You're on your sixth video call of the week. 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 and gives their questions and 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 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. The downside of technology.
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 meetings in the hallway, no chat or conversation over lunch in the cafeteria, 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 platform. Attention spans and participation seem to have decreased along with quality.
Meetings are an essential part of remote teams and 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 (email). But running meetings through a screen is hard and can feel overly transactional.
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.
A lot of this gets lost over digital, which leaves you feeling less bonded to the group. This erodes trust, hinders collaboration for each participant, and can quell effective decision-making (not great for businesses).
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 afety. But, it's also an opportunity to be creative and adventurous with communications 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 (not just the speaker) engaged and encourage feedback.
Below are a few ways to liven up your remote team meetings, make them more productive and 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 or no and multiple choice answers. Think summer camp or offsite activities to get things going.
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 in the 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, 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 the meeting agenda 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:
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.
And check out our Guide to Standup Meetings to learn more about the ins and outs of standups, and how to get them right for your team.Learn about Range for meetings