Virtual meetings are here to stay, and that’s probably a good thing. Video conferencing and other integrated tools opened the door to a new era of remote work flexibility, opportunity, and efficiency for teams across the world. Despite these benefits, there’s still plenty of room for improvement.
We recently checked in with over 600 knowledge workers in our State of Virtual Meetings report to learn how their virtual meeting experience changed since 2020. Most of what we heard back was positive, and a few things stood out across most respondents. Whether in board meetings, all-hands, or happy hours, it turns out we’re all spending a lot more time (5x more on average) in meetings than we did before.
One consequence of all that time being spent in meetings is meeting fatigue. The majority (37%) of survey respondents called that out as their greatest virtual meeting challenge. And with most respondents reporting that their colleagues have become distributed across a greater geographic distance over the last year or so, it’s clear that meetings are likely to continue shifting from mostly in-person to hybrid and remote meetings.
So, if we can expect to continue spending a good portion of our time in virtual meetings, we’d all benefit from improving the quality of those experiences. Easier said than done, right?
In some cases, it might be a lot easier than you think—and those easy wins are what this guide is all about. We’re going to cover some simple, actionable ways you can improve nearly every online meeting you’re taking part in, starting today. As an added benefit, you’ll be improving the virtual meeting experience for your team members as well.
Sound good? Let’s get started!
We’ll start by breaking these tips down into three sections:
It’s recommended to start from the beginning, but if you have a meeting coming up that’s already scheduled, feel free to skip to the “during the meeting” or “after the meeting” sections.
Before the meeting
1. Make sure you actually need to have a meeting.
There are numerous tools and strategies focused on improving the virtual meeting experience, and we’ll outline many of them in this guide. But before digging into tools and strategies, let’s start with something more fundamental. It’s not a cutting-edge meeting tool or an exciting new video conferencing platform. It’s just a simple question:
”Do I really need to have a meeting?”
Ask yourself this every time you consider calling or joining a meeting, and you’ll automatically improve the virtual meeting experience for yourself and your team members. Simply reducing the number of bad or unnecessary meetings will improve the ratio of good meetings you’re a part of and your overall experience.
But how do you gauge whether you need to have a meeting?
Start by addressing two key culprits of virtual meeting overload:
- Accepting or sending meeting invites without context or agendas
A title isn’t enough. Do yourself and your participants a favor and let them know what the subject and goals of your meeting are before you ask them to dedicate their time. Do the same thing before you accept an invite yourself.
- Inviting attendees who won’t drive or receive value from the meeting
It should be clear why each participant’s input is needed. Each should be deriving or adding significant value to the meeting, otherwise their presence isn’t likely necessary. They might be better served with a meeting summary, or a recording they can watch at their convenience.
The second thing to ask yourself is:
”Does this need to be a synchronous meeting?”
Not every meeting needs to happen on a shared timetable. This is especially important to recognize if you have meeting attendees in different timezones. Instead, consider collaborating or “meeting” asynchronously.
Still not sure if you need to meet? Send a quick polly to your team to see who’s interested in joining.
2. Collaborate and meet asynchronously when you can.
As we all step into the future of work together, it’s time to leave behind the idea that meetings need to happen at the same time for every participant.
Video conferencing proved that it’s not crucial that everyone pile into a shared meeting space to make progress. If you follow that train of logic to the next station, it’s probably not always imperative for everyone to pile into a shared meeting time, either.
Use tools that support asynchronous communication and collaboration. It can help to break these tools into two groups: immediate, and lasting.
Immediate communication (messaging)
Immediate communication can be synchronous or asynchronous. Messages in tools like Slack, Microsoft Teams, Zoom chats, Google Meet, phone calls, and email are all great examples of ways to connect with your colleagues asynchronously. Search and organization tools make it easier to look back on previous conversations and keep everyone in the loop.
While immediate, synchronous communication tools are essential, it’s just as important to have a strategy for more structured, long-lived, one-to-many communication.
Lasting communication (documentation)
Tools like Notion, Confluence, and Coda can help collect and organize longer-term communications and documentation. Just like with immediate communication tools, every remote team has different needs, so while there’s not one perfect tool for lasting communication, there’s probably one that’s pretty close to perfect for your team.
So, once you’ve reduced the overall number of meetings you’re calling or attending, what can you do to elevate and improve the meetings that remain?
3. Identify and address meeting friction points in advance.
Frederick Herzberg, who brought us the two factor theory suggests, “The opposite of job dissatisfaction is not job satisfaction, but no job dissatisfaction.”
In the case of meetings and meeting burnout:
The opposite of meeting dissatisfaction isn’t meeting satisfaction, but no meeting dissatisfaction.
In essence, you can’t eliminate negative factors by adding positive factors. Without addressing and mitigating the de-motivational factors behind bad meetings, good results (and goodwill) will be hard to come by.
So, before sending that meeting invitation, think about video meetings you’ve attended in the past that were less than perfect. What made them less than perfect? What are some ways you can limit or even eliminate some of those factors for your meeting participants?
