The Project Manager’s Guide to Successful Multi-Location Virtual Meetings

Six tips for awesome (and interesting) virtual team meetings

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So you need to plan a team meeting. No big deal, right? But wait, it has to be a virtual meeting. And every single person that needs to be there works from a different location. And, oh yeah, they live in multiple time zones. Now what?

Organizing and managing virtual meetings doesn’t have to be rocket science. But you do need to plan ahead, pay special attention to detail, and make sure you’re not wasting valuable company time. Which means you need to make your team meetings efficient and productive, not to mention, you know … interesting.

Scared yet? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Here are six tips for awesome virtual team meetings:

#1 Establish Ground Rules for Virtual Meetings

Depending on the type of meeting it is, make sure that your expectations are very clear from the get-go. For instance, is it a budget meeting? Or maybe it’s an ambitious project planning session? If there’s no room for off-topic discussions, consider limiting responses or comments to 2-3 sentences.

On the other hand, it might be a brainstorming session, in which case brief monologues or colorful anecdotes could be conducive to the creative process. Either way, make sure participants know ahead of time what exactly is expected of them, in terms of input, time limits and goals.

Also, designating a moderator is key – they will be in charge of keeping the meeting moving, the conversations limited, and the focus on the task at hand. Other ground rules might include asking participants to:

  • Log-in 10 minutes early to allow for possible technical glitches.
  • Eliminate any background noise in work environments prior to start-times.
  • Turn off cell phones (or other technical devices) that can be distracting.
  • State your name before you speak, and address others by name in order to minimize confusion.

Need inspiration for what not to do? Check out this funny video of an old-school conference call, illustrating the worst in business meeting fails.

#2 Virtual Meetings Must Have an Agenda

Virtual team meetings are not the time to just wing it or go with the flow. Not only is it annoying, but it can cause resentment from those for whom the new topic of the meeting has no relevance at all and most likely they have better things to do! Prepare a detailed agenda in advance, and distribute it to all team members at least a day before the meeting, giving them proper time to prepare. Any references, resources or reading material should be distributed at the same time. Keep in mind that the most effective virtual meetings are usually between 30 to 60 minutes.

Make sure to include:

  • Names and titles of attendees
  • Specific responsibilities and assignments, if appropriate
  • Log in and password information
  • Links to required pre-reading or videos

#3 Virtual Teams Must Embrace Technology

Given the right equipment and software, virtual meetings can be amazingly productive, and dare we say … enjoyable? Depending on how interactive you want them to be, participants can exchange ideas live and on camera, as well as through social media or collaborative software. Consider inviting team members to post questions or comments directly to a live meeting feed, if appropriate, and then answer them collectively as part of the agenda.

If you have effective collaboration software, utilize it for conversation threads, assigning new tasks or projects simultaneously, and initiating pre- and post-meeting discussions. You’d be surprised how much the right technology can actually assist you in being more productive and saving company time and money!

#4 Good Virtual Team Members Are Courteous

By the very nature of working and communicating virtually, it’s easy to misunderstand each other or feel isolated. You’ll need to go out of your way to make sure your workers feel included and appreciated. For instance, chances are your virtual team is operating from different time zones. If this is the case, vary meeting times as much as possible to show respect and courtesy to all members. And if a meeting requires someone to participate during evening or lunch hours, show your appreciation by picking up the tab for a meal or distributing restaurant gift certificates as a thank you.

Other ways you can foster good communication and show appreciation for your team is to:

  • Talk slowly
  • Refrain from interrupting others
  • Listen to understand
  • Set a positive, energetic tone
  • Invite feedback from all team members to increase participation and involvement
  • Start and end meetings on time

#5 Include time for relationship building

While it takes much more than just a good virtual meeting to build a strong team, there are some things you can do as part of your agenda to encourage stronger relationships and unify individuals. How?

First, allow time on the agenda for casual conversation. Check in with your staff to see how they’re doing personally, or invite them to share details about individual projects or community events.

Recognize group or individual accomplishments, acknowledge efforts, and encourage, support and praise your team for jobs well done! Allow team members to report on progress or discuss challenges, and invite other team members to help brainstorm and problem-solve.

#6 Virtual Teams Can Have Fun

Just because it’s called a meeting doesn’t mean it has to be boring. Why not be a maverick when it comes to your recurring virtual meetings and, well … make them fun!

Take the advice of Communications Coach and Consultant Wayne Turmel, who shared his ideas on how to kick off successful virtual meetings with CBS Moneywatch. Here are some of them:

  • Use brief (and appropriate) bursts of humor
  • Forget about routine – have team members take turns with meeting kick-offs
  • Encourage friendly contests or competitions to get your group excited and engaged
  • Be creative with awards and recognitions
  • Encourage participation right from the beginning

Now that we’ve share our tips, we’d love to hear about yours. What are your suggestions for productive (and fun) virtual meetings? What works … and what doesn’t? Let us know in the comments below.