How do you create a collaborative environment when everyone is remote?

A well-organized virtual meeting allows people to collaborate and share information in real-time without the need of being in the same physical location. Planning is the secret to getting the most value out of your virtual meetings. Your goal may be “soft” (getting some quality facetime with co-workers) or it may be “hard” (reaching a consensus on NetSuite customizations), but, either way, a virtual meeting game plan will help you effectively execute what you need to do. Here are six factors that will help you administer a quality virtual meeting.

When planned well, these [virtual] meetings can help us transcend spatial barriers to maintain work relationships, business continuity, and productive collaborations.

Monica Linares, State of the Exec. Asst. Facebook group

Step 1—Preparation is crucial

  • make it clear what the meeting is about
  • set objectives
  • create a timed agenda (30 min max)
  • have clearly defined roles; e.g., facilitator, timekeeper, and note-taker
  • agree on ways of working; e.g., mute microphones when not speaking
  • agreeing on ways in which actions are recorded, communicated, and followed-up

Step 2—Keep participants engaged

  • keep meetings as short as possible (with only necessary people present)
  • start with team building activity to dissolve awkwardness
  • don’t allow any one person to dominate proceedings
  • minimize distractions (use headphones)

Step 3—Make sure you’re using the right technology

  • the effective tools for smaller meeting may not be as relevant in a larger meeting or when you’re running a meeting across different time zones
  • make sure it is secure and has end-to-end encryption as standard

Step 4—Make the meeting convenient

  • advertise meeting well in advance to avoid conflicting schedules
  • ensure proper guidance and information so participants can easily dial in

Step 5—Know how to troubleshoot

  • commit to 3 min after start time before commencing (mute late entrants to avoid derailing)
  • someone moderates any emails from those who can’t connect (send them a meeting summary after the event)
  • have a co-host (monitor engagement while the host is speaking)
  • know who to contact in the event of a technical issue

Step 6—Make sure you follow up

  • allow everyone the chance to add thoughts/questions at the end of the meeting
  • summarize key points and next steps
  • follow-up immediately after while meeting is still fresh
  • make clear any deadlines and next meeting time(s)
  • ask for feedback from participants on how the meeting went
  • send a recording (if applicable) to attendees after the meeting

As in any meeting scenario—whether live or online—there will be pitfalls and challenges to overcome by both the presenter and the audience. Remember: Preparation is key and creates an effective meeting environment where active participation is encouraged. Hosts of the meeting must be prepared for the unexpected when attempting a successful virtual meeting and also know how to troubleshoot issues quickly to avoid derailing the meeting.