You're on your sixth video call of the week. It's only Tuesday afternoon. The format of this meeting is the same as the last one. Someone opens the meeting and talks for a while. Then someone else jumps in and gives their two cents. Two-thirds of the way in, and you realize you haven't contributed once—the same as the last six meetings. You try not to check social media. You miss a topic shift. Someone finally says, "Ok, does everyone know what their next steps are?" You don't, because you're disengaged, and no one has made any effort to bring you in. As far as you're concerned, meetings suck.
For some, this may not be all that different from pre-apocalypse times. But for a lot of us, we’re several months into working from home, and there’s no respite from the monotonous stream of video calls; no random meetings in the hallway, no chats over lunch in the cafeteria, and certainly no happy hours.
We feel simultaneously burnt out on video calls and disconnected from our teammates.
The drag of repetitive video meetings
Meetings are an essential part of team collaboration. Whether it be an all-hands, collaboration session, or 1:1 meeting, they have legitimate purposes and serve important organizational needs that can’t be fully replaced with asynchronous communication. But running meetings over video is hard and can feel overly transactional.
Real conversations are more than just the words. We look at gestures, facial expressions, and body language to interpret what is being said and how people are feeling.
A lot of this gets lost over digital, which leaves you feeling less bonded to the group. This erodes trust and hinders collaboration and effective decision making.
We have to think about video calls differently. That means knowing that connecting over video is not the same as meeting in person. We have to make an extra effort to build a foundation of belonging and safety. But, it’s also an opportunity to be creative and adventurous in the format of each meeting.
Aside from practices we recommend, like what you should put in your daily stand up meeting and how to be more inclusive with check-in rounds, spicing things up with a bit of fun can keep everyone engaged.
Below are a few ways to liven up your video meetings, make them more productive and inclusive, and better all around.
One way to get your team engaged in meetings is to start things off with a fun icebreaker question or activity. It'll allow everyone to feel included early in the session. Getting everyone engaged first thing can lead to continued engagement throughout the meeting.
- Range's icebreaker questions are free and give you and the team a host of conversation topics to try.
- "Traffic light" is an activity that requires the team to say whether they are feeling in a red, yellow, or green mood. For example, you might be yellow if you feel tired but have a high energy task, like an interview later that day. Note: traffic signals vary based on where your team members are, so keep this in mind.
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Show and Tell
Show and tell lets folks show off personally or culturally significant things. It's an activity that usually works best at the end of meetings. What colleagues select can range from living spaces to prized possessions or weird finds. It provides a way of understanding your colleagues better, as humans independent of work, which has been shown to improve psychological safety.
- If you were of age in the 90s, you'd know MTV Cribs, one of the first shows on television to let viewers into the glamorous lives and homes of celebrities. You can put on a version of Cribs by giving team members the chance to show off their digs in video chats. It's fun, helps the team get to know a person better, lets people ask questions, and build social connections. The Range team uses it, and it sparks a lot of interesting insights. Everything from how you set up your workspace to why certain art catches your eye.
- Sharing the story behind favorite possessions or weird artifacts is always a crowd-pleaser. It can reveal exciting details about how a teammate thinks and views the world. It can be a family heirloom, an odd utensil, some impractical souvenir from a far off land, or a mysterious pebble with a long and sordid history. Have the presenter explain why they like the object, what it means, and where it was acquired. It's all about building connections and opening up.
- Have everyone explain the premise of a recent show, movie, or favorite poem to spark discussion and get the team excited about participating actively. It doesn't have to be elaborate or overly planned — just a chance to unwind and connect with people.
- If you work with a creative team (and even if you don’t), maybe set aside some time for arts and crafts. It may take some planning, like collecting the right type of paper if you're going to do origami or coloring books for coloring. Still, it'll encourage creativity and hopefully inspire discussion.
3. Low-fi Games
These are pretty simple question-based games with yes or no and multiple choice answers. Think summer camp or offsite activities to get things going.
- Have someone think of an animal and see how quickly the team can guess which one. So, you'd say, "are you thinking of a seal?" In all likelihood, that'll be the wrong answer because it's usually an elephant.
- Two truths and a lie is a game most people know, and can also bring a bit of fun to work meetings. You may want to set some ground rules and remind folks that you're still in a work meeting. The rules are easy to follow: one person tells two truths and one lie about themselves, and the rest of the team has to guess the lie.
- Word association takes a bit more mental acuity, but it's a great way to get people playing off of one another in a pre-agreed upon order. The game keeps going until players can no longer add words to the chain.
- If you’re looking for a social deduction game to exercise your team’s cognitive muscles, then Werewolf is a classic that’s easy to play over zoom. All the same rules apply with a few subtle differences, like muting when being assigned a role to preserve the mystery and using the raise hand feature to let players know you’ve not been exiled. It’s worth noting that this game does take a bit more time (like an hour), so you’ll want to schedule designated game time for your team to play as opposed to doing it in a meeting. Still, it’s a fun way to build connections with colleagues without being in the same physical place.
4. Online Games
Online games have the advantage of being designed for remote play. They have features and objectives that help people engage with one another and tend to be friendlier to large teams. Here are a few great online games and game makers:
- Codenames is an entertaining board game with an online version about spymasters, agents, and secret words that can mean success or instant failure. The rules are pretty straight forward: two spymasters give clues and their teams try to guess the correct code names the clues refer to on the board. The first team to guess all of their codenames wins. The official game was developed by Vlaada Chvátil of Czech Games Edition, but there are other variations available online.
5. Out of band Games
Turn-based or asynchronous games are great for playing on different schedules. You can reveal the results of the game in the meeting. Games like providing a photo challenge, like taking a portrait or a misplaced object, or a cooking challenge where you have to use a challenging ingredient, as fun ways to carry over the excitement from one meeting to the next. This system won't work for every meeting format, but see if you can work it into one of your all-hands or team updates.
If you wanted an example of how this could fit into your meeting schedule, check this out:
- Start with a round-robin check-in with a random icebreaker question. Have a meeting facilitator call out people in order.
- Review action items from the last meeting.
- Check-in on objectives using GROW framework.
- Build an agenda: facilitator goes round-robin asking people for discussion topics. Set individual and team goals for the week.
- Close out the meeting with 3 rounds of sketchful
At first, it may feel awkward to “mix work and fun”, but we’ve found that this is a much more effective way to keep your team feeling inspired and engaged than segmenting work meetings and social meetings.