Effective online meetings

Business meetings are an integral part of any organization's daily operations. According to the Harvard Business Review, top management spends nearly 65-70% of their time meeting with functional leaders, getting input on current business performance, overseeing high-priority projects and managing complex decisions. Anyone who has worked in a corporate environment knows that some meetings often eat up time in vain for employees at all levels. In an online format, the problems and black holes of meetings become even more pressing and harder to mask.

Despite advances in communications and technology, running effective online meetings remains a challenge: participants can experience both connectivity and latency issues, as well as the ability to have a structured discussion and not stray too far from the topic of the meeting. But the new reality dictates new rules of engagement. And as teams and organizations begin to move online, the need for well-planned and effectively organized meetings and appointments increases. Unstructured or poorly organized virtual meetings lead to irritability for all participants, wasted time, energy and frustration for managers.

So what is the difference between an online meeting and a face-to-face meeting, what should be taken into account when organizing it, and how to conduct such meetings not only for the benefit of the business, but also involving the team in live discussions. Can the same set of rules that are relevant in face-to-face meetings be applied to online meetings to make them productive, or do you need something different? Let's take a look at ideas that can make a qualitative difference in your online meetings. Some of them may seem pretty simple, but nevertheless have a big impact on the effectiveness of these meetings.

As the saying goes, "lack of preparation is preparation for failure". This rule works always and everywhere. And online meeting is no exception. So, spare no time and before you gather your team for a meeting, take a few steps:

1. Create a meeting agenda.

One of the key parts of preparation is to create a meeting agenda that will help all participants be on the same page about the issues being discussed and immediately focus the team on prioritizing the discussion. A good agenda is not only necessary for you to run a successful meeting yourself, but it also helps participants follow the logic of the issues at hand and stick to the timing and purpose (especially when meeting remotely).

So, what do you need to think about when drafting an agenda?

Purpose. Without it, there's no point in thinking about everything else. Write down what you need the meeting for. To inform about something, get feedback or status of projects, make a decision or gather opinions? What exactly do you want to get from the participants and with what outcome do you want to end it? Make sure that the purpose of your meeting requires the active participation of the team. If you just need to inform people, it is often better to choose a different way of presenting information (e.g. letter, call, directive, order), and to meet precisely to discuss, gather opinions, experiences, information and develop solutions. Therefore, first of all, write down the purpose and expected outcome of the meeting on the agenda to make sure that the meeting is necessary. Remember that "Learn... Listen.... Discuss...." cannot be the purpose of the meeting. The wording should be as precise as possible and contain the expected outcome. For example: "Agree on one of 3 options for implementing a new system...", "Develop a cost reduction plan for the next 3 months", "Create a memo on working with new client”, etc

Participants. So, when you know the goal, you can tell exactly who can be most useful and important for achieving it. With this in mind, you create a list of participants for the meeting. You need to understand who you are inviting and why, and make sure that the participants understand this too. Make sure that everyone you plan to invite has a real impact on the goal. Don't invite colleagues "just in case" or "let them listen", everyone's role should be clear to you and the participants.

Sequence of topics to be discussed and time for each question. Think through and write down clear questions/topics for discussion at the meeting. Make sure that addressing them really enables you to achieve your objective. If necessary, assign who will lead the discussion (you can even assign topics to participants). Determine how much time you have for each topic, and agree on who will record decisions and results online. Be sure to agree on these roles in advance with the participants involved. Limiting the time of your meetings can greatly increase your productivity and help you extract much more value in the time available. For example, you can set the meeting length to 30 minutes and allocate 10 minutes to each of the agenda items. This way, participants will stay focused and the meeting won't stretch endlessly.

Leave time on the agenda for additions, short digressions, or urgent questions, but make sure the digression doesn't take more than 1-2 minutes. Otherwise, you run the risk of straying too far from the agenda and the purpose of the meeting.

Send the agenda to all participants at least 24 hours before the meeting and make sure they receive it. You can set automatic meeting reminders using Google or Outlook or another corporate calendar.

The challenge with remote meetings is that non-verbal communication is almost nil. And this is an important part of human interaction, even at business events. Therefore, the more clear, understandable guidelines there are in a meeting, the more constructive your conversation will be. And a well-crafted agenda is one of them.

First, choose a meeting platform that suits your needs (it can be WebEx, Zoom, GoToMeeting, Microsoft Teams, ClickMeeting, Miro, Adobe Connect and Skype for Business). Check out the technical capabilities of the platform, learn its features and functions. Understand where you will see participants and they will see you, and where there will be a single field/window with an agenda and online decision capture. Test everything you're going to use with the team multiple times (polling, idea generation board, chat, screen switching, etc.).

3. Prepare your personal space

Chances are many of you have seen the video of Robert Kelly, an associate professor at Busan National University, whose children ran into his room during his live interview with the BBC. Anyone who has done an online inclusion at least once understands the feeling. Whether it's a cat walking in front of your camera, or a garbage truck driving down your street, or a child flying in on a scooter, these excesses happen. You can't predict everything, but preparing your workspace as much as possible is important.

Before the meeting, find a spot in a quiet room where you can be undistracted by anything. Use headphones or a headset to minimize background noise and get a good sound transmission. Make sure you have a suitable background behind you to work in, with enough light falling on you and nothing to distract participants. Again, if you are working with meeting and video conferencing software that is new to you, be sure to test all the features you need with someone before the online meeting begins.

During the meeting.

Okay, you and your team are ready. Now it's time for the meeting. Here are some tips to make your remote meeting go smoothly.

