Meeting culture is draining.
If we’re being honest, we were worn out before the lights, cameras and mute button kerfuffles of virtual meetings. In the office, many of us barely had enough white space on our calendars to think, and chances are we’ve all sat through — or led — poorly run meetings.
But as managers and colleagues try to recreate the watercooler feel of the office during the coronavirus pandemic, some employees have seen their meeting loads increase. Even if the volume of meetings hasn’t changed, hopping between virtual platforms and back-to-back sessions of screen-watching takes a toll.
If you’re feeling drained, there’s actual science that backs up why you feel the way you do. National Geographic did a piece explaining how video chats wear on the psyche in complicated ways. This is especially true when using the video function of these online platforms. Your brain is trying to process the verbal and non-verbal cues — sometimes for multiple people at a time.
“When you are on a virtual meeting, there are more things your brain has to pay attention to then when you are in a physical meeting,” said Mary Abbajay, leadership coach, author and President of Careerstone Group, LLC.
The reality is, meetings aren’t going away anytime soon. When done right, they are meant to foster collaboration, keep people in the loop and involved in the conversation, and be useful for people attending them.
So how can you make meetings positive, engaging and efficient?
Well, I’m sharing some words of wisdom from Abbajay to help us balance this new norm for virtual interactions.
1. Consider if a meeting is truly needed. Always ask yourself: What is the purpose of this meeting? What needs to get accomplished? Who needs to be there, and what’s the best platform to share this information? If a meeting is warranted, clearly state in the invite whether it is a video meeting or a call and share the agenda.
2. Make meetings shorter. Every check-in and group discussion doesn’t need to be drawn out. If you are booking meetings, try not to schedule all of them at the top of the hour. So instead of booking a 10 a.m. meeting, try 10:15 a.m. This gives participants a breather if they are coming from another meeting.
3. Protect your time. This may mean pushing back on some meeting requests, especially those that are scheduled last-minute without your consent or meetings where your contributions can be made in other ways. Protecting your time means scheduling time on your calendar for breaks, opportunities to work uninterrupted on projects, and time to balance personal needs, such as caring for loved ones. If possible, try not to schedule meetings back to back so you give your brain time to rest.
4. Remember, in-person meeting etiquette still applies in the virtual world. That means having ground rules, an agenda with a clear purpose for the meeting, a strong facilitator and a recap at the end to discuss the next steps. You still need to come to the meeting prepared. When it’s your time to speak, be brief and be brilliant. Most importantly, be professional in the way you present yourself.
5. Appoint different facilitators. If only one person is talking in a meeting, that is a presentation. One thing you can do is divide the agenda by topic and choose a facilitator to lead different topics. That could help with engagement.
6. Make sure you have good lighting. If you do need to use video, you want to make sure you have proper lighting. When you look shadowy, you look shady. Abbajay suggests adjusting your lighting so that it is shining on you from the front, as opposed to backlighting behind you. And make sure the computer camera is at eye level.
7. Turn off self-view for video meetings. Most platforms allow you to see yourself and others. If you turn off your self-view, but still allow others to see you, that’s one less image that your brain has to process.
8. Pick up the phone. Yes, it is more than OK to go back to conference calls. Keep them short and sweet. Everything doesn’t have to be a video conference. Before scheduling a video meeting, ask yourself: Will this meeting be enhanced by seeing people? If so, does everyone need to have their cameras on? Do they need to have their cameras on for the duration of the meeting?
9. Mark a designated day for no video meetings. Depending on the size of your organization and the type of work that you do, this could be agencywide or for a specific team. Who knows, this could even morph into a no meeting day!
10. Use meeting evaluations. Get in the habit of doing a quick evaluation at the end of a meeting. Find out what went well and what could be done differently the next time. The meeting facilitator doesn’t have to be the only person who sets the agenda and format. You might find that meeting schedules that worked well in-person need to be adjusted virtually. That could mean swapping a team meeting from Mondays to Tuesdays or using collaboration tools to share updates instead of hosting a meeting.
How are you coping in the virtual meeting world? Share your tips and words of wisdom below.