Research shows we spend more hours working during the pandemic, while the average workday schedule in 2020 has changed considerably. And so have work meetings as we attend much more of them. They’re typically shorter and also obviously different as they mostly take place online, and this is probably not going to change in the foreseeable future.
In this post, I’m looking into the importance of meeting online with your virtual team and running them in a way that increases productivity and fosters connectivity – rather than decreasing either.
The rise of remote work in recent years is older than the pandemic
Google lists an increasing number of studies and stats around the remote work model. Just a quick search will tell you that:
In 2020 – before the pandemic started for good – there were already 7 million people working remotely in the U.S., making up 3.4% of the entire U.S. population.
Gallup research found that optimal engagement happens when employees work off-site three to four days in a five-day workweek.
And the list goes on, leading us to one critical question – and a concern for a lot of employers and team managers – What happens to productivity when your team works from home most of the time?
To answer it, let me resort to research once again. Contrary to popular stereotypes, statistics show that:
Remote employees can be 20 to 25% more productive.
Employees who work remotely at least one day a month are 24% more likely to be happy and productive.
So why are we worrying about productivity?
Apart from stereotypes and prejudice, there’s a real, tangible problem. The quoted research mostly relates to pre-COVID times – which we can today consider an “ideal” world for the remote employee. And a world we don’t currently live in.
The reality of work in 2020 (and probably beyond)
To say remote work is the perfect solution for everyone is a risky overstatement. And we’re also currently far from the ideal conditions for it.
The higher productivity, focus, and engagement, seen in the results of countless studies, are probably ignoring a large portion of our realities today. Forced lockdowns, closed schools, our two-bedroom apartments often turned into workplaces for at least two adults, AND educational institutions for kids and teenagers.
We’ve had to rework our schedules so that every member of the family gets to be productive – and this is just not easy to do. All of it is now turning the flexibility we crave into no flexibility at all.
In a recent survey, we carried out that 49% of respondents didn’t have the right conditions to work remotely or were still facing issues with it. And while 59%of people enjoy remote work, 23% still miss the office reality.
And we’re looking at several problems here.
But it’s the exact opposite of what many of us face today, like parents homeschooling kids and taking care of toddlers while trying to focus on moving tasks from “in progress” to “done” on their virtual Kanban boards. All while keeping up with their email and instant messaging app notifications constantly pinging on their mobile phones and desktop screens. That’s not a productivity-friendly, distraction-free environment.
And it’s especially relevant to new hires, who – according to a report by Slack– struggle with productivity and connectivity in their new workplaces the most.
Without working side by side with others and meeting for office chats, it’s often more difficult to initiate conversations and easier to feel left out.
Especially if you’re used to working in an office, it might be difficult to feel part of a team. The uptick in the use of video conferencing platforms might actually prove that craving for face-to-face connection.
It’s harder to collaborate and learn from others
An interesting find is that we’re more prone to improving productivity on individual tasks when we work remotely but the opposite happens with tasks that require team collaboration.
Besides, the research linked above shows that team members who feel more socially connected at work are more likely to improve productivity on collaborative tasks than those who feel disconnected.
It’s hard to see the big picture
Between helping kids out with their school tasks and ticking items off your work and home to-do lists for the day, there’s little to no time left to take a step back and get a bird’s-eye view.
Managers and executives can find it hard to plan, strategize, or think of future goals and ways to measure the results. We’re just doing our best to accomplish whatever we have planned for the day.
And all of the above are reasons to meet online with your team.
How meeting online with your team can help
We need to interact face to face, at least from time to time, to maintain a sense of connection and belonging (which, as shown in the research results above, can directly affect productivity).
The tricky part is just like with in-person meetings. The more we meet, the less time we have to do the work. So, it’s important to make the most of the meetings and plan them carefully, so they don’t become a burden.
Below are a few ideas on how you can do that by combining video conferencing tools like ClickMeeting with other collaboration tools and project management software.