Some of these examples below might help jog your memory back to a bad meeting you were in recently (and we sincerely apologize for that), but it’s not an exhaustive or exclusive list. Consider other examples from your own vault and address them as well.
Common de-motivational factors in meetings, and how to address them
If your meeting start time is at an awkward (or just plain cruel) time for your colleagues in a different time zone, that’s a clear point of friction. You can reduce this friction by trading off which timezones get priority, and recording meetings for those who can’t easily attend during the scheduled time.
Long meetings can feel grueling. Even if you’re covering interesting topics and making meaningful progress together, most meetings shouldn’t exceed an hour.
If there’s no way to avoid a long meeting, schedule a quick break at the one-hour mark. There’s a reasonable chance some of your colleagues just came from another meeting, and yours is only one in the dreaded “back-to-back” chain. Take a few minutes to let everyone stretch, take a bio break, check messages, or pet their dog. The participants will almost certainly appreciate your empathy.
Heavy topics can make a meeting feel longer and more arduous. If you’re covering topics with significant weight, consider the impact that has on the meeting’s overall runtime. If there’s a lot to digest, give everyone the time they need, so they can contribute their best thoughts on the matter.
Even if the meeting content isn’t particularly heavy, interpersonal tension can make 15 minutes feel like an hour. How do you address tension? Break that ice. Whether you use a tool like Polly Hot Takes or bring your own icebreakers to the table, taking just 2-3 minutes to loosen up the group and crack a smile or two can make all the difference.
Now that we’ve covered some common de-motivational factors and some easy ways to address them, let’s move on to the fun part: making your meetings more motivating, engaging, productive, and enjoyable.
4. Prioritize value to your attendees.
Although our research found that we’re spending more time than ever in meetings, almost 93% of the people we surveyed believed virtual meetings to be a valuable use of their time.
That doesn’t mean that a virtual meeting is inherently valuable, though. The outcome of a one-sided meeting might be really valuable for you, but prioritizing value for every attendee is essential to leading a truly productive meeting.
Everyone should leave the virtual meeting room feeling like they were able to provide and derive value from the time they spent there. One of the easiest ways to ensure meeting participants derive maximum value for their time investment is to ask for their feedback and suggestions on meeting topics beforehand.
5. Bring a collaborative meeting agenda.
A meeting agenda is one of the simplest and most effective ways to reduce the number of pointless (read: bad) meetings you and your team are participating in. An agenda practically guarantees you’ll have something productive to work through. It’s also a simple and direct way to ensure everyone in the meeting room will benefit from participating.
If you’re struggling to craft an agenda with room for every attendee’s input, that’s a sign you may not need to meet with everyone on your attendee list, or in a live format.
Some meeting efficiency experts suggest checking your meeting invitation, and if it lacks an agenda, emailing the coordinator asking what your role will be.
A collaborative agenda is further step toward ensuring a more valuable, productive meeting. You can reach out directly to your colleagues to ask for their input in a shared document, or use a tool like Polly to let them vote on topics.
During the meeting
6. Follow virtual meeting etiquette.
Focusing on a few basic elements of virtual meeting etiquette can go a long way toward providing a productive and enjoyable experience for your team members.
Shore up your internet connection
It’s expected to run into technical difficulties occasionally, but you want to avoid being the participant other meeting attendees frequently struggle to understand, or the one dropping out of the video conference every few minutes.
Video calls require steady bandwidth. Whether you’re leading remote meetings or joining as a participant, a reliable internet connection is key. Make sure your internet connection speeds are sufficient for virtual meetings.
While you may not have control over every aspect of your internet connection, a solid home network can only help. There are a few ways you can make your local network more resilient and limit interruptions.
Consider mesh routers or a wired connection
If your office is too far from your wireless access point, it can wreak havoc on the stability of your connection. Luckily, you can add mesh routers that wirelessly relay your internet connection from your modem to nearly anywhere in your building.
If you’re still struggling with connection stability, a wired connection eliminates the variable of wireless interference entirely, at the expense of mobility.
Close unnecessary applications
Bandwidth hungry applications can drag down even a strong internet connection. Make sure you only have necessary applications open during your video meeting.
Turn on Do Not Disturb or Focus Assist
Every major operating system has some form of a “do not disturb” mode that will block notifications and route them to a queue you can address later. Before you join a meeting, make sure you’re blocking incoming notifications. Don’t forget to do this for both your work and personal devices!
Mute yourself if you’re not talking
Video conferencing tools are getting better and better at eliminating background noise, but they’re not perfect. The best way to ensure you’re not broadcasting your dog’s alert barking or neighbor’s leaf blower to the entire meeting room is simply muting yourself when you’re not talking.
Turn on video unless you’re having internet connection issues
You’re attending a video meeting, so unless there’s a compelling reason not to, turn your video on. It makes interactions more engaging for other participants and provides subtle communication cues they may otherwise miss if they’re only hearing your voice.
