Some people may not feel heard in your meetings, but there are ways you can improve engagement.
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The pandemic forced many of us to shift business online, and as a result managers are holding more remote meetings than ever before. According to a September 2020 study by Harvard Business Review, employees are attending 13 percent more meetings than they were in pre-pandemic times. Yet I consistently hear that employees are having a more difficult time being heard and distinguished in these virtual setups. Here are a few ways managers can minimize the shortfalls of remote meetings, and make the most of their online interactions.
1. Have an agenda
It’s important to have an agenda, but you should also make sure your agenda is meaningful. Send an email to your employees ahead of time asking if there are specific ideas or issues they’d like to address in addition to those you’ve set forth. This will not only create buy-in for the meeting, but it will also help employees prepare and make the meeting more effective.
2. Identify the “squeaky wheel”
Look at who the “squeaky wheel” is in your meetings. Of course, you want to encourage your team to express their ideas and speak up — but not to the detriment of someone not speaking at all. If you notice there are team members who are not actively participating, make sure you call on them by name so they have an opportunity to share their viewpoints. You can also block a designated time on the meeting agenda for an employee to speak. This way, all ideas have a way of being addressed.
3. Create visual cues for your meetings
In person it’s easier to read cues, such as eye contact or body language, that indicate someone may want to speak during a meeting. The online realm makes it much more difficult to see what’s going on in the small box of each employee. Consider having props sent out to your team members that say things like, “I’d like to speak,” or “I have another idea.” These visual cues can empower each person with the proper tools to be heard. You can also consider appointing a different employee to be the “moderator” for each meeting. By having a designated person look out for those who wish to speak, you’ll ensure no one is ignored.
4. Turn on the cameras
We’ve all heard you should encourage employees to turn on their cameras during meetings. As a manager, you can help your employees become more comfortable with an onscreen appearance by setting the right tone. For example, you can tell your employees, “I’ve been trying to work out in the mornings so don’t be surprised if I’m on the meeting in my workout clothes.” By setting the expectation that your attire will be casual, you make it more acceptable for others to feel that they don’t have to be perfectly polished to be on camera.
If employees are still hesitant, start small. Ask your team to turn on their cameras for the first few minutes to say hello before giving them leeway to turn them off. Additionally, leave space at the beginning and end of each meeting for more personal interactions, and encourage employees to log on early and stay late. There aren’t opportunities to stop by someone’s desk to catch up or make a coffee run, so create space for your team to engage.
5. Interact in ways that work with your employees
Think about ways to share ideas and interact with your employees beyond your online meetings. Schedule one-on-ones with your team members to check in with their current projects and challenges. Be sure to discuss ways that you and the company can support them better as they continue to navigate the ongoing pandemic. For example, if an employee indicates that they need to monitor their children between 11 a.m. and 12 p.m. every day, you can try to schedule meetings outside that time period. By listening to the needs of your employees and adapting accordingly, your employees will find it easier to be present when the time comes.
6. Be real
Lastly, be real. There are elephants in the room right now. People are operating in chaos. They have quarantine fatigue. They’re lonely. As a leader, you must be comfortable with vulnerability in order for employees to feel that they can share their struggles. Psychological safety goes a long way in ensuring happy and productive employees — and might even get them to look forward to meetings a little bit more.