One of the most important lessons companies and managers learned during the last two years is that employees are extremely adaptable. Seemingly overnight, millions of people started working remotely — many of whom had never worked outside of an office before — and found that they liked it.
Gallup reports that 45% of all Americans with full-time employment worked at home at least some of the time in September 2021, and of those who worked remotely, 91% would like to continue doing so.
Companies that were not typically inclined to support flexible work arrangements have shifted gears rapidly — and for many, the change is permanent. For example, according to Forrester, only 30% of companies are planning a return to working fully in-office.
In order to support employees in a variety of situations while also continuing to encourage real-time collaboration, companies need flexible and adaptable approaches to remote meetings that are equally effective across a wide spectrum of work styles and situations. Because, although productivity generally remained steady last year, inefficiencies came to light, and collaboration and creativity suffered.
Business leaders need to identify solutions and processes to support and enable all employees from any location. Here are three tips for creating remote meetings that can empower teams to move into action and continue to innovate now and into the future.
1. Look for virtual meeting solutions that encourage connection
Meetings that support connection are a driving force for productivity. Companies should include but go beyond, the important meeting fundamentals, like communicating weekly agendas and project status. A feeling of connection comes from a shared focus, common understanding and mutual goals. Team leaders can better foster this connection through intentional team-building rituals such as a Question of the Day, discussions about favorite playlists or sharing pictures of pets.
When searching for the right meeting solutions there are some questions to consider. Are the meeting applications your teams currently leverage actually user-friendly? Do they truly support collaboration or do they encourage siloed thinking and working, where people gravitate toward solo work with infrequent updates to a larger group? Do these solutions support multiple ways for employees to participate in the meeting (e.g. adding images, text boxes, allowing for voting, etc.)? Are they easily usable by both remote and in-office employees?
Ideally, modern visual collaboration solutions are the perfect type of meeting solutions to encourage connection and empower your team. These tools provide each team member a voice in virtual meetings, including those who would otherwise hold back, as they have an opportunity to engage on a canvas. Implementing these tools will result in engagement, ideas and alignment. Further, visual collaboration solutions create a digital record of collaboration to which team members can refer if necessary.
Having a solution that can be a single source of truth that teams can refer back to is pivotal to help with that alignment and shared understanding. Importantly, remote meetings should also allow all stakeholders from any location to contribute equally. Companies need to look for collaboration products that encourage these actions.
The right solution helps you draw on your team’s expertise. If you don’t deploy solutions that help your teams contribute in the way that they can best add value, then you’re doing the company a disservice by not empowering your employees to reach their full potential. In short, companies need to implement systems that level the playing field for collaboration for all employees to contribute from any location and have the flexibility to allow employees to work to their strengths.
2. The right solution for any combination of collaborators
Searching for the right collaborative solutions is only effective once team leaders correctly identify the collaborative working styles for each team member. For companies, this means facilitating meetings that act as a catalyst for those working styles. By implementing solutions and processes that amplify the strengths of those working styles, team leaders will encourage engagement from all employees in attendance.
For example, a team member who is more expressive in their work may do well in meetings where visual tools support creativity and free-flowing ideas while displaying data in more colorful mediums. An interactive solution such as a mind map, can be a great way for these knowledge workers to both share and view their ideas around a central subject.
Other employees may also appreciate visual interactive solutions, but runaway meetings seriously cramp their ability to contribute. They may need a meeting structure that is a little more focused and data-driven, allowing them to collect their thoughts before sharing with the full group. In this case, a solid meeting agenda and space to prepare and collaborate asynchronously will help these workers who desire to be more introspective bring their best ideas to the meeting.
Lastly, it’s important to consider the employees who won’t immediately take to new interactive solutions. They may crave the more relational aspect of meetings, and the traditional virtual meeting setting doesn’t encourage their participation. Solutions such as breakout rooms, which can encourage more face-to-face discussion, can get these knowledge workers to open up and feel their input is both heard and valued in larger meetings.
Each of these examples can be seen in a single meeting, so it’s important for team leaders to recognize the combination of collaborators in each meeting. Then, they can decide the right solution, or combination of solutions, that will bring the most out of each employee.
3. Facilitate effective training and use of new solutions with virtual meetings
Once you’ve identified the technologies and strategies needed to support your employees from any location, it’s important to make sure your team is set up for success with effective employee implementation and training. Having the proper training and implementation processes in place can help ensure everyone uses the new applications or processes most effectively, no one operates in a silo, and everyone understands the team norms for collaboration.
Take the same approach you would with a client or customer, and apply that mentality to your employees: What are their pain points? What systems are they already using? How does the new implementation flow into existing communication streams? Then, build documentation to support these needs and fully disseminate those materials across teams.
Designating a teammate who can be the subject-matter expert on virtual meetings helps provide an internal champion for more effective meetings. This person becomes the go-to for your team members and can handle individual requests when needed to resolve technical or logistical issues.
You don’t need to be together to work together
By providing processes and virtual meeting solutions that support a variety of work styles, and which are easily accessible to remote employees, organizations can help reverse the decline in collaboration that the pandemic imposed. Instead, team leaders can help stimulate a surge of creativity, productivity and teamwork regardless of the working environment.