"This meeting could have been an email." You've probably seen this virtual meeting meme at the start of the COVID-19 2020 pandemic when the frequency and length of virtual meetings dramatically increased. This meme might be silly, but it speaks the truth. Most meetings can indeed be an email or communicated via other asynchronous communication methods. That's precisely what this article is all about: learning how to have fewer virtual meetings, by leaning into asynchronous collaboration. As much as the tools are important, there's another part that makes up whether you successfully manage to run fewer meetings virtually - your ability to effectively plan them while at the same time, keeping your employees engaged.
In a 2020 meeting survey with 757 respondents from the US, workers reported that there has been a 22% increase in short meetings (30 minutes or less). However, only 11% of the respondents reported feeling productive in these meetings. Since remote work has become the norm, Zoom calls have become the default mode of communication. While these online meetings are necessary to succeed remotely, they should be optimized along with the asynchronous meeting tools your team is using. Now, back to the main question, how do we have fewer virtual meetings?
Every project starts with a brainstorming session. Most of the time—when you're in the middle of a Zoom call and someone thinks about a new idea—the go-to response is, "Let's set up a call and brainstorm together." A virtual meeting becomes more productive if the team spends time prior to the meeting brainstorming asynchronously.
Before scheduling a brainstorming call, ask your team to write down their ideas using asynchronous brainstorming tools. For example, IdeaBoardz provides a visual way of sharing ideas using digital post-it notes that you can easily drag and drop. This is a great way to encourage everyone to write down their ideas without any judgment—the key to healthy and effective brainstorming. Before the virtual meeting, you can do an inventory of all the ideas. Eliminate ideas that aren't clear yet or save them for another session. Merge notes that have similar ideas. And most importantly, prioritize the top ideas for discussion in the call.
Decisions need to be made frequently, especially if you're leading a remote company. That's why it's important for remote leaders to master deliberating and decision making without fully relying on synchronous virtual meetings. The best way to make decisions quickly is to promote transparent and open communication using asynchronous chat tools.
Most companies use Slack, but there are alternative tools, such as Flock and Orbital. Flock helps streamline decision-making through organized channels, and it also comes with a built-in video call feature once you decide to jump in a call. Orbital also offers similar features where your team can chat asynchronously and run virtual meetings. These tools allow your teams to create their own "galaxy" where they design a digital space together.
Once you have a virtual space where everyone can easily see details about projects, sending a series of quick questions through private messages or public channels can eliminate a potentially long virtual meeting.
Do you have daily standup calls? Most companies run them as part of their daily routine, and they usually last around 10 or 15 minutes. However, the 15-minute call doesn't include preparation. Oftentimes, you'll spend an extra 20 minutes before the meeting putting together your notes.
Instead of daily standup calls, you can save a lot of time by opting for asynchronous daily check-ins. For example, with an asynchronous communication tool, your team can share daily check-ins, and the tasks they are focusing on for the day. Tasks are then marked as completed the next day, and new tasks are set for the present day.
These tools usually easily integrates with Slack or Microsoft Teams, so that you can automatically push your team check-ins to your team communication app of choice, improving visibility for the whole team. If something needs clarification, or to be discussed quickly, rather than jumping on a call, your team can start a thread and discuss directly in Slack or MS teams.
Similar tools that you can use to help improve daily status updates are Kona and Holopod. Kona checks on the team's mood daily and builds a chart out of the data over time. Holopod, on the other hand, automates status updates and blocks notifications. That way, your team exactly knows what you're working on—whether you're in a meeting or need some time for deep work, all without interrupting anyone.
Retros are not just for the product and dev team. However, you don't always need to hold a two-hour-long Zoom meeting to ensure they are effective. There are simple ways to run your retrospective meetings.
If you're using an internal database, you'll be able to check the data and results at a glance. Google Docs and Notion have become the go-to solutions, but there are other newer alternatives. For example, Narrato and Almanac are asynchronous communication tools that bring all your documents and processes together into a single platform.
Using asynchronous tools effectively can save you hours of planning and time spent in sync meetings each week. These hours can be focused on deep work instead and working towards objectives that drive the business forward. If you're still unsure if you should hold a Zoom call or not, here are a few questions to ask:
Asking yourself these questions gives you a better understanding of if you need to have a call at all. This is a similar approach in task management, where you try to deliberate all tasks before doing them. Some tasks need to be simplified, delegated, or automated. In the case of meetings, can the meeting be eliminated or simplified to an asynchronous discussion?
Now, if you're ready to do a virtual meeting after all of the asynchronous discussions you might ask, "How do I start a virtual meeting? And what do you use for a virtual meeting?" According to the same 2020 meeting survey we've mentioned earlier, "The top reason people selected as the best way to get them excited about attending a meeting is for it to be well-planned (64%)."
And there is no better way to plan a virtual meeting than to write an agenda ahead of time. An effective meeting agenda includes basics like the date, time, and where the meeting takes place (e.g., Google Meet, Zoom, Microsoft Teams). More importantly, it includes the main topics that will be discussed with the attendees.
It also answers these questions:
You can save tons of time by using free meeting templates that you can easily edit and share with your team. Check out our dozens of free meeting templates that cover the most popular types of virtual meetings, including brainstorming, project kickoff, and virtual sales meeting.
Each type of meeting will require different meeting ground rules. For example, for a brainstorming session, you might include ground rules specifying how people can share their ideas, or, what the protocol is for when a discussion veers off track. In general, your virtual meeting ground rules should include:
These are just a few of the virtual meeting best practices, and there are more depending on the meeting type.
If you're the facilitator of the meeting, you might be doing all the talking while everyone is staring blankly into the camera. The question you may be asking then is, How to make virtual meetings more interactive? First, it's important to quantify what you mean by interaction. Not everyone needs to speak or ask questions, especially during large Zoom meetings.
Here are a few easy yet effective virtual meeting tips to improve interaction:
These can be as simple as asking how they are feeling about X, Y or Z. You can even test out asking questions with one-word answers. For example, "In one word, how would you describe your experience this quarter." You can ask everyone to unmute and answer all at once or encourage people to type their answers in the chat.
For longer meetings like virtual townhalls or sprint planning, try to include virtual games as part of the meeting. This also helps break up the monotony of the meeting and allows for a change of pace. A few companies even go as far as renting a farm animal for the day to add some excitement into their Zoom meetings.
If you don't have a budget for farm animal cameos, one of the popular virtual morning meeting activities is virtual meeting bingo. This game is a twist on the classic bingo game. Instead of crossing out numbers, you'll cross out common occurrences in Zoom meetings, such as when someone tries to talk while they're on mute or when a dog barks while someone is talking.
The simplest way is to add some spice is, of course, to change your virtual Zoom backgrounds and choose a theme. Curious about other fun games you can incorporate into your virtual meetings? Check them out in our article on virtual annual meetings.
Not everyone loves to speak, so encourage people to use emojis or chat to share their thoughts. If you're the facilitator, always check the chat to acknowledge comments and answer questions.
Is your team taking advantage of asynchronous meeting tools? We'd love to know which ones are your favorites. Here's a recap of the ones we've mentioned:
💡 IdeaBoardz - share ideas through digital post-it notes.
⚖️ Flock - streamline the way you make decisions through dedicated channels.
💬 Orbital - have asynchronous chats and run virtual meetings.
🐨 Kona - keep up with the daily mood of your team.
🛡️ Holopod - automate your status updates and blocks distracting notifications.