I recently blogged some ideas for online away days after a conversation with a friend. However, this got me thinking that collecting other tips together could be useful. And whilst I was blogging about online away days, I did start to think about online meetings too. Some of the principles are the same, particularly the fact that in the online world, things that you should do face to face are thrown into sharper relief; like planning. I would like to say that I do all of these tips all the time, however, I am human, although I do try to do as many as I can! Certainly writing these posts has made me think about this more and commit to making some positive change.
- Do you have to meet? When meeting face to face, this should still be a question, but there may be other serendipitous reasons for meeting in person, particularly the social aspect. Online though, this may not apply in the same way. So, ask yourself if the meeting needs to happen. Perhaps emails or a quick online chat might suffice instead? People will never be sad to be given the gift of time so do not be afraid to cancel a meeting.
- If you do need to meet, what is the purpose of the meeting? Maybe the meeting is social and again with most of us working remotely, actually having an informal catch-up could be very welcome. Having a clear purpose though can really help people prepare for the meeting and enable you to make the meeting shorter and more focused. Which brings me to the next point…
- How long do you need to meet for? I blame online calendars for making meetings always last an hour and forgetting to factor in transition time between meetings. Online this is even worse! Due to poor planning and endless meetings sometimes I have found myself barely able to leave my desk for hours. Horrible! So, think very carefully about how long you need to meet for. Can you actually meet for a shorter time and be more focused – 30 minutes instead of an hour? If you do schedule an hour, perhaps keep the meeting to 50 minutes so that people can go for a break between meetings. Or totally bemuse your calendar and schedule 45 minute meetings. That will give you bits of time inbetween meetings that are impossible to fill with short meetings but can give you a much needed break. Make sure you are aware of people’s time commitments at the start.
- Write an agenda – even for short, informal meetings with a few people a list of topics aka an agenda is a useful way of keeping on track. Online with poor internet connections or interruptions this is even more important. Even if you brainstorm the agenda in the first few minutes of the meeting at least you will have a clear sense of what you need to cover and if the meeting time is sufficient. I am terrible for forgetting to do agendas but this is something I am trying to do more of in the online world!
- Be clear on your objectives – if you know the meeting has a purpose or even if you have been asked to attend a meeting where the purpose is opaque but you still have to go, what do you want to get out of being there? What is your objective and what do you want to go away from the meeting having achieved? Spending a few minutes preparing and planning for the meeting is a good way of thinking about what you want to achieve and making sure that your time will not be wasted.
- Its ok to listen!- Sometimes you might feel a desire to have to contribute in meetings, but listening is ok too! You can use the chat to add in contributions, particularly if you have a poor internet connection.
- Make sure you know everyone – if you are chair (here is an idea for another post – chairing online meetings, and ideas for online committees), make sure that everyone knows each other. If you are not the chair and there is no opportunity to do introductions, introduce yourself in the chat. You could ask others to do the same if you do not get a chance to ask the chair to do this.
- Still include small talk! – you can still encourage small talk when in online meetings. You might do this by changing backgrounds which always encourages people to chat about what they can see. Allow time at the beginning of the meeting for this.
- Theme your meetings – if you wanted to add in an element of serendipity and light heartedness, create a theme for your meeting. It could be silly hats, holiday backgrounds, Lego, whatever you think will work with your participants. This helps break the ice at the beginning of the meeting and helps people engage.
- Icebreakers and interludes – depending on your meeting participants you may wish to play around with various icebreakers and interludes. Particularly for longer meetings, including something “fun” or light hearted as an interlude is a good idea. Perhaps it is just a discussion of what people had for breakfast or posting a picture of something that they had in their break. Or a quiz! Or a wordsearch. There are lots of ideas on this page and the away day post includes some of them.
- Videos on or off? Mics on or off? Make it clear at the beginning how you wish others to engage. If it is a small meeting, you might wish everyone to have their cameras on, although people may have connection issues so give them the opportunity to air these. Or ask people to mute if they are not speaking. Even in small meetings, how can people alert you that they want to say something – hands raise or just jump in?
- Summarise at the end – sounds really obvious but a brief summary at the end of the meeting is useful, particularly if no one is formally taking minutes. If you are the chair you can ensure that you do this, if not, post a summary of your actions in the chat or ask the chair to provide a summary. You could ask someone to take notes throughout of course, or if not make sure someone is making a note of things that need to be done.
If you have found this useful or have other tips, I would love you to post in the comments.