How Top Companies Excel in Online Meetings: Effective Strategies Revealed

How Top Companies Excel in Online Meetings: Effective Strategies Revealed

Can we simply replicate the conventional offline meeting format to online meetings 100%? If not, what changes can we expect and what new skills and perspectives do we need to make online meetings more efficient?

Essential takeaways from the CBR discussion:

  1. Discussing business matters can be done online, while discussing personal matters is better done offline.
  2. Short meetings can be held online, while longer meetings can be divided into shorter ones online or held offline together.
  3. There should be no more than a suitable number of participants (6-12), and the topics should be highly relevant to those attending. It is important to design interactive segments to keep everyone engaged throughout the meeting.

As an important form of team collaboration, meetings can be both loved and hated. A good meeting can achieve twice the result with half the effort, while a bad meeting can cause harm to all parties involved. After the outbreak of the pandemic, the most common question I discussed with leaders regarding meeting efficiency was:

  • What kind of meetings are suitable for remote communication, and what kind of meetings require face-to-face interaction?
  • How can we keep our team focused, actively participating, and efficiently discussing during remote meetings?
  • What are the differences in methods and guidance when conducting meetings on the same topic online or offline?

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01-Remote meetings becoming routine

After the pandemic, what profound changes will our work undergo? The following is taken from the recent report “The Future of Work After the Pandemic” released by the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI):

  • Remote work will continue. Many companies worldwide are designing hybrid remote work models, and approximately 20-25% of workers in developed economies can work from home 3-5 days per week; this proportion is approximately 11% in China.
  • Workplace flexibility will increase, and companies will expand their recruitment scope accordingly.
  • More opportunities for independent work and gig jobs.

It can be seen that remote work and flexible employment models are not only on the rise but will also continue to expand. The following are some data related to meetings:

  • After the pandemic, business travel is expected to decrease, and online meetings may replace 20% of business trips. – McKinsey
  • During the pandemic, the average number of meetings per person increased by 12.9%, and the overall meeting time per week increased by 10%. The average number of attendees per meeting also increased by 13.5% (North America, Europe, and the Middle East). – Harvard Business Review
  • During the pandemic, meetings under 30 minutes increased by 22%, while meetings over one hour decreased by 11%. – Zoom
  • 91% of respondents participated in remote online meetings in the past week, 80% strongly support remote work, and 69% believe that remote work has significantly improved their work-life balance. – Miro

With the combination of remote work, digital transformation, and agile collaboration becoming more common, remote meetings will become the norm for many workers. This also raises the question of whether the meeting formats we are accustomed to in offline settings can be replicated online 100%. If not, what changes can we expect, and what new skills and approaches do we need to make remote meetings more efficient?

02-Should we meet in person or online?

As life and work return to normal, many leaders find themselves in a dilemma when it comes to remote meetings. During the pandemic, remote meetings became increasingly familiar, and video conferencing software became more streamlined and user-friendly. So, for meetings that used to require face-to-face interactions, should they be conducted online or in person?

Here are three points to consider:

Ensure meeting efficiency (ROI).

I have designed a simple formula that shows how meeting rooms and transportation are both costs. Of course, there is also a promoting or limiting relationship between these elements. If the team believes that meeting in person can enhance our involvement and willingness to achieve the meeting objectives in unit time, then it is necessary. For instance, the annual strategy meeting or the business innovation co-creation meeting may require this kind of scenario, where the cost of transportation and venue is worth spending compared with jointly producing a strategy for the entire year.

At the beginning of the year, I encountered a team that insisted on holding a two-day annual OKR co-creation meeting remotely. As a result, after the first day, most people were exhausted, and they did not anticipate that the energy cost of remote meetings would be higher, with less than ideal outcomes. This is because this type of meeting involves a lot of mental stimulation and peak dialogues. Once people are not online, it seems to save on transportation costs, but the actual losses outweigh the gains.

