Off the Rails: Telltale Signs of an Unproductive Virtual Business Meeting

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Apr 2016
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Author : Pete Peranzo

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Are you struggling with virtual meetings that are virtually ineffective? Business today isn’t done in the conference room, it’s done through the screen. Even when colleagues work within the same building it can be hard to get everyone together in person, which has led to a downturn in face to face meetings and the rise of online interactions.

You’d think with all the technology available to us that meetings would be more streamlined and effective, but that’s really just not the case. While traditional meetings have their own issues with productivity, virtual meetings can take that sensation of being a waste of time to a whole new level.

Unproductive meeting quiz

Is your team getting anything out of virtual meetings? Sometimes it can be hard to tell. Here are seven questions to ask yourself about your virtual meeting that will allow you to tell if it’s worthwhile or a waste of time.

Could this meeting have been an email?

If the purpose of this meeting is only to exchange information, then it should have been an email. Unless whatever you’re meeting about requires conversation between those in attendance, there’s nothing to be gained by getting together and taking everyone’s attention away from their work.

Are you off topic for too long?

While it’s not necessarily a bad thing to get off topic, you shouldn’t go off for more than two or three minutes.

The leader of the meeting should take a quick look at the clock when the topic gets away from the focus of the meeting and pull it back on track after those two to three minutes have passed. Then they can take action by making a note and setting another time to delve into whatever it is that the group is going off on a tangent about. This rule goes for brainstorming sessions as well, which should still stay focused on the agenda. Getting off topic can be a great way to spark new ideas, but those ideas should be fleshed out at a later time.

Is it 5pm on Friday?

Your meeting is unproductive.

Virtual meetings are still work time, even if they’re done from home or a coffee shop or wherever. These meetings should be illegal for so many reasons, not the least of which because no one is paying any attention. This goes for any work day before a holiday as well. Meetings on the Wednesday afternoon before Thanksgiving or the afternoon of New Year’s Eve are always going to be unproductive.

Are the people attending appropriate?

This happens so often. More people in attendance do not equal more meaningful outcomes. If anything, extra people are a distraction who can bog down a virtual meeting with questions or clarifications that aren’t necessary.

There might be five people in the meeting, but only two of them need to be there. Don’t be afraid to ask people to email in information if they have it to provide, then exclude them from the actual meeting if that’s all you need from them. Be mindful of who you invite to your meetings.

Is your technology working?

Okay, it’s true that you don’t necessarily have control over this as technology loves to fail us at the most inconvenient of times, but it always behooves you to make sure your presentation is ready, the software is working, etc., before the meeting starts. Virtual meetings are dependent on technology, so it’s critical that you take extra steps to make sure it will function correctly for your meeting. Find a platform that works for you reliably and stick to it. Another great idea is to have new hires participate in an orientation if you’re going to be using a specific platform consistently so that you avoid hiccups.

If a technology failure is delaying you for more than 10 minutes, it may be best to reschedule.

Does your meeting have a set agenda?

If the answer is yes, then you’re on your way to productivity. If the answer is no, then you’re going to struggle. Running any kind of meeting without an agenda is a great way to waste everyone’s time. This is especially important for virtual meetings, which can be a great deal more unwieldy than in person interactions.

It doesn’t have to be formal or typed up beautifully, but it does need to exist and be communicated to everyone before your meeting. A quick email from the organizer with two or three bullet points that you want to focus on is perfect.

Are your expectations clear?

Let’s be real, people are often inattentive during virtual meetings. They’re checking their email, surfing the Internet, eating their lunch, whatever. It doesn’t mean they’re bad people or horrible workers, it’s just human nature.

Setting clear behavior expectations for your meeting will dramatically increase productivity. Set the tone with your example. At the beginning of a meeting, try sharing with the group something like “I’m turning off my phone and closing my browsers. Let’s get going.” For companies, it’s a good idea to set best practices for virtual meetings that include information about not multitasking.

It’s obviously important to keep your virtual meeting as interactive and brief as possible in order to combat inattentiveness. Downtime offers a chance for people to get off task.

Virtual business meetings can revolutionize the way that business gets done. We should be experiencing much more productivity thanks to the advent of technology that allows us connect from everywhere. The key is to know the signs of an unproductive meeting and to take action to change those bad habits.

 

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