Just under two weeks ago, all of BurdaForward was relocated from our offices in Germany and Italy to several 100 small home offices in order to protect colleagues from infection with the corona virus and prevent it from spreading. This measure came as no surprise, and yet a few challenges lurk in the home office - such as holding meetings.
Our good fortune is probably that we are technically very well prepared, have lived the home office before the corona virus and are used to holding virtual meetings due to the many decentralized locations. But what we didn't know until now is that all meetings really do take place digitally. What does that mean now? What is different?
We are currently in the OKR planning phase and are working with teams of up to 50 people to set goals for the next tertial. I have always had respect for this task and the virtual exchange. But I have already been able to gain some experience. And after almost two weeks I can say: Everything is possible!
As with every meeting, there are three important phases: The preparation, the execution of the meeting itself and the follow-up.
Phase 1: #PreparationIsEverything
The best way to send out an invitation is not only to include a link to the virtual meeting place, but also a clear, short agenda that helps all participants to prepare better. Especially colleagues whose participation is optional can better decide whether to attend or not. It should be clear to everyone what the goal of the meeting is, what their role is in it and what contribution they can make.
The framework is set
Make clear in time what you need for the meeting. Are necessary contents prepared? Is access to the virtual meeting available? Are any necessary tools such as Trello, Mural or Miro open? Are you clear about your goal for the meeting and what your role is in it? To do this, it is advantageous to look at the appointments for the coming week at the end of the week and set up appointment blockers for the preparation. Especially if it is a longer meeting, you should also grab your favourite cup of coffee or tea and provide some fruit or cookies as snacks.
Moderation is important
Whether official or not - a participant should wear "the hat" and be responsible for the moderation. This involves time management, follow-up of topics and, if necessary, moderate intervention.
No full times
For scheduling all types of meetings - digital or personal - I actually always recommend not starting and finishing at full times. Rather schedule the meeting from 11:05 to 11:55 rather than from 11:00 to 12:00. This gives all participants enough time and space for a short follow-up and to prepare the follow-up meeting.
One single point of touch
A mishap recently happened and a colleague was completely excluded from the meeting because we spontaneously moved the meeting to another channel without telling them. Oops. That happens quickly, but of course it shouldn't. Therefore always stay with the originally communicated channel. Unless you are sure that everyone can switch to the new virtual meeting place quickly and easily.
A few deep breaths
Almost there, all set. The video appointment is open, your microphone is still silent. Then get yourself ready quickly. Unfortunately, home office also means that we move much less than usual. So stand on the balcony, the terrace or open a window and take five deep breaths. Then you can go on with new energy! Switch the microphone on again and off you go.
Phase 2: #BeVisible
It is much easier to interpret statements or even silence if you can see the facial expressions and gestures of the (virtual) counterpart. By the way, I have also noticed that in video appointments where all cameras are on, there is much more laughter and a very concentrated but relaxed togetherness.
Have the courage
I have never seen a meeting that ended in total chaos. Both the moderator and the other participants coordinate and regulate the virtual meeting. So dare to bring oral and visual contributions. Show your colleagues important documents and presentations. This makes the meeting even livelier.
In face-to-face meetings it has already become a habit to take notes. Interestingly enough, in virtual meetings it is not. So grab a notebook and write down the most important things. If you want to document via laptop, don't forget to mute your typing. The key fiddle is quite loud for the other participants.
Sound on or off?
My experience so far is that discussions are more natural if nobody is muted. Background noises are filtered out quite well by today's technology. But if you sip your coffee louder than usual or make other "background noises", be sure to mute. But don't forget to turn the microphone on again if you want to contribute to the discussion.
Take a break!
Especially at longer meetings, breaks really make sense to avoid "airing out" at some point. Suggestion: If the meeting is longer than 60 minutes, take 5 minutes break per hour.
Phase 3: #AfterTheMeetingIsBeforeTheMeeting
Short personal summary
What are my next steps? What are my learnings? Have I reached my goal? What went well - what did not, and why?
Probably the meeting lasted between 30 and 60 minutes. So get up for a short time, stretch, move a little. The supply of our brain cells is stimulated by movement.
You already notice that many of my suggestions are not only suitable for virtual but also for personal meetings - trying out, adjusting, learning. Good luck!