Another global company is willing to bear this cost, but due to the unfavorable international pandemic, the executive team was unable to meet at the end of last year. My suggestion is to divide long meetings into short have timer for each meeting template section to calculate the time accurately, so that it will not stay for a long time.

Huddles-Weekly Project Progress Meeting Template

For instance, a two-day meeting can be discussed for a few hours every day at a fixed time during one week. This way, it not only maintains more focused topics but also reduces the significant energy consumption of tug-of-war for attendees.

Talking about work can be done online, while talking about people is better done offline.

In some situations, meetings involve preparing presentations, presenting data, analyzing cases, and making decisions. In such cases, online software can provide good support.

In other situations, such as performance evaluation meetings, talent inventory meetings, one-on-one meetings between leaders and employees, brainstorming meetings, and heart-to-heart meetings that focus on people, relationships, and the energy in the meeting room, face-to-face interaction is still very important.

Here’s an interesting statistic: During the pandemic, the ratio of one-on-one meetings between leaders and employees increased by 18%, and the proportion of team meetings that started with a check-in (a way for members to share their current status and personal situations) increased by 10%.

This shows that even when people are forced to work remotely, good communication, mutual concern and care among colleagues remain essential.

Focusing solely on exchanging information and producing content during meetings is one-sided because meetings are, after all, conducted by human beings. Humans carry ideas, information, and perspectives, while also emitting emotions, intentions, and energy. Dr. Albert Mehrabian’s communication model, based on extensive experiments and research, vividly reflects this point, with a breakdown of 7%-38%-55%.

Short meetings can be held online, long meetings can be split into short online meetings, or held together offline.

Microsoft’s team data shows that after the epidemic, the proportion of people holding long meetings online decreased by 11%, and the proportion of people holding short meetings online increased by 22%, with the boundary of 30 minutes distinguishing between long and short.

Studies have shown (Perlow, Hadley, & Eun, 2017) that meetings have a direct impact on employee efficiency and happiness. During remote work, it is natural to turn to shorter meetings. According to an internal confidence survey at Microsoft, this change has also been widely recognized by employees. So, we need to reflect on whether a meeting of over an hour is really effective (do we really need that long? Is it effective time management?). This is one of the long-term effects of remote work.

These data also made me think, why do people tend to hold shorter meetings online?

I guess you’ve had the same experience as me. During a meeting, if a topic isn’t highly relevant to me or if I’m waiting (e.g. for equipment debugging), I’m easily tempted to open other pages on my computer. Or, I might open my phone and check my social media feed to fill the time.

We found that low attendee focus has become the biggest challenge of holding online meetings for organizers and moderators. Related research also shows that 92% of respondents say they will do other things during remote meetings.

This is why we advocate for holding short meetings online. Participants are under a certain amount of time pressure, driving the agenda forward as quickly as possible to reach desired conclusions. At the same time, the number of attendees should not be too large (6-12 is suitable), and the topics need to be highly relevant to the attendees. During the meeting, intentionally designing some interactive elements can help capture everyone’s attention.

The famous Yerkes-Dodson law in psychology shows the relationship between urgency and effectiveness. This relationship is a U-shaped curve.

When there is a certain level of urgency, the results achieved are the best, and when there is no urgency or the urgency is too strong, the results tend to be worse. Holding short online meetings creates a sense of appropriate pressure, promoting participants to focus and perform effectively even when remote, and to achieve meeting objectives. In short, a group of people lazily sitting in the meeting room without guilt and dragging on should not happen in online meetings.

We need to recognize that the traditional principles and methods of offline meetings cannot be fully applied to online meetings. This process of evolution is also an integration and iteration of meeting scene management methods. Leaders need to directly bring up this topic and discuss it with the team, and reach a consensus on the team’s meeting rules and system, rather than blindly accepting and implementing them.

Author: Fiona Berton

Founder of Huddles, Meeting Effectiveness Expert

Deeply accompanying the organizational evolution of agile transformation in enterprises.

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