Remember that we are all human! And now, we're also people who are in very challenging life circumstances. Stress levels are high, the degree of uncertainty is off the charts, and many have a daily little Armageddon at home. So make sure you take 3-4 minutes for a nice greeting, a light conversation about how things are going, how you're coping under new circumstances, or find out who saw what good movie they saw this week. If you are using video and online boards, you could ask participants to draw and show a symbol of the day to the camera, write a word of the day/week on a shared online board, or ask everyone to say one good wish to everyone for the coming day.

2. Agree on rules and online etiquette right away. For example, you can mute everyone's microphones while they are voicing some important information or ask everyone to mute their own microphone as soon as they finish speaking (this greatly reduces noise and interference). Also be sure to have a sequence of speeches or ideas. For example, at the very beginning of the meeting, you ask everyone who has already entered the virtual room and can see and hear you to put some sign in the chat room (plus, a letter of their name, a check mark). In this way, you will have a clear sequence of names. Then when you need to gather opinions or ideas, ask them to take turns speaking in the sequence in which people have checked in the chat room (especially since you can have it in front of your eyes all the time). If you are working on a whiteboard, you can write the sequence of statements on one of the "post-its" at the top of the whiteboard.

3. Be attentive and consistent. Susan Kolarik, associate vice president for instructional technology at Saint Leo University, Florida, recommends keeping the pace of your online meeting a little slower than in face-to-face meetings. And that's because there is a two- to three-second lag in most online systems. Of course, you don't have to monotonously stretch out all your sentences, just make sure you pause enough after posing a question so that people have time to hear the question and think about the answer. Be consistent, stick to the meeting agenda and keep track of the discussion time. If you are a participant in the meeting, pay attention to yourself, give a hand signal or say "question" or "comment" before addressing the group, and then wait a couple seconds before continuing. Also, many online platforms give you the option to give this signal non-verbally. With a "raise your hand" button or with likes/emoji.

4. It is even better if you enlist the support of the team and assign roles to participants: time keeper (someone who will keep track of both the total meeting time and the timings of each topic), responsible for recording ideas, decisions and outcomes. Remember that roles are best agreed in advance

5. Team Involvement. Think through how you will keep team members energized and engaged during the meeting, especially if it lasts longer than 30-40 minutes. The "talking head" that executives often turn into in an online meeting is not the best way to energize the team and get maximum engagement and action. Alternate modes of interaction, ask questions, ask for chat or take turns with audio, organize into working mini-groups in separate online rooms (ZOOM has this option, for example), collect ideas on a common online whiteboard, conduct interactive exercises (e.g. with Raptivity) make jokes, after all! Keeping the energy level high in online meetings is even more important than in face-to-face meetings. Even a simple request to introduce yourself to everyone at the beginning and say 2 words about your mood will already significantly increase the "presence" of the participants in the meeting space. By the way, having video on for all meeting participants increases the effect of presence in a common space by more than 60% and helps participants to understand each other better.

6. Record of Decisions. Many corporate meetings end with vague promises and assurances from participants. And to avoid this both in face-to-face meetings and remotely, use minutes. No, not a formal document that no one wants to read with a detailed listing of every item that was discussed at the meeting Such minutes are long gone. Make a short working, live document where the final decisions on each issue are recorded in real time, in front of everyone's eyes. So, after each agenda item/issue has been discussed, clearly summarize what was agreed upon, check to see if the outcome of the discussion is recorded in the agenda or on a shared whiteboard (Trello, Google docs, Miro, Mural). Make sure everyone understands the Who, What and When of the issue. When the meeting comes to an end, ask everyone to recall the action items for which they are responsible. This is a way to make sure everyone understands who is doing what and what the next steps are.

7. Be sure to thank the participants for the meeting! Say words of encouragement and support, it is important that online meetings do not become like robotic reports, but rather maintain a warm human contact and exchange of energy.
After the meeting
You did it! The meeting is over! ...or is it? Here are a few things you can do at the end of the online meeting (and afterward) to make sure the meeting results are flowing and the team is on the same page with you.

Send all participants a summary document with decisions and an action plan. Get confirmation that everyone understands and agrees with the plan.

Let everyone know how to address urgent issues that arise as the plan progresses (calls, messengers or new online meetings).

Agree on what format and when the progress will be discussed.

Discuss your meetings with your team. Last but not least, it's a good idea to discuss and review past meetings with the team. Ask participants how comfortable they are with the format and process of the discussion. What they like more or less about the current meetings/platforms or ways of discussing. How much do they feel they contribute to the issues and what helps them to be as included in the discussion as possible? Was there anything that could have been omitted or, conversely, included to make the meeting better? This kind of feedback will help to seriously improve the quality of your future meetings.

Conducting online meetings can be a very tedious and chaotic endeavor. However, if you prepare in advance and make sure that the meeting is well thought out and structured, that each meeting has a facilitator who keeps the discussion under control and helps participants to engage as much as possible, online meetings can not only be extremely effective in reaching agreement and solving problems quickly, but can also save on travel, transportation and other expenses when it becomes possible to meet face-to-face again.


  • You are sure that the meeting is necessary
  • You have a clear purpose and expected outcome for the meeting
  • You know exactly who needs to participate in the meeting and why
  • An agenda with a list of topics/issues to be discussed and timings has been developed
  • Date, time and online platform selected
  • An invitation with the meeting agenda and login link is sent to all participants
  • Agreed on who leads the discussion for each agenda item, who records ideas and decisions, who keeps track of time

The platform is tested and interactive elements are prepared in advance (polls, platforms for gathering ideas, a way to open the meeting and engage participants, online rooms for mini-teams to work in)
You have rules for the team to interact during the remote meeting
You know who will send out the meeting results to all participants and other stakeholders and when.