I think we can all agree there are drawbacks to this remote working thing. Don't get me wrong--after working this way for years, I'm not complaining, but that doesn't change the fact that it presents its own set of unique challenges. One of those is that meeting with team members virtually simply isn't the same as doing it in person.
That's probably the biggest complaint from people who are used to working in an office. Remote work requires a different set of tools and an intentionality around keeping everyone engaged and connected. As we all come to depend on it more and more, I think it's worth looking at how we can make our virtual meetings more effective.
Of course, companies aren't the only people using Zoom right now to stay connected. Over the past six months, Zoom has also served as the default way to have everything from birthday parties to piano lessons. Now, it is one of the primary tools for school districts trying to adapt to remote learning.
At our home, we have four virtual learners, including a first-grader. Over the past week, I've noticed that his teacher has done a great job of keeping a class full of 6-year-olds engaged, and I'm pretty convinced that the reason why will add value to your team meetings as well.
Cover One Thing at a Time
Sure, your team can probably multitask, but when it comes to Zoom meetings, you're much better off covering only one thing at a time. If you really need to cover multiple topics in a meeting, consider splitting the meeting into different blocks of time, or give people a break in between.
Why? Because, just like first-graders, most of us process information better in smaller chunks. If you want people to remember something, or to treat it as important, give it the time it deserves, without competing information. It's pretty clear what you value when it stands alone. On the other hand, it's much harder to prioritize a list of 12 things.
Keep the Clock in Mind
No one likes long meetings. Long virtual meetings are even worse. It's true that first-graders have a limited attention span. Guess what? So does your team. It's not that they can't focus, it's just that working remotely means that there are a lot more distractions when you're sitting in front of your computer screen. As a result, it's a lot easier to "get work done during the meeting."
Besides, being on a screen takes more energy. It just does. If you want to keep your team engaged, do everyone a favor and schedule meetings for the least amount of time you really need to accomplish your agenda. Of course, if you're only covering one thing at a time, it's a lot easier to keep your meetings focused and brief.
Your team doesn't want to spend all of their time on Zoom meetings to talk about what they're doing. They'd much rather actually spend that time doing their jobs. Of course meetings are important--that's how we collaborate, plan, and coordinate our efforts. They just need to be only as long as absolutely necessary to do just that.
Use Visual Cues
Finally--and I know this one is going to seem like a stretch, but you're going to have to trust me--if you want your team to be engaged, use hand signals for various different cues.
For example, if you're sharing an accomplishment that you want to celebrate, instead of having everyone unmute and clap, use sparkle fingers. No, I'm not kidding. Yes, I know you're a grown-up, but you're never too old for sparkle fingers. Don't like that idea, fine, how about jazz hands?
Will it feel weird? Yep, for a little while. So what. It works.
I really am not kidding--it's actually a super valuable way to accomplish two things. First, it gives your team a shared experience and visual language you can use to communicate without having to interrupt a meeting with the train wreck that inevitably ensues as you wait for 30 people to unmute, clap, say "good job," and then re-mute.
It also allows you, as a manager, to quickly see how engaged your team is. This might even be more important since reading a room is very hard when that "room" is a bunch of silent faces on a laptop display. Besides, if it's fun for a first-grader, wouldn't we all like work to feel a little more like that?