Virtual Meetings: How to get them going
Executive Education / 30 June 2020
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Marketing & Sales Koordinatorin
Michelle Neumann is Marketing & Sales Coordinator Professional & Executive Education at Frankfurt School.

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We’ve all had to shut ourselves away in lockdown for quite a while, and even now we’re having to take certain precautions at work. Many businesses continue to rely on fullscale home-office solutions or on asking their employees to coordinate office visits so they don’t exceed the 50% limit on local staffing levels. Meetings in conference rooms are still strictly verboten – you can only hold them in the most spacious of venues. Which is why people who need to discuss upcoming to-dos or make important decisions are holding most of their meetings in cyberspace.

Changing behaviour vs. habit stacks

What was a total novelty for everybody back in March 2020 has now become the norm. In the early days, managers and executives assiduously gathered hints and tips on the best ways to run their virtual meetings. Since then, people have gradually started to get used to them. This means that productivity in particular is starting to suffer – effective, creative, motivated meetings are no longer as commonplace as they were a few months ago. Businesses that don’t respond to this trend by re-injecting some pizzazz into their meetings will soon start losing employees. More introverted personalities in particular tend to feel left out by the hustle and bustle that characterises video calls – because many calls aren’t just uncoordinated, they’re also overcrowded. However, you can use two simple methods to impose order on the chaos.

The sound of silence

The main aim of this approach is to make the most of innovative ideas, perspectives and viewpoints. Silent brainstorming has been shown to generate more ideas than confused, noisy brainstorming – and as a rule, better and more creative ideas. The quiet atmosphere invites everybody involved to express their opinions by creating the necessary space for people to be heard, so nobody has to hide their commitment.

The following method has been shown to work. Before the actual meeting, give participants a document covering all the key questions that need to be answered. At the start of the meeting, briefly discuss the document, then give team members 10-20 minutes to write down their ideas in the document, or to do further research. Once the silent writing time is over, hold a discussion of the results. You can actively lead the discussion and encourage individuals to do more work on ideas with real potential.

Breakout rooms improve meeting coordination

If large numbers of employees are attending a meeting, it makes sense to use breakout rooms to coordinate it more effectively. The crucial step to improving these large virtual meetings is to make them feel and function more like small meetings. This creates a sense of responsibility and ensures that individual opinions aren’t overlooked.

Many video platforms (e.g. Zoom, Adobe Connect, Samba Live) include a “Breakout” option that allows moderators to define smaller group discussions within a larger group. Each individual group is then assigned a particular task to work on. By setting time limits for these “breakouts”, moderators can then bring the entire group back together again to discuss the results of the various breakout group meetings.

Trying out different techniques – silent brainstorming, the use of breakout rooms – is a useful way to minimise the challenges of virtual meetings. However, it’s important not to make these techniques the default setting for all your videoconferences; they’re primarily intended to add variety.

If you’d like your team to produce more ideas, try the silent brainstorming approach. If you have an especially large team, try using breakout rooms. After trying out a new technique, think about it and ask your team to give you feedback on how well they thought it went – take a good look at what worked and what didn’t. Learn, reflect and grow as you expand your own meeting toolbox.

If you need any help or ideas for implementing your agile methods in a home-office environment – we’d be very happy to assist!