You're on your sixth video call of the week, and it's only Tuesday afternoon. The format of this virtual meeting is the same as the last one. Someone opens the meeting and talks for a while. Then someone else jumps in to ask questions and give their two cents.
Two-thirds of the way in, 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 understand next steps?" You don't, because you're disengaged, and no one has made any effort to bring you in. As far as you're concerned, remote meetings suck.
For some, this may not be all that different from pre-COVID-19 times. But for a lot of us, we're well into working from home and there's no respite from the monotonous stream of online meetings. No random catch-ups in the hallway, no conversations over lunch, and certainly no happy hour.
We feel simultaneously burnt out on video calls and disconnected from our teammates in the age of the virtual meeting. Attention spans and participation seem to have decreased along with the quality of our online gatherings.
Meetings are an essential part of how remote teams work together. From all-hands to collaboration sessions to 1:1s, many meetings have legitimate purposes and serve important organizational needs that can't be fully replaced with email or other forms of asynchronous communication.
However, running meetings through a screen is hard, especially because it can feel overly transactional. A lot of nuance gets lost over digital, which leaves team members feeling less bonded to the group. This erodes trust, hinders collaboration, and quells effective decision-making.
Real conversations are more than just the words used. We look at gestures, facial expressions, and body language to interpret what is being said and how people are feeling.
We have to think about real-time video calls and conferences differently. That means knowing that connecting over video with attendees is not the same as meeting in person. The meeting host must make an extra effort to build a foundation of belonging and psychological safety. At the same time, virtual team meetings are an opportunity to be creative and adventurous with communications and meeting format.
In addition to practices we recommend, like efficiently structuring daily stand-up meetings and being more inclusive with check-in rounds, spicing things up with a bit of fun can keep everyone (not just the speaker) engaged.
Below are a few ways to liven up your remote team meetings and make them more productive, inclusive, and better all around.
One way to get your team and all remote meeting participants engaged in meetings is to start things off with a fun icebreaker question or activity. It'll allow all remote colleagues to feel included early in the session — almost like a physical meeting. Getting everyone engaged first thing can lead to continued engagement throughout the meeting.
Show and tell lets folks show off personally or culturally significant things. It's an activity that usually works best at the end of virtual events. 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.
These are pretty simple question-based games with Yes/No or multiple choice answers. (Think warm-up activities at summer camp or an offsite).
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:
Turn-based or asynchronous games are great for playing on different schedules. You can reveal the results of the game during a team meeting. Games like providing a photo challenge, taking a portrait or a misplaced object, or a cooking challenge where you have to use a challenging ingredient are 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 the meeting agenda for one of your all-hands or team updates.
For an example of how these activities could fit into your meeting schedule, check this out:
Lastly, while team-building activities are a great way to boost engagement, morale, and connectedness on your team, fleeting moments of fun won't necessarily strengthen team culture in the long term. Tools like Range can help you build moments of connection into meetings of all kinds, keeping your team in sync both personally and professionally.
Run your next meeting in Range to keep your team connected and engaged.