Remote workers and companies are becoming more popular these days. In 2015, Gallup reported 37% of workers said they worked remotely, up from just 9% in 1995. How do companies keep their employees updated and also keep the culture alive without having to spend time and money on travel every month? At Rhythm Systems, we decided to have virtual monthly meetings to accommodate those who are unable to fly or drive to Charlotte every month and still keep the company connected and up to date.
Honestly, our first virtual meeting was a disaster! We have about 12 employees who live in Charlotte so we met in the office while the 6 remote team members dialed-in and only used audio. The team in the room fed off of each other’s energy. We were loud, excited, and frankly rude to our virtual coworkers. Since they were not physically in the room, we acted as if they were not even a part of the meeting.
One of our Core Values is No Thinly Disguised Contempt, so when we announced we would be doing more virtual meetings, they replied, "Not if it is like the last time!" So we came up with a few guidelines to make sure that even though we were not all physically together, we are all still one team, sharing ideas, able to speak up and thrive to keep our culture alive. Our next virtual meeting was so successful, I just had to share what we did. Here are my five steps to having a productive virtual monthly meeting.
Step 1: Create a Virtual Protocol
Create a set of expectations that will help everyone feel connected and together, even if it is virtual. I communicated our guidelines prior to our meeting. Then to kick-off our meeting, I reminded everyone again to help us keep it top of mind. Our guidelines are as follows:
1) Arrive on time: I start our conference call 15 minutes early so that virtual members can join and get set-up (and to avoid any technical difficulties), and I request our Charlotte team to be in the office 15 minutes early so they can get settled in their seats to start on time. Let’s get off with a great and timely start!
2) Expect to be on camera: I explain this in further detail in Step 2 below, but since most of us are camera shy, I give a heads-up that everyone will be on camera, so fix your hair, makeup, and attire if desired.
3) Respect the Virtual Officials: I explain this guideline in further detail in Step 3. The Virtual Officials are there to ensure our time spent in the meeting is productive and fun.
4) Remember our teammates who aren't in the room first: This is the last protocol but certainly not the least! Our virtual voices are always heard first. Whenever we pause for questions or feedback, we make sure to ask our virtual attendees for their input before going around the room. They use a “raise hand” feature available in our web-conferencing software to let our referees know they have an idea to share. If a person in the room is currently speaking, we make sure they get to speak up next before another person in the room starts speaking.
Step 2: Lights, camera, action!
If possible, use the video feature on your conference calling software. This was a major game changer! Seeing everyone helped make us feel more connected. It also helped with knowing who online is trying to speak up. We had the visual shots of our online team set up on our monitor in the conference room so those of us in the room can see everyone online.
Now that our Charlotte team can see the remote team, the remote team also had to see us! Do you not have a fancy giant monitor with a video camera installed to get the whole room on video? Neither do we! To get everyone in view, we set up a phone on a tri-pod in the corner of the room which captured half our team (the phone was dialed into the call). I had the Virtual Officials dial in on their computers so we could keep an eye on the remote teammates. With this set-up, the virtual people were able to see everybody, too.
Step 3: Create a Team of Protocol Police
I chose a team of 5 people to help make sure our guidelines were met. I called them the Virtual Officials and gave each job a title of what an American football referee does. We had an Umpire - she made sure virtual opinions were heard first. Our Field Judge had the responsibility of making sure only one person was speaking at a time and was responsible for stopping people in the room from starting a side discussion. We had a Head Linesman and a Line Judge to help keep an eye on our virtual folks to see if they had their hand raised. I was there to back-up the team when needed, the Crew Chief/Head Referee.
Step 4: Use Facilitation Tools
Since we had referees, I found a neon yellow towel to use as a flag. Our Head Linesman and Line Judge used it when they saw a virtual person raise their hand. The Field Judge used a dog training clicker to break up any side conversations - which she only had to use once! The tools made following the protocol fun and playful but our team still did not want to be the ones who made the clicker click due to their side conversations!
Step 5: Actually Follow Protocol
We have the guidelines in place, the team on camera, our referees ready to play, and the everyone knows the expectations. So when you start having discussions, make sure you do let your virtual people speak first. If there are multiple questions inside and outside of the room, make sure your virtual people speak first or that they are next in line. If side conversations begin to happen in the room, use the clicker to get them to stop - you will probably only need to use it once, too!
I’d love to hear how you have successful virtual meetings in the comments below. What protocols do you have? Do you have a team to make sure the protocol is met? How do you make sure all participants are able to collaborate effectively?
I hope these steps can help you and your team have a successful virtual meeting next time!
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