Meetings in general have gotten a bad rap. Many of the complaints about meetings resonate loudly with many professionals—from poor planning and execution to lack of clear objectives and action items. Research shows that the average worker attends 62 meetings each month. Half of them believe they are a waste of time. This equates to 31 hours of time each month. This is a lot of time; almost 20 percent of total time spent working (assuming a 40-hour work week).

If in-person meetings are believed to be a waste of time, then the assessment of virtual meetings cannot be any better. They might be worse. One research study, for example, found that virtual meetings decrease both productivity and efficiency while increasing stress. There certainly are a lot of virtual meetings taking place: a recent study indicates 28 percent of meetings in North America this year will be virtual or hybrid meetings. 

The good news is that virtual meetings don’t need to be a waste of time. They can be just as effective as in-person meetings, if just a few best practices are followed:

1. Meet Weekly

For virtual teams, weekly meetings are important. Regularity helps ensure team synergies and project momentum. Rapport breaks down and communications between team members falter without regular set meeting times.

2. Send Out an Agenda with Objectives Beforehand

An agenda for the meeting needs to be sent out beforehand. Attendees need to know what will be covered and who is presenting or facilitating the discussion. They also need to know the objective(s) of the meeting.

3. Assign prep work

When appropriate, pre-meeting assignments need to be distributed to attendees. This will help drive better engagement during the meeting and focused discussion. Examples are varied and dependent on the meeting’s objective. For example, if the objective is to review a proposal, distributing a draft or partial draft of it beforehand would give attendees a chance to review and prepare initial questions and feedback. For a project status review, providing attendees with a project calendar and status on deliverables and due dates hones the discussion on problems and how to solve them.

4. Establish Roles

Meeting dysfunction can arise if there is confusion over the roles of the different attendees. A DACI model (decision-maker, approver, contributor, informed) will serve well here, helping to ensure that attendees don’t assume roles not allotted to them. In terms of requisite roles, every meeting also requires a moderator/facilitator, secretary, and timekeeper. Determine these roles beforehand; don’t wait until the meeting to do so.

5. Stop Report Outs

Just as they douse cold water on in-person meetings, report outs can quickly take a virtual meeting down the road of wasted time. Rather spending time on report outs, focus on problems or required decisions and ask attendees to review reports out as part of the pre-meeting preparation. 

6. Determine What Digital Tools Are Needed

Setting the meeting agenda beforehand and knowing the its objective enables organizers to determine what digital tools are required. Evaluation of a software release requires screen sharing capabilities. For organizations seeking feedback and collaborative discussion, polling and chat capabilities are a requisite. 

7. Use Video Conferencing

Attendees often do everything but stay engaged during meetings, with 91 percent admitting they daydream, 39 percent saying they have slept during a meeting, and 73 percent indicating they did other work. Video conferencing, rather than audio only, is a great way to keep attendees from disengaging. As team members can see each other, they can gauge emotions and reactions; facial expressions humanize interactions between each of the attendees. 

8. Establish a Parking Lot

Some topics are likely to arise during a meeting that don’t relate to the meeting agenda and objective(s). That doesn’t mean they aren’t important. Rather, they need to be covered in separate meetings. These should be tracked in a digital parking lot. 

9. Establish Meeting Rules

Distractions and interruptions can happen with in-person meetings. They happen even more with virtual meetings. Meeting attendees should be banned from taking phone calls or multi-tasking. Facilitators should also make sure they engage all attendees and ensure they fulfill a role throughout the meeting. 

10. Log Clear Takeaways and Action Items

One of the reasons many meeting attendees feel meetings are a waste of time is the fact that they don’t result in clear takeaways and action items. This is more than a secretary scribing meeting minutes. The meeting objective needs to result in action items that are assigned to one or meeting attendees and include next steps (required: status communications back to the team).

11. For Hybrid Meetings, Evaluate Meeting Room Capabilities

When it comes to hybrid meetings, businesses need to ensure that their meeting rooms are equipped with the right digital presentation and video conferencing technologies. For businesses that rely on coworking spaces and day offices rather than permanent physical offices, meeting organizers should carefully evaluate rented meeting rooms to ensure they offer the right options. And if you haven’t looked at Davinci Meeting Rooms, you should do so.