One common exception is if you’re struggling with stuttering video—going audio-only can sometimes resolve bandwidth issues, but it’s a temporary fix.
Clean up your desktop and close other apps if you’ll be screen sharing
You can learn a lot from someone’s desktop—how organized they are, what they’ve been working on lately, what apps they have installed, even recent messages if you’re not careful—and that’s just at a glance.
Even if you’re not concerned about your meeting attendees seeing sensitive information, it’s still good practice to avoid distractions. Sharing a single browser or OS window can help focus your presentation, but the drawback is a lack of flexibility for changing windows.
7. Integrate tools.
Modern virtual meeting software like Zoom and Microsoft Teams don’t just provide a simple, reliable way to meet with colleagues across the world. They both have a lively ecosystem of virtual meeting apps you can integrate to elevate your in-meeting experience. If you and your team use Zoom, check out Zoom Apps to find an ever-growing list of full-featured apps for anything from transcription to moderated Q&As and project management.
For example, Polly for Zoom Apps is a great way to connect with your team, break the ice before meetings, gather quick feedback, and manage moderated Q&As, all without leaving the Zoom meeting experience.
Microsoft Teams users can head over to Microsoft’s AppSource to find a large variety of apps to integrate into the Teams meetings experience.
Need a way to build camaraderie and collaborate with your remote team? Check out Polly for Microsoft Teams.
8. Connect through building something together.
Building something together is a key to building a strong remote work culture, but also an effective virtual meeting.
There are numerous to build things together in a virtual setting, whether you’re building a campaign strategy, organizational culture, or a project plan.
For years, whiteboards have been an in-person meeting staple. Virtual whiteboards are a great way for distributed teams to build something together during a virtual meeting. As an added benefit, virtual whiteboards make it possible for team members hundreds or even thousands of miles apart to exercise creativity and bring ideas to life in a visual format. Two popular options are Figma and Lucidspark.
9. Engage multitaskers with… a task
Would you believe that over 98% of the knowledge workers we surveyed admitted to multitasking during virtual meetings? Perhaps more surprising, only 14% claimed they only did so rarely.
Does that mean they’re not engaged with the meeting content, or daydreaming? Not at all. In fact, the opposite may be true.
While at face value, so much multitasking might imply people are disengaged in meetings, recent research by Shalena Srna, Rom Y. Schrift, and Gal Zauberman found two fascinating things.
For one, whether someone believes they’re multitasking is a matter of personal perception. Perhaps more surprisingly, they found that “individuals who perceived an activity as multitasking were more engaged and consequently outperformed those who perceived that same activity as single tasking.”
So, rather than taking it personally that someone’s attention might not be undivided during your meeting, embrace that demonstrated tendency people have to multitask, and give them a task to complete.
Start a FigJam and give everyone some sticky notes to post onto ideas they like, or designate someone to record action items. Add a quick quiz into the mix, or start a Q&A. The more involved your audience is, the more engaged they’ll be.
After the meeting
10. Follow up.
Share meeting minutes, key info, and any action items once the meeting is over. Many times, meeting frustration stems from a lack of actionable outcomes. This is true whether you’re on a remote team or working in an office together.
You can eliminate that issue simply by calling those action items out after the meeting, either in a shared document, or in your collaboration platform of choice.
Don’t forget to share key information once the meeting ends as well. Not only does it cement the major points covered during the meeting, it can help to uncover and clarify any points of confusion.
In addition, drop meeting minutes or a recording somewhere that others can refer back to it. Some virtual meeting software makes it possible to do both, by providing a recording that includes searchable captions.
Finally, make sure your follow-up includes a request for feedback on the meeting's effectiveness so you can make sure you're driving as much value as possible.
11. Ask for feedback.
Like so many other skills, leading an effective virtual meeting hinges on your ability to learn from experience. Most people won’t share feedback with the meeting host directly, even if they have strong opinions on it. They may even share their feedback in back channels with other attendees.
The problem with that approach is that it offers no opportunity to improve. If the meeting was too long and everyone’s complaining about it in DMs, you as the organizer won’t likely hear about it, and will continue to call meetings that are too long. It’s the same for any other meeting mishaps, whether it’s a lack of focus, or having the wrong people in the virtual meeting room.
The best way to address these issues is to actively ask for feedback. Polly users often use our meeting effectiveness template to check in with meeting attendees and learn what they could do next time to have an even more productive meeting. Even if you had a successful virtual meeting, there’s always room for improvement, and your colleagues will appreciate the effort.
What about you?
We listed many ways to make sure you lead a more enjoyable, effective virtual meeting, but this is just the beginning. Every team has their own unique ways to improve collaboration and engagement in a virtual setting, and we’d love to hear yours! Tweet at us at @polly_ai
For more insights into the opportunities, the challenges, and the evolution of virtual meetings, get yourself a free copy of the full State of Virtual Meetings.
Written by George Dickson
Lives to learn and build cool things with good people.