits they can bring to the table.
Why Should You Host Virtual Meetings?
For most, a virtual meeting is still a compromise for situations where meeting in person is not an option. But with the possibilities of virtual meetings continuing to grow, it doesn’t have to be this way anymore.
Virtual meetings come with powerful benefits that can enhance the way your company operates and expand the way you hire and cater to your employees.
The biggest advantage of virtual meetings is that people can join from anywhere in the world. And that offers unique flexibility that can be very appealing to companies that don’t want to limit themselves to a specific location.
During the pandemic, that means that people can safely work from home and participate in meetings without putting themselves or others at risk.
But after the pandemic is over, virtual meetings will be a tool that enables companies to cater to employee needs, such as people who want to move away to a different area, work from home, or have the possibility to travel. This can have a range of benefits, including improved employee retention rates and better overall worker satisfaction.
At the same time, savvy businesses can expand their reach and add people to their teams from anywhere in the world. In an age where some positions can be hard to fill, it’s now easier than others to hire someone from another part of the world, which is not just cost-effective but also helpful in providing new perspectives for the way you approach various problems.
Virtual meetings also make it much easier to get people to attend. Instead of needing everyone to be in one place, you can set up a meeting where people login through their phones or laptops from their locations.
This saves a lot of time and hassle, preventing people from having to be in the same place and making more frequent meetings a possibility. Savvy and time-efficient entrepreneurs actually prefer virtual meeting for this very reason.
In the How We Solve Podcast, me and a few colleagues cover a variety of remote work subjects together with prominent guest experts from the business world. Check out the Remote Work section for insights on how to use virtual meetings more effectively and propel your business growth.
Best Virtual Meeting Platforms
Now that we’ve looked at some of the reasons why virtual meetings are more than just a compromise but a viable alternative, the next question we must answer is more practical.
To make the most out of what virtual meetings can offer, you must choose a convenient and affordable tool that has the necessary features in your situation.
Here are some of the top options you could consider:
- Zoom. The coronavirus has made Zoom a household name in the virtual conference world. It has even become a part of meme culture, as millions of people learned to use the technology for the first time. The reasons Zoom is so popular are simple – it’s easy to use, provides flawless audio and video quality, and offers a ton of features such as screen sharing and whiteboarding.
- Google Meet. Google Meet is another strong candidate that has become increasingly popular over the last year. It offers a lot of the same features as Zoom and also provides many options for free users. You can use the free version to host up to 100 people, as long as your meetings last up to an hour.
- Microsoft Teams. If your team relies on Microsoft Office applications, using Microsoft Teams could provide a convenient extension of those services for collaborating and organizing meetings. It comes with a robust list of features that include the possibility of hosting up to 300 users and convenient file storage & sharing.
- Cisco Webex. If you’re concerned about the security and privacy of your virtual meetings, Cisco Webex could be an excellent alternative to some of the mainstream options discussed above. Besides coming with comparable features, it also uses Transport Layer Security (TLS) and advanced encryption, providing you peace of mind that the contents of your meetings will remain private.
How to Run Effective Virtual Meetings
For the most part, running successful virtual meetings is entirely manageable as long as you keep an open mind and are willing to work with the limitations of not being in the same room.
But to really maximize the potential virtual meetings have to offer, you should choose the right tool and employ some of the best practices used today.
We’ve already covered the leading tools, so let’s dive into some of the strategies you should consider to make the meetings productive and easy to run.
Create an Agenda
A meeting is only as valuable as its goal. And to achieve that goal, you need to make sure that everyone is on the same page.
Because of how a virtual meeting works, you need to be mindful of how to make the most of the time you have available and waste as little of it as possible. Hashing out the details can be a hassle when you have many different voices talking at once, so the meeting organizer must take steps in advance to get everyone ready to participate from the get-go.
And that’s where a meeting agenda can be so handy.
If you prepare and send out a meeting agenda before the virtual conference takes place, you can ensure that people will know what will be discussed, in what order, and what they need to prepare themselves.
That way, you’ll avoid time-wasting questions and can quickly move through the program, which will help you stay on track and not stretch out the meeting any longer than necessary.
Set Up Ground Rules
Another essential step when running virtual meetings is clearly establishing the roles of everyone involved. As mentioned before, unorganized virtual meetings can quickly descend into madness, so the structure is your only defense against people shouting over one another and causing constant disruptions.
For starters, establish a clear order of who will be speaking and for how long. Ideally, every virtual meeting should have a moderator who can oversee the process and guide people through as their turn to speak comes.
You should also talk through the process of asking questions or adding input, as you don’t want everyone to speak at once, especially if there are already quite a few people involved.
Rules and structure are essential when running virtual meetings. But at the same time, you don’t want those rules to become the reason for some people feeling left out. But when you’re running a virtual meeting with many people, it’s easy for at least some of them to feel left out and unable to share their input.
Sure, you don’t always need everyone to actively participate. Some meetings only need one or two speakers while the rest can listen and absorb the information.
But when the meeting can benefit from more viewpoints, you should think about how you’re going to encourage even the more shy people to contribute.
One of the best ways to increase the likelihood of people participating is encouraging them to do so at the beginning and throughout the meeting. If you establish clear ground rules, you can make one of them the process that people can use to get a turn to speak without interrupting anyone else.
For instance, people could leave a comment saying they have something to add, and the moderator of the conversation could then give them time to share their opinions. Throughout the meeting, you should also regularly remind people that they can join the conversation.
Talk Through Next Steps
If you want to make the most out of your meetings, you shouldn’t treat them as one-off events. Usually, meetings will serve as checkups in a larger project, reviewing what has happened and what needs to happen next.
Because of that, you should frame your meetings accordingly and establish a clear goal at the beginning, as well as the next steps at the end.
That way, each meeting will build on the previous one, allowing you and your team to jump in immediately and wasting less time on things that are not essential.
At the end of each meeting, take five minutes to review what was discussed, what conclusions were reached, and what everyone has to do next. Then, briefly discuss when the next meeting should occur and what will need to be reviewed.
This simple addition to every virtual meeting will ensure that people know what to expect and come better prepared to bring value to each session.
Virtual meetings can seem like a substitute for face-to-face meetings, but it doesn’t have to be that way. When you run virtual meetings using the right tools and following a few simple guidelines, you can get just as much from it and can also benefit from the increased accessibility and convenience for everyone.
What are your experiences with virtual meetings? And what have you found to make them more effective? Share your ideas in the comments!