13 tips to make productive meetings online


Daniel Colombo, one of the most important coaches in Latin America, shares with us a valuable report that reveals keys to work remotely during quarantine

The Covid-19 pandemic unleashed in this 2020 seems to expand and consolidate what for ten years was marked as a trend: remote work.
With the emergency over, many companies with outdated protocols have had to adapt to reality, and start operating remotely.
Technology areas, which for a long time have been asking for a runway to land with more agile work methodologies in those companies that remain in time, today take on an essential role: they need to guarantee that everything continues to work with people from their homes.
The truth is that, when the Coronavirus passes, we will have many challenges ahead, and among them is creating new work cultures, how to measure productivity (if face-to-face, if at a distance) and how to capitalize in terms of experience this great collective learning world.

One of the most worrisome issues in companies is the other virus that has been around forever, called Reunionitis.
In Latin America 40% of time is lost in unproductive meetings; that is, they are useless.
For those leaders and organizations who love extensive meetings where there is a lot of talk and little decision, the move to the virtual world does not change the rules of the game much, since, from the home-office of the moment, they can extend for hours, or Worse still, having all the equipment connected at all times and in sight to see if they are indeed working.

A few first ideas for companies and their leaders
This world has changed forever and if you are not prepared to face the challenge, worse times will come when the pandemic passes, or another serious problem that you have to face erupts.
Therefore, perhaps it is convenient to begin to moderate this idea that “we will soon be back to how we were before”, because, I regret to inform you, nothing will ever be as it was then.
A few months ago I was summoned to work with a change management team that was leading the transformation of thousands of people at a distance, in a business merger. A large number of psychologists, sociologists, marketing specialists and communicators were extremely concerned because, remotely and virtually, they were unable to impact people or clearly transmit messages despite the amount of resources allocated and being applied.
The answer was simple: they did not consider the point of view of other people, nor the emotional management that each company must do in times of profound transformation.
That is why facilitating meetings, seminars and online meetings can be a challenge for those who are not trained, and the techniques vary, so it is advisable to learn to unlearn the usual ways, and incorporate the new ones.

Some advantages of online meetings:

On-line meetings avoid displacement: time is saved in the collaborators, and this period is allowed to focus on the project in which they work.

The audios of the meetings can be recorded and even downloaded: not only as a testimonial value, but also to keep a record of the topics discussed and the decisions made.

Sharing documents and correcting them collaboratively at the moment: this is of great value to access information in real time and have it available with coworkers. I mean

The agendas yield more: if they come from companies with acute reunionitis, the online format does not guarantee, although it would help to make the processes more dynamic. Virtual meetings invite less to waste time, and more to get to the point of affairs and reach agreements.
It forces and controls who has the floor, and avoids overlaps and interruptions. It is allowed to mute the microphone and even the video of each participant.

Unlimited or very restricted number of guests: far from being seen that you are only meeting in the boardroom with two or three, instead of the usual five -for example-, virtual eliminates this problem of jealousy or professional competence.
It is easy to include a punctual person in a short section of the conference, for example, to give an overview of a topic, without going through the moment of leaving the meeting room in person.

10 tips to make productive meetings online

1) Prepare the agenda:
It is essential that all have the issues they will address in advance so that they prepare what each one should contribute. I also suggest opening an instance of feedback to collect concerns from others to incorporate aspects to be addressed, and specify the start and end times.

2) Send the invitations
Each member will receive an invitation via the chosen platform, to add it to their virtual calendar, or they can download it to their paper agenda. Usually these invitations already include the meeting access code and the direct link.

3) Physical environment:
When working remotely, it is essential to avoid background noises, distractions, having loud music and any other aspect that disperses the focus of each participant.

4) Silenced cell phones:
Although in this case it is important to have it on hand for any emergency related to the meeting (for example, a technological breakdown that is communicated through a chat group), it is recommended that they be in silent mode or vibrate throughout the meeting.

5) Suitable platform
My favorites are Zoom, Google Hangouts or Skype, which have a lot of stability, flexibility, are easy to use and have several interesting features. There are paid options that also expand these options. It is important to ensure that everyone has internet signal and that they download the appropriate programs to their devices.

6) Prepare people for the virtual meeting
For example, a 10-minute briefing meeting the day before will introduce the main topics, and furthermore, you will make sure that everyone knows the technology and there are no major drawbacks.

7) Start and end on time
A virtual meeting is not an after with friends: it has the same dynamic as in person.

8) Determine who is leading the meeting
It can be the maximum responsibility of a team, or, within collaborative leadership, we promote that it can be a rotating role depending on the issues.

9) Confidentiality
Virtual meetings are governed by the same confidentiality parameters as face-to-face, so it is important to establish in advance the protocol to be developed in this regard.
The technology areas can be in charge of guaranteeing data security aspects and suggesting the best technologies in this regard.

10) Illustrate your ideas
Being online limits in some way the non-verbal language in the exchanges; hence it is extremely important to consider three things:

Make it entertaining, rich and dynamic
That you practice different ways of reflecting the ideas, thinking about the visual, auditory and kinesthetic audiences. Merge the explanation to encompass the three representational systems and make sure your message got through.
Check how the meeting is going: ask questions of control and emotional management, like “How are we doing up to here?”, “Has point x been clear for the whole team?” Make them raise their hands (even Zoom has that function, virtual); I recommend that you apply your creativity so that you feel like you are together. I mean

11) If you are going to show documents
Be sure to master the screen sharing feature. Keep in mind that in a face-to-face meeting there is more context to analyze topics; In a virtual one I suggest that you send them before, or those present and send them immediately after, as soon as the conference ends. What’s more: you should already have the link or the e-mail ready to share it and that everyone has the information quickly.

12) Take notes and summarize the meeting
Although it is recorded, it is important to continue with the dynamics of taking notes and making the minutes of the topics covered, their deadline and those responsible. This way you can do a better follow-up. Everything needs to be dumped on a shared system, such as the corporate server, Dropbox, Drive and other existing ones, so that no one plays the “I didn’t know” game.
Also before finishing, make a recap of the commitments and decisions made.

13) To start and end the meeting
In the case of a crisis such as the one being experienced by the Coronavirus in March 2020, it is important to incorporate an executive coaching tool, which I propose for all kinds of meetings, beyond extreme moments: Check in, Check out. At the beginning you will take a few minutes for each one to express what they feel or want, to understand as a meeting leader what emotional state people are in. In the end, Check out is usually more related to the outcome of the meeting; Although you can encourage yourself to ask a powerful question to reinforce the commitments, for example: “What new challenge can you take on from today to improve your performance while doing home-office?”.