We’ve all been in meetings where 1 or 2 people do all the talking. Not only are they a total snooze fest, but they’re also a major waste of your team’s time and resources.
But team-wide participation can be a challenge—especially when we’re not all together in the same room. Whether we intend to or not, it’s a lot easier to get distracted, start multi-tasking, or generally just check out during a virtual meeting.
In this article, we’ll cover tips, tools, and etiquette to help you engage remote attendees so meetings that happen when we WFH can feel just as exciting and engaging as those that happen IRL.
We’ve grown pretty accustomed to remote work in the past few years thanks to the pandemic. While WFH has its definite pros and cons, one thing that’s certain is that it’s definitely here to stay—at least in some capacity—as businesses start to adopt a more hybrid approach to work. According to PricewaterHouse Cooper, over half of employees want to continue to work in a remote or hybrid model going forward. That’s backed up by research from Gartner too, which shows that 50% of workers will continue to work remotely post-COVID-19.
So what does all that mean for virtual meetings? For one, they’re not going anywhere either.
“All trends indicate that we will be in a hybrid situation for the foreseeable future,” shares Karin M. Reed, author of Suddenly Virtual: Making Remote Meetings Work in a recent interview. “You have to be able to figure out how to handle a hybrid meeting where you have three people in a co-located conference room here, three people in a co-located conference room there, and then five people joining on an individual webcam. And the challenge for the meeting leader is to figure out how to get everybody to talk to each other.”
In the following sections, we’ll cover just that.
Meetings are generally better when all attendees are included and involved. (If you’re spending more time talking at everyone than with everyone, chances are it could be handled asynchronously instead). With that in mind, here are some quick tips to get all hands on deck for your next virtual meeting.
“Proactive facilitation is critical in any virtual meeting because there’s a lot of stilted and stunted conversation. People don’t know when it’s their turn to talk. I advocate cold calling with good intention, meaning call on people by name to let them know, ‘OK, you have the floor’.”— Karin M. Reed, Video Communications Expert & Author of Suddenly Virtual: Making Remote Meetings Work.
Once you’ve optimized for inclusive participation, it’s time to use the tactics below to transform meeting participants into fully engaged attendees.
The first thing to look at when it comes to meeting engagement is your agenda. Having an agenda in place before the meeting gives it structure and helps keep things on track. With a little prep work, you can also use the agenda to make the meeting more interactive.
Icebreakers are questions you ask to bring people into the fold. In meetings, they help folks feel safe to speak up with ideas, concerns, and questions. A quick icebreaker at the beginning of your time together (think: first 5-10 minutes) can get everyone talking from the get-go and create a safe, trusting space for discussion. They’re a great way to strengthen team culture in the long run too.
Icebreakers are most effective when they include a range of topics. Mix it up with questions on work style, personal interests, fun topics, and serious ones to get to know each other in a variety of ways. Our free Icebreaker tool has 350+ questions to keep things interesting. Here are a few examples.
“I've had people say to me, ‘Wow, it seems like we waste a lot of time on icebreaker questions.’ I'm like, ‘Yeah, well that's kind of the point.’ If we’re not intentional about actually connecting with each other — outside of daily work — it’s never going to happen.” — Nic Roth, Head of Engineering, Postscript
See the Icebreaker spinner in action (No sign-in required).
Remote meetings are the perfect type of meeting to experiment with visual aids.
During a virtual meeting, it requires a lot more energy to follow along—our eyes naturally dart around from speaker to participants as we try to read the room. Research also suggests that seeing your own face reflected back in self-view tends to make you feel more critical of yourself, and can be extremely mentally taxing.
Visual aids remove some of this pressure and distraction, by providing a natural focal point. They help folks follow along—65% of people are visual learners—and feel more comfortable engaging in a discussion around what’s being shared. They can help both speakers and participants feel more present in the conversation and can make it a lot more collaborative and engaging, too.
At the opening of a meeting, you might check in with folks around how they’re doing, what they’re most looking forward to discussing, or something they’re proud of this week. Knowing how your teammates are doing can help build empathy going into the conversation. (For instance, if someone’s a little quieter than usual, it can be helpful to understand that they’re low energy and didn’t sleep well last night versus being checked out of the meeting.) Asking about the agenda can help you prioritize topics, and positive reflection can strengthen bonds and trust going in.
During the meeting, polls and surveys can also help boost energy when there’s a lull and are a way to shape discussion. For instance, you might ask something like “Has this meeting been a valuable use of time so far?” as a simple yes/no to get a pulse check. If many attendees answer “no” — you might open up the floor to explore what isn’t working and recalibrate.
At the end of the meeting, check in with how everyone’s feeling again and ask how you might improve things for the next go around. Meeting management tools like Range can help facilitate this, making it easier to collect and maintain a digital record of feedback and track how you’re doing towards it over time.
“Ask your team what you can improve. Maybe the meeting is boring or it’s not relevant to someone and they genuinely have nothing to share. Maybe it’s a hybrid meeting and the facilitator isn’t calling on remote folks enough, so they just give up. There could be a lot of barriers there that you aren’t aware of.” — Katie Wilde, VP of Engineering at Buffer and co-author of "The Holloway Guide to Remote Work"
Sometimes routines are a good thing — but sometimes, they can be incredibly dull. Rotating meeting roles is a great way to spice things up a little, plus take a little bit of the burden from your own shoulders.
Here are some of the roles you might rotate.
If you want to energize your meetings and improve overall productivity, games and activities may be your best bet.
Gamification means bringing elements of games in scenarios that aren’t games, like meetings. At work, gamification has been shown by a growing body of research to have a surprising impact on productivity. It’s an important driver of motivation and productivity. And according to research, newly formed teams perform up to 20% better on tasks following a 45 minute collaborative game.
Some specific elements of games that can be applied in meetings include:
While you don't want gamification to take up the entire meeting, a short exercise can loosen everyone up and spark camaraderie and creativity.
As with almost everything today, technology can help improve the engagement in your virtual team meetings too. Things like chat features, dynamic agendas, and instant note-sharing make team-wide engagement—even in large meetings—more achievable.
Best-in-class meeting management tools incorporate many of the strategies we’ve covered in this article to help leaders put them to use without having to think too hard about it.
For instance, being able to automate portions of your agenda or pull in a quick team-building question can streamline your meeting and leave more time for discussion and engagement. Many management tools also provide a simplified way to share notes, action items, and keep everyone in the loop. This equal, open access to information levels the playing field for participation in future group discussions too.
“Sometimes we confuse someone being introverted with them being not engaged, when that’s actually not the case. I like giving people a space that isn’t verbal to contribute. Maybe that’s a Slack chat or a document people can comment on ahead of time. This makes it a lot easier for folks who don’t like interrupting or don’t like speaking in public.” — Juan Pablo Buriticá, SVP of Engineering at Ritchie Brothers
Meetings in Range were built with interactivity in mind.
Running your meetings with Range gives you the power to streamline agendas with templates, make discussions dynamic, and easily assign roles to keep things engaging.