Can we make virtual meetings not suck?

Updated: Jun 28



We are two years into drinking virtual meetings from a fire hose, and for some of us, it may feel like a decade. The ease of having a virtual meeting has its perks, from the time it takes to assemble, to the time that it saves not having everyone travel to a conference room. However, these types of gatherings could be getting stagnant. If you could plot the video fatigue by measuring the number of cameras turned off during meetings now compared to two years ago, I would bet the number is much higher.


I want to explore how to leverage and expand the benefits of a virtual meeting. How do we make virtual meetings suck less, and maintain their value? How do we ensure that the participants of virtual meetings are tangibly within the material of the meeting? I love to read new and fresh ideas to get people to engage in virtual meetings and disrupt the potential of more meetings without value. Here is a collection of some of my favorites.

In a world that’s moving to more remote work, people find remote collaboration more mentally challenging. But also, as people return to more frequent in-person work as the pandemic eases it may feel more difficult than it did before COVID-19. - Jared Spataro

Poll them


Have you finished a meeting and wondered how the message landed, only asking the group if there are any questions and all you hear is your personal room’s fan going around in circles. Consider surveying or polling the group at the end of the discussion.


Mentimeter.com is a dynamic survey software tool with free and paid versions. The free version gives you just enough of a tease to see the benefits of anonymous live surveys and is currently capped out with two survey questions per free account. I like the instant polling features, which allow the proctor of a meeting to explore a poll’s results as the votes roll in. I have used it many times to measure the value of the discussion while opening the door for engagement of the subject just discussed.


Hashtag, I have something to say


Work Life with Adam Grant, discussed in Season 5’s The do’s and don’ts of returning to the office, a concept that he used when teaching with Nancy Rothbard, Sigal Barsade, and Samir Nurmohamed. They sought a concept in virtual meetings that would maintain the engagement of the audience throughout an entire class.


Instead of using the built-in attributes of raising your hand or the emoji thumb within the virtual meeting tool, they encouraged their class to use the messaging feature with defined hashtags. He references using “#question” if you had a question or “#onfire” if you had a burning challenge to something just said. What I particularly like about their concept is the fluidity it enables in the discussion, allowing all of the participants to mold themselves into the subject.

And I have to tell you, I had the deepest richest conversations I've ever had in the classroom because instead of calling on the random hand that happened to be waving, I was able to choreograph. - Adam Grant, Work Life, The do’s and don’ts of returning to the office [0:24:40]

Common background


If you haven’t tried it yet, surprise a group of meeting participants with a built-in visual collaborator view within your virtual meeting tool.


For example, in 2020 Microsoft rolled out their Together Mode which brings all of the participants into a view that makes it appear that they are all in an auditorium together. This feature was intended to make the participants feel they are all together by removing the unique backgrounds of each individual and replacing them with one single background.


The feature may appear a little awkward at first, but consider leading a meeting where collaboration might be stagnant with a hyper-interactive view. You are for sure going to get more videos turned on.


Pass the mic


Another tool that I have learned was from Stop Hosting Boring Virtual Meetings in the Harvard Business Review written by Jim Szafranski. He touches on the idea of passing the mic. I tried this approach by going through a group of meeting attendees to get their vantage point on a decision that was made. The "mic" was passed in the form of unmuting oneself and then passing this unmuted stage in front of your peers from one participant to the next. The way that I did it was that the participants passed the mic and not the proctor. The responses were fantastic, where each indicated either a risk or opportunity that they took away from the discussion.

This practice can encourage responses from lesser heard voices, including teammates from other departments or remote offices who may be hesitant to offer their valuable input. - Jim Szafranski

The new, the different, and the read


One last approach I have used is to measure what the takeaways of the discussion were. The strategy is to find one or two people at the end, randomly selected, to provide a structured response. This response was in the form of telling the group three attributes they are taking from the meeting. These attributes had to answer something new they learned, something different they realized, and something they are going to go read after the meeting. This structured approach, along with no one knowing who would be selected, allowed the group to frame their return on investing time to participate in the meeting.


In Short


If these work for you, take them and make them better. If you find or have others, let us know. We would love to take great ideas, share them, and practice them ourselves. Regardless, as we tend to be building a world where virtual meetings are most likely to remain… make them valuable. Continue to promote and find ways to make things different while finding ways to insert disruptors that engage dialogue and thought. If you have others, we would love to hear them. Send an email to opempathy@gmail.com or tag @opemapthy with your favorite practices.


More interesting articles on this subject -


Laura Amico, A guide to the virtual meeting - https://hbr.org/2021/10/a-guide-to-the-virtual-meeting


Scott D. Anthony, Paul Cobban, Natalie Painchaud, and Andy Parker - 3 Steps to Better Virtual Meetings - https://hbr.org/2021/02/3-steps-to-better-virtual-meetings






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