Online meetings are somewhat different from presence meetings. In our company we have a lot of experience in conducting online meetings, because we do international projects and cannot or do not always want to be on site, for example because it is inefficient or we want to reduce CO2 emissions. Here are a few practical tips on how to make meetings efficient and interesting, even if you are not physically sitting opposite each other.
At meetings where you are not on site and cannot see each other, large parts of the communication are lost. A large part of our communication is body language, e.g. how to sit, posture or facial expressions. You are also more easily distracted because nobody sees it when you are writing e-mails or reading something at the same time. It is also generally a little bit more difficult to coordinate with each other, for example when you want to say something. You interrupt yourself more often or start talking at the same time. Often remote meetings (it doesn't always have to be online, there is also the good ol' telephone) are simply more inefficient or boring.
Tip 1: Check the equipment
Without functioning equipment, no functioning remote meeting. This includes headset, communication software, collaboration tools (can also be just a fileshare), internet connection,...
Tip 2: Make an agenda
Not surprisingly, an agenda also helps with remote meetings. Also encourage participants to prepare for themselves. But keep the agenda as short and concise as possible. Novels are not a good agenda. Create the Angeda e.g. in PowerPoint and use it to guide the participants through the meeting.
Tip 3: Use a timer
Timekeeping is always important and almost a little bit more important in remote meetings. You can easily lose track of time. Especially because of the difficult communication it can happen that everything takes a bit longer and in the end there is too little time left. There are some small tools to download or you can use your mobile phone.
Tip 4: Use video if possible
Not quite as much body language is lost with this. But it can cause bandwidth problems with the Internet connection. It can also happen, especially with many participants, that the software doesn't work properly anymore and it becomes a bit confusing. If you notice that the video transmission disturbs more than it helps, stop it.
Tip 5: Arrange rules for the meeting
This includes muting the microphone when you are not speaking, letting people speak, or how to deal with silence (e.g. silence means agreement).
Tip 5a: Do not ask for consent
Something I like to do. If you have a remote meeting with 10 participants and ask if this or that is OK for everyone, usually chaos breaks out. Everyone answers at the same time or none of them dares to say anything first. Ask if it is not OK for someone. This is usually less people and should be more efficient. Of course, the rule "silence means agreement" must then apply.
Tip 6: Speak directly to participants
Asking a question and then waiting for someone to answer has an effect similar to Tip 5, so speak directly to the participants. Pay attention to who has not yet said anything.
Tip 7: Watch out for silent participants
In remote meetings the silent participants quickly get lost. Pay attention to who speaks little and address them directly
Tip 8: Make sure that you don't speak only a little and that everyone else listens
Stop calls from dominant subscribers. These often lead to fundamental discussions, where the rest of the group starts to get bored. Ask if others would like to say something about it, and if possible, ask them to postpone further discussions until after the meeting.
Tip 9: Use tools to work together
Use a shared onenote, Word documents, or Goolge Docs for collaborative editing. This makes it easy to create creative work without flipcharts and moderation cards. For retrospectives, there are tools like www.teamretro.com that are very practical. With a little creativity you can certainly use them for other purposes such as brainstorming.
Tip 10: Either all remote or none
Also something that I have learned over time. It is problematic when some participants are physically together and the others are remotely "present". Those who are remotely present then get almost nothing more out of the meeting. The group of those who are physically together is subject to a different dynamic, they talk to each other faster, forget quickly that there is someone else online and point to the screen to point something out. These are all things that are disturbing and ensure that those who are there remotely don't really get anything out of the meeting. Hence my recommendation: either all remote or none.
Bonus tip: Take breaks
Attending a meeting remotely with a headset for one or more hours is exhausting. Therefore, plan and take a break after one hour at the latest to ventilate your ears.
Remote meetings require a higher level of discipline and moderation, otherwise they can become inefficient and not fun. But don't be afraid to hold meetings remotely. It's not so hard if you take a structured approach.