Last month I realized I’ve been participating in more virtual meetings recently than face-to-face meetings. My virtual meetings have actually been more productive than my in-person meetings. What are some keys to making virtual meetings work? Four ways to ensure virtual meetings produce results are to:

• Send an Agenda in Advance
• Rethink Ideal Group Size
• Use Video Technology
• Establish a Meeting Rhythm


1) Send an Agenda in Advance
As blogger Karen Adamedes has written, “A meeting is not a surprise party.” Send out an agenda ahead of time. It is astonishing how often this simple, yet crucial step is overlooked. Virtual attendees should see the agenda to prepare. Don’t send it too early. Two to three days in advance works well. Include any relevant background information when sending the agenda.

2) Rethink Ideal Group Size
Most published research about optimal group size has been based on face-to-face groups. In the virtual environment, make your teams smaller than you would if they were meeting in person. My own experience with virtual teams is that three or four members is ideal for collaborating to produce a deliverable. Larger groups can be appropriate if the primary task is to share information, but true collaboration is difficult in virtual teams larger than four. I have found it effective to split larger virtual groups into teams of three or four to tackle specific tasks, and then bring the larger group together to report out on sub-group progress. Keep your virtual teams small unless the agenda is primarily information sharing.

3) Use Video Technology
I admit to multi-tasking during telephone conference calls (I should say attempt to multi-task because we can’t really multi-task, but that’s a topic for another day). For an amusing look at the challenges of conference calls see “A Conference Call in Real Life.” Using video in virtual meetings is a powerful enhancer of team interaction. Don’t underestimate the powerful effects of enhanced non-verbal communication. Research by the Fraunhofer Institute, an application-oriented research organization based in Europe, showed that video-conferencing resulted in a host of productivity improvements over tele-conferencing.

• 70% of participants were more willing to participate in discussions when video-conferencing
• 60% said being able to see other people, and share documents live, made the discussion more open
• 81% of participants said, compared to phone and email, video-conferencing resulted in genuine collaboration
• 74% thought decisions reached through video-conferencing felt more like shared decisions than those reached via phone/email
• 79% said video-conferencing was more effective because being able to see others helped them concentrate longer

Use of video during virtual meetings will dramatically improve the effectiveness of the communication because of increased nonverbal communication. Some non-verbals (tone, rate of speech, and word emphasis) can be communicated by audio, but adding video vastly enhances messaging by adding facial expression, eye contact, and gestures. With the many low-cost or no-cost video meeting technologies available there is little reason to not use video during virtual meetings.

4) Establish a Meeting Rhythm
Virtual groups often fail to gain traction because setting each meeting date/time becomes a drawn out negotiation process. Establishing a meeting rhythm is extremely important for groups to work effectively over time. The Rockefeller Habits describes the power of establishing regular meeting rhythms. Many companies have had success with instituting regular meetings at all levels of their organization. This lesson should be applied to virtual meetings as well. A benefit of small group size is that it makes it easier to set a regular meeting time all can agree to. Setting a regular meeting time can be a very powerful tool. For many tasks, a weekly rhythm is ideal. It is important to also maintain the commitment to the schedule. Meet even if one member is absent. Task one of the attendees to update the missing member prior to the next meeting. Establish the meeting rhythm early in the process; don’t leave the schedule to chance.

These four simple ideas: sending an agenda in advance, keeping group size small, using video technology, and establishing a regular meeting rhythm, can make your virtual meetings as productive, or maybe even more productive than face-to-face meetings.

Photo: "Teleconference" by chris.chabot is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0


There is 1 comment so far

  • WOB
    5 years ago · Reply

    I prefer VTC over in-person, but have participated in some where an attendee may either dominate conversation or rarely be heard from … only to later learn they were the exact opposite in behavior when meeting in-person. Wondering about the psychology behind such ….

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