What 5 things can we take away from our experience with online meetings?

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​We’ve all enjoyed efficiencies we’ve picked up while working from home, with one major one being the ability to attend and host meetings online.​ As we start to head back into the office, in-person meetings will start to creep back into our calendars, whether they be internal meetings within our organisation or external meetings with clients and project stakeholders.

While there are huge benefits to face-to-face meetings, let’s not forget about some key things we’ve learnt from running online meetings that we can apply to in person meetings that will hopefully save time and be more efficient.

1. Does this meeting need to be in person?

While once a novel concept, online meetings are now the norm. People won’t be surprised or offended if you suggest hosting a meeting online, rather than in person – you just need to decide which is more appropriate.

Here are some questions you might like to ask yourself when deciding on whether a meeting should be online or in person:

What are the tangible benefits of hosting the meeting in person? Inevitably, more effort is required to host and attend a meeting in person. Before defaulting to an in-person meeting because we are able to do so again, ask yourself are the benefits worth the additional effort?

Is it worth the travel time? No one likes having to battle traffic to get to a meeting that could’ve easily been held online. Keep in mind where people will be travelling from.

Who needs to be there? If the meeting is with co-workers who will already be in the office, in person might be the way to go. However, if people from different office or cities are needed, online might ensure people can attend.

What time will it start and how long will it run? With travel time and who needs to be there in mind, if it’s an 8.30am meeting that will only be 30 minutes, holding it online might work better for everyone.

2. Stick to an agenda

Something we’ve all taken away from online meetings is not to waste time for the sake of it. Online meetings are less of an effort to attend, so can be shorter and sharper in their agenda.

In person meetings don’t have to be lengthy for the sake of it. Know what you need to cover and stick to it. Create an agenda, allocate set amounts of time to each point, and don’t stray too far from it.

Sending the agenda out prior to the meeting will help everyone prepare for the meeting and hopefully stick to it.

3. Set up beforehand

When we return to in person meetings, setting up the meeting space will mean more than making sure our video background is neat and tidy. We will also not have the luxury of sharing our screen, or quickly sharing files via MS Teams.

Remember to think about physical things that will make the meeting more enjoyable for people, such as preparing water beforehand or specific documents and handouts if needed.

Ensuring all the technology is set up and working before the meeting is an absolute must. No one wants to be in the middle of an important meeting and have major technical issues that wastes time and takes the meeting off topic.

4. Building rapport is easier in person

One of the reasons that online meetings have saved us time is that small talk can be awkward, especially if there are multiple people involved. Jokes can get missed and people might be left feeling self-conscious in the silence that follows. This has led to us not wasting time with lots of personal conversations during online meetings, but also that building rapport virtually is hard.

One of the best things about meeting face-to-face is the ability to connect with meeting participants in a way that we can’t online. Let’s take advantage of being able to talk and interact with people before and after meetings. Let those jokes land properly and receive the laugh they deserve. Having rapport and building relationships with people can help meetings run smoother and be more enjoyable. Also, we shouldn’t forget that a lot of us are a little starved for personal connection that has been missed while working remotely.

5. Ensure clarity and send a summary

Being at our computers as a meeting concludes has made it a lot easier to circulate agreed actions and deadlines at the conclusion of a meeting to all attendees. This has resulted in better and more consistent outcomes from those meetings.

Let’s not lose this as we return to in person meetings. Taking five minutes at the end of a meeting to ensure clarity around what has been discussed and agreed to and then circulating that to all attendees will make sure that the time we have invested into attending the meeting will have been well worth it.

As offices open back up, I am excited to meet with colleagues and clients in person. I am, however, not going to let my excitement get in the way of asking myself whether hosting the meeting online makes more sense. I’m also looking forward to carrying through what I’ve learnt in meetings online into in-person meetings so that they can be smoother, clearer, and more enjoyable for everyone.