How to run a better virtual meeting

Have you heard of Parkinson’s Law? Parkinson's idea is that work expands to fill the time available for its completion. Essentially, if you give someone a week to complete a two hour task, it will end up taking a week to complete the task.

This idea is worth thinking about in your online meetings. If you schedule a video conference call to last an hour in order to discuss something that could be agreed in half the time, the likelihood is that you will still take the full hour to discuss it.

We all feel energised after an effective meeting, so keep your team productivity high by running better meetings. Schedule meetings that match the topics you need to cover, no longer. Start with a clear agenda and finish with action points for attendees.

Here’s our evidence based guide to getting virtual meetings right:

1.    Allow time for people to be introduced and to become familiar. Virtual meetings often show flight to task, but remember that efficient is not always the same as effective.  A pure task-focus can decrease social cohesion, leading people to remain on the sidelines, fixed in their roles and unwilling to challenge authority. Introduce people to each other to foster connection, soften hierarchy through inviting full participation and allow time for people to become familiar with different accents and viewpoints.

2.    Match the meeting length to its goals. Beware Parkinson’s law: work expands to fill the time, while on the other hand human attention fades as time drags on. Since people prefer shorter meetings to long ones don’t let the calendar default determine the length of your meeting.

3.    Increase participation by posing the agenda as a series of questions. The best meetings stimulate thinking and curiosity through interaction. Stiff, formal agendas promote one-way communication. Framing the agenda as questions helps focus attendees and promotes an action orientation. Instead of “Staff wellbeing”, the item could be “How can we boost wellbeing for staff who work remotely?”

4.    Actively facilitate the meeting. Technology makes for jerky, uncoordinated contributions and a clunky feel. Facilitation (ie meeting leadership) smoothes the process. There are four key elements to good facilitation: ensuring psychological safety (ie people are safe to disagree and free from put-downs); keep the meeting moving towards its goals or outcomes; ensuring participation and good discussion (by making sure those who talk too much are held to a minimum and those who are quiet are invited to contribute); raising group intelligence by frequently summarising and paraphrasing. That means posing questions to the group, like:

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