Weekly/daily standups/status meetings
If your team works using agile methods, this will be an obvious part of your workweek. But even if you don’t use Scrum in your projects, it’s a good idea to catch up regularly, making sure everyone’s on the same page, knows the bigger picture, and is aware of what other team members are working on.
Find ways to avoid turning a status meeting into a never-ending list of task descriptions that are hard to keep up with. You need to bear in mind that it’s even more challenging to focus when you’re in front of your computer screen than it is when you’re in an in-person meeting. So, prepare a detailed agenda ahead and track the time used by the individual team members.
With the tools available today, it’s surprisingly easy to make it feel like meeting face to face. Use online collaboration tools like virtual Kanban boards or task management software and share them on your screen to illustrate what you’re working on. Team members can share files like presentation decks or their screens to present their progress.
Make sure there’s accountability on your team – and each task has an owner. It can be especially tricky while working online.
Not being able to exchange ideas with your colleagues might be a hurdle for creativity. Organizing brainstorms is a good way of sourcing new ideas and working out creative concepts for campaigns or new product launches.
Use the interactive whiteboard to note down ideas and save them for later. Remember about the key principles of brainstorming – there are no “wrong” ideas at this point. The more ideas you generate in a brainstorming session, the better. You’ll select the best ones and build on them later.
There are also multiple cloud-based online collaboration tools you can use to accompany your online brainstorming sessions. Some of them are listed in this post.
Whether you’re drafting your marketing strategy for 2021, preparing to launch a new product or feature, or mapping your customer journey, workshops with the right people on the team are a vital step in the process.
Meeting online has its limitations, though. Workshops often include physical items like cards/post-its, writing on a whiteboard, or working in smaller subgroups on specific elements. Luckily, most of it is now possible using video conferencing software and the screen sharing feature.
And this brings me to the latest addition to the ClickMeeting platform that I’m excited to share (coming soon) – breakout rooms:
Each online meeting can be divided into 20 breakout rooms.
Each breakout room can accommodate 25 people who can see and hear each other, collaborate, and exchange ideas.
You can do the introduction in the main room and then assign attendees to individual rooms to work on their part in smaller groups. Then go back to the main room to exchange your findings and conclusions.
One-on-one meetings with team members
If you manage a team, it’s essential to keep in touch with individual team members. Don’t stop at monitoring the tasks in project management tools but set up some time to have an honest conversation.
Let them know what’s ahead, celebrate success, and talk about things to improve. It’s especially important now to monitor their wellbeing. Do they need something to be able to complete their work (and what is it)? Are they comfortable with the workload given that they might have their spouses or kids at home?
Research shows remote employees value check-ins from their managers. It’s easier to feel accountable and engaged when you’re aware of your manager’s full support.
Knowledge sharing sessions
Organize online training sessions or brown bag meetings to keep the exchange of knowledge flowing. It might be a challenge when people don’t have instant access to one another.
These can either be structured training sessions, webinars, or workshops with a shared presentation or more informal meetings centered around a topic where participants share their experience freely.
Whatever the format, don’t skip them, especially if you’ve organized them back when everyone was working at your office.
Scheduled social breaks online
Since your team can’t physically meet for coffee or pizza in the office canteen, make time for some socializing and team building online. Agree to have lunch together, e.g., once a week or twice a month. Being able to talk to each other while seeing each other without the constraints of a formal meeting will help strengthen team bonds and ease up some tension.
Don’t meet too much, though. People, especially now, need time away from their screens. So rather than topping their online meeting list with new meetups and sessions, opt for an informal meeting every once in a while. Give them the freedom to hang around and talk about anything but don’t force them to strain their already challenged attention spans.
Meeting online is essential for keeping up the team spirit and building and maintaining connections – as long as it’s within your team’s capacity. So, when planning your week, don’t forget to make room for other activities and task completion.
Consider the fact that remote work has meant longer working hours for many employees, so it’s important to plan and schedule meetings wisely. Otherwise, we’re all inevitably risking a productivity drop sooner or later.
Got your own proven tips to run productive team meetings online? Share them in the comments.