Forget the company conference room. Coworkers no longer need to be in the same office space — let alone the same time zone — to hold a productive progress reports or brainstorming session. We asked nine young entrepreneurs about how they conduct virtual meetings between their startup teams, and actually get things done while doing so. (Share your own thoughts in the comments.)
Stick to the agenda
Since it’s incredibly easy to get off task in a virtual meeting, it’s important to have an agenda, listing only a few goals of the meeting and complete with an overall time limit. Designate someone to lead the meeting and hold that person accountable for making sure everyone stays on topic to move the meeting along.
Start the meeting beforehand
Sending supporting information before the meeting can often help save you time in the meeting, since everyone is already briefed on the basics. If the meeting is just about making a decision, it can often be fast and productive.
Remember, the clock is ticking
For even more efficiency, put a time limit on each subject of the agenda and ruthlessly cut off rambling. Virtual teams are just as susceptible to unfocused meetings, so having an impartial, third-party reference makes it easier to transition topics and stay focused.
Try to shut up
I speak too much. One thing I am constantly trying to work on is asking better questions, and then just listening and letting my team interact. Virtual meetings can be productive if everyone comes together to express what is going well and what they need help on. Also, using the group to throw out potential solutions often reveals a great idea.
Follow up afterwards
Make sure to end the meeting with a list of followup tasks and owners, and have someone distribute by email to the entire team.
Michael Tolkin, Merchant Exchange
Set a schedule of speakers
The main reason for meetings is to give different people a chance to speak. That means that you need to make sure that attendees know that they’re expected to do just that. When you’re planning out your agenda, assign a few speaking slots and make sure that your speakers know what they need to cover. Of course, you do want to have some unstructured time, but balance it out.
Peer pressure turns off multitasking
Without fail, people zone out on conference calls. Have your team use Google+ Hangouts (or another group video chat) so that everyone is actually “present.” Seeing everyone’s face will bring extra energy to the meeting and, of course, it will help you make sure that no one is on their phone or emailing so that you can get the most out of the important virtual chat.
Ask yourself, do we really need to have this meeting?
Your first question should always be: Do we need this meeting at all? If a meeting is not necessary because you have nothing substantial to discuss or you could accomplish your goals just as well through another faster method, cancel it.
Try weekly reports instead
I manage my virtual team by outlining and sharing the following week’s worth of tasks and projects on Sunday night. For the more urgent projects, I then require daily updates at the end of each day. For everything else, each team member must submit and share their progress at the end of the week. Then, it’s up to the team to analyze everyone else’s work and collaborate for the next week.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only nonprofit organization composed of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. The YEC promotes entrepreneurship as a solution to unemployment and underemployment and provides entrepreneurs with access to tools, mentorship, and resources that support each stage of their business’s development and growth.
Virtual meeting photo via dpstyles/Flickr
Working team via Flickr