7 Tips for Managing Virtual Meetings with Care during a Pandemic

NYC March 2020. Taken by author.

As a professional facilitator and trainer in online and in-person spaces, I have found myself supporting colleagues and loved ones as they move work online, often onto new tech platforms and with new methods all while managing their own existence during a pandemic. Recognizing the strain this shift to online collaborative work has put on so many, I wanted to offer some tips for managing virtual meetings with extra love and care, making sure to leave room for a new collective existence to unfold. In the meantime, here are 7 tips for managing virtual meetings with care during a pandemic.

1. Prep with Love

Preparation is an act of love for the people who will take time to meet virtually. You know the meeting that could have been an email? Well, that goes double for virtual meetings during a pandemic! In addition to determining if and why a meeting is needed, virtual meetings require extra kinds of prep. Good prep can make it easier for people to connect, have fun, get things done and be good to one another. We know people are going through a lot. Don’t add to their stress. Prep well from a place of love. This allows you to be flexible and ready to deviate from the plan if the group or moment requires it.

2. Don’t go it Alone. Have a Copilot.

Life is more fun with a copilot and facilitation during a pandemic is no different. It’s a lot to be working right now while you adjust to life dramatically changing, witness mass injustices daily, and navigate through fear and grief. This is the time to support each other as full and complicated human beings and practice good co-facilitation. And we can have multiple copilots. When people have a role, they are more engaged. So ask or invite multiple people to take on different roles and share more of the responsibility for success. When we do it together, the load quickly lightens.

Nephew, Age 4

3. Prioritize People and Relationships

It’s the people that keep the people coming back. This is true in virtual meetings, and even more so during a pandemic. Allowing time for people to connect, get to know each other, get and give support, and have their voice heard should be part of every meeting. But in all this uncertainty, it can be especially life affirming and gives us permission to step into leadership, be brave and creative and take collective action. These are all things we need right now.

The truth is we don’t always know what people are dealing with but we know everyone is adjusting and carrying a lot of stress and the impact of Covid-19 is not distributed equally. You can make more room in your virtual meetings during this time to check in, hear a short story from everyone, share something positive or challenging. Allowing extra time for people to think, reflect, laugh, and offer support to one another is a way of centering people. It’s possible to open space for connection without forcing anyone to share things they might not feel like sharing. We can consider how to create room for people to move through this together. For now, we are able to connect virtually and people can learn together, organize, and create new cultures for their communities. Sometimes it may seem like there isn’t enough time to check in or build relationships but two things to keep in mind: 1) Trust that this will be time well spent and 2) You can do a lot in a small amount of time.

4. Get Creative

People learn and engage differently but very few human beings can sit comfortably, listen, and pay attention for hours on end no matter how interesting the people or the topic. These days people are having to do more and more of their work, play, and socializing online. Extended periods of virtual time make staying engaged challenging. So it’s important we be creative in the meetings we have during the pandemic.

Avoid creating expectations for business as usual. Instead, see what is possible and generative to people in this time. Experiment to see what is useful to you and your group and the work you are trying to do together. Try a new tech tool, wear funny hats, bring in music or poetry. If nothing else, break the monotony of endless online meetings with a little creativity.

Little Tokyo, Los Angeles June 2019. Taken by author.

5. Remember You Have a Body

This is a disorienting time. It can be harmful both physically and emotionally. Whether it’s going to the gym, dinner with friends, or visiting your grandmother, your lover’s bed or your therapist’s office, many of the things we usually do to bring ourselves comfort, health, and relaxation are not possible right now. Instead, we spend time isolated in the house, at times idle, absorbing alarming news and wondering how long all of this will continue. Sitting in virtual meetings all day causes our neck and shoulders to get tight, our energy waxes and wanes, and our bodies beg for relief.

There are many ways to support people to be more present, focused, and embodied during your virtual meetings. Stretch, move, dance, ground, breathe, play, and laugh. It’s becoming common knowledge that pants are generally optional for virtual meetings, but any way to remind us that we have a whole body that is present and alive is most welcome and needed in this time.

6. Celebrate What Works, Change What Doesn’t

Even with careful prep and love in your heart things don’t always go well in regular meetings and virtual meetings are no different. The technology fails, people are distracted, or energy is low. You made mistakes, maybe others did as well. Trying new things isn’t easy and it doesn’t always work. You are experimenting. Allow yourself permission to fail forward. We did something, we tried, it sucked, yay us! Celebrate what works. We all showed up, it felt good to connect, we got a little work done, we ended on time. I didn’t hate this meeting. Ok great! Work to communicate well and share responsibility for changing what isn’t working.

So how do you know what needs changing? Ask! Get feedback from the group, especially if you are trying new things or working in new ways. Simply asking what is going well so far and what can be even better next time can help people improve together. Good feedback processes can build trust in the group, allow for open and honest communication, improve meetings over time, and make us all better more caring and responsive people and coworkers.

7. Keep it Short, Keep ’em Coming Back.

A special pandemic plea that I cannot stress this enough: please don’t keep people in long meetings for no reason (or even for a good reason). People are tired, managing a lot, energy comes and goes. I recommend keeping virtual meetings short for now. I am currently committed to less than an hour, ideally 45 minute meetings, even if in the past I was used to much longer sessions. Over time, as the group gets more familiar with each other and more used to working virtually, you can consider longer periods of time working together as a team.

Be gentle with yourselves and each other, there’s a global pandemic still unfolding and a new culture trying to be born. Good luck out there and happy virtual meeting — for now!

A longer resource for managing virtual meetings with care, including specific examples of how to practice each tip is available for free download: https://networkweaver.com/product/7-tips-for-managing-virtual-meetings-with-care-during-a-pandemic/

Contact Kiaranagel@gmail.com to get specific support or offer feedback.

Creative strategist. Collaborative facilitator. Urbanist. Organizational change consultant. Kiaranagel@gmail.com

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