With many workforces operating remotely, the dynamic of regular meetings has changed. As a result, business leaders must adapt how they structure meetings — including perhaps how often they have them — to thrive in this new virtual work environment.
Among other things, HR pros can encourage leaders to keep employee engagement, cybersecurity and tech needs front of mind.
Make sure it's secure
Companies may be buying and deploying new technologies as they migrate to a fully virtual workspace. One of the most important things to remember is the heightened risk that comes with new technology and employees logging into company databases, such as CRM or payroll systems, from their homes, The International Association of IT Asset Managers (IAITAM) noted in guidance released earlier in March.
CyberScout has recommendations for securing a home office and webcam, which may be helpful to share with employees. The cybersecurity firm has also published data security recommendations for businesses, including VPN tips and information on the value of providing hardware for remote employees.
"There's an added level of stress trying to factor cybersecurity into the adjustment around the Covid-19 work-at-home situation, and that's precisely what hackers are counting on," CyberScout wrote in a blog post. "Plan accordingly, and encourage everyone in your office to do the same."
The shift to fully remote work may have created significant complications for their team members. HR can encourage managers to confirm the scheduling for regularly-held meetings. If parents with kids are less likely to be available for a 9 a.m. roundup, for example, it could be helpful to reschedule.
"With everyone working from home, regular routines are out the door," Mady Peterson, a marketing manager at Limeade, an employee engagement software company, told HR Dive via email. "Instead of seeing this as a roadblock to productive work or meetings, be flexible and allow a shift in regular weekly meetings … Check in with your team members to find a new time that works for everyone's schedule."
Acknowledge employees' personal lives, respectfully
People may be coming into meetings in much different emotional states than when they walk to a conference room from their desk. They may have just put a kid down for a nap, been on the phone arranging food delivery for an elderly parent or simply not adjusting well to staying indoors all day.
"Encourage team members to give a 60 seconds or less verbal ‘tweet' on what the headline in their life is right now," Howard Tiersky, founder and CEO of FROM, a digital transformation agency, told HR Dive in a statement. "This can be an interesting exercise, especially in extraordinary times."
HR can suggest that managers be open to slightly more conversation about personal lives, because meeting time is also now a replacement for informal conversations which used to occur in the office, Peterson explained. They can promote this type of discussion through leadership by example. "Take this as an opportunity to introduce your kids to your coworkers, learn names, and make deeper connections. It's important to treat colleagues as human beings and invest in their personal life (when appropriate for all, of course)," Peterson said.
Turn cameras on, and recommend everyone does the same
Being present is an important trait for any leader or teammate, but especially in a fully remote work environment.
During in-person meetings, managers may tolerate a certain degree of multitasking. It may be okay to check email on one's phone, or quickly respond to a colleague's question via Slack. But when all meetings are video conferences, it's important for everyone to avoid multitasking and be more present than ever. This means keeping cameras on.
"One of the best reasons to share your video screen is to keep your attention on the subject at hand," Kelly Delgado and Emily Storer, two Senior Principals at Infosys Consulting, told HR Dive in an email. "For meetings where your full attention is required for the duration, give it. You'll add more value, reduce the potential for mistakes made while distracted, and decrease the stress associated with information overload."
Delegate for larger meetings
Delgado and Storer's guidance differs slightly for meetings with more than a dozen people.
"Plan ahead to determine who will moderate the call and if additional resources are needed to manage chat, mute people, screen share, etc. Also, in this instance, it's best to ask participants who aren't presenting NOT to share their video," they said.
Larger meetings bring a variety of challenges when run virtually, they added. "Honestly: large virtual meetings are challenging, and in many cases, it may be best to break up the meetings into smaller groups," Delgado and Storer said. "This not only simplifies meeting management, but also shortens the amount of time required for participant engagement."
Building on being present, it will take some extra effort to push team members into participating more often than they would in an in-person meeting. HR can suggest that managers engage team members directly, encourage everyone to speak and use videoconferencing functions such as polling or screenshare, according to multiple people who spoke to HR Dive.
"One good practice for any meeting, and especially in a virtual environment, is to call on team members who may be otherwise silent during the meeting," Delgado and Storer said. "This ensures their engagement and varies the voices on the call."
In some cross-team meetings, everyone on the line may not know each other. Tierskey recommends doing basic introductions if that is the case. He also suggests mixing up the presenters during meetings to involve and engage as many people as possible.
"The more you can build a sense of community right now, the better for everyone's emotional health and work performance," he said. "A well-run meeting can actually be a bright spot in an otherwise dreary and depressing day."
Take notes and celebrate loudly
A well-planned agenda and documentation can increase accountability and the effectiveness of meetings, according to Wesley Connor, global head of learning and development at Randstad.
"Start by always having an agenda and ensuring that all who attend can play a role in the meeting. … Provide frequent updates on overall business trends and corporate strategy, just like you would normally," Connor wrote in a post summarizing from a webinar the company delivered last week. "Also be sure to celebrate successes and acknowledge good work. Look for ways to create rituals for your virtual team, like recognizing special occasions or always ending the meeting with a good news story."
Having a new person take meeting notes is another way to get people involved, and will be helpful for the team as well, Connor added. "When the meeting is over, provide a shared document that outlines everything you talked about in terms of insights, commitments and actions," he said.
Don't always talk about work, or the pandemic
In addition to acknowledging how people's personal lives may have changed with the move to remote work, it's also helpful for managers to try and discuss other informal topics, such as Netflix recommendations or cooking recipes.
"You can't not acknowledge the pandemic — that wouldn't be authentic — but keep topics around it as positive as possible," Tierskey said. "Don't let it overrun everything. You might ask if anyone has a funny story to share, or if they've seen a creative way their community is pulling together or giving back."
Companies and teams can even institute separate meetings specifically for informal interaction, such as virtual coffee chats, happy hours or trivia contests, with optional attendance.
"Get creative with virtual meetings — try a themed meeting or designate certain topics," Peterson said, drawing on experiences at Limeade. "We've had an all staff themed meeting where employees were encouraged to wear their favorite hat, our marketing team hosts weekly happy hours focused on certain pop culture happenings from the week, along with optional weekly Friday ‘Highs and Lows' where teammates share their personal or professional high and low from the week."
Simulate a virtual meeting
If you absolutely must re-create the meeting environment, or are planning a large conference that now will be virtual, a company like Event Farm may have the solution. These virtual solutions give meeting attendees a virtual avatar with which to attend online meeting spaces.
Nike, Adobe and GOOP, for example, have all used such tools to facilitate virtual interaction.
"[Clients] enjoy spending time 'socializing' with other users," Nate Mansfield, director of product at Event Farm, told HR Dive via email. "The level of interaction is much richer than web conferences."