Seven Tips for More Productive Online Meetings

online-meetingCollaborative businesses or entrepreneurs who work with outsourcing companies often rely on online meetings to communicate with and monitor their teams. Research about in-office meetings show that 25-50% of the time people spend in meetings is wasted for a number of reasons, including poor organization and a lack of focus. Online meetings can also go to waste without proper planning and preparation.


Here are a few tips for conducting more productive meetings with your off-shore or outsourced team.


Determine If You Really Need to Conduct a Meeting


Meetings should not be held simply to keep people informed or updated – they should have an agenda and purpose. Check other communication alternatives to see if they will produce the same results. For example, you can send out a poll to the people involved if you need to make a quick decision, or simply chat with someone if you need clarification or updates. Sometimes a simple e-mail exchange will suffice.


Prepare Your Agenda and Materials in Advance


When you decide a meeting is necessary, plan your agenda thoroughly. Create an outline of what needs to be discussed, and prepare visuals or reference documents in advance. Doing this will help you stay focused during the meeting, allow you to make a more accurate estimation of how long the meeting will be, and prevent delays showing or sending documents and other materials to the participants.


Knowing what information needs to be shared can also help you choose the most appropriate tool for your online discussion.


Choose the Right Tool


You can choose from a variety of free and paid communication tools for your online meetings. Paid services like WebEx and GoToMeeting have different features such as calendars, desktop sharing, collaborative document creation, and mobile apps that make it easier to conduct meetings, but they don’t come cheap. Free tools that support audio, video, and group chat like Skype may be a better option. Google+ Hangouts is another great choice, as it has screen sharing, document collaboration, voice chat, and video chat features. The recent introduction of Google+ Hangouts on Air also makes it a better alternative for video conferences. You can setup a live video Hangout and invite up to 10 participants, who can all stream the video and send in their feedback in real-time.


No matter what tool you choose, make sure everyone involved in the meeting has access to it and knows how to use it. Have them go over software tutorials or teach them about the software before you push through with the meeting.


Choose Who to Invite and Send Notifications Ahead of Time


Create a list of people who need to be at the meeting. Limit it only to the people directly involved in the agenda, and encourage people to decline invitations if they’re sure their attendance isn’t vital. Inviting fewer people can improve productivity and encourage more involved discussions.


Send invitations ahead of time and allow participants to clear their schedules or make any necessary preparations.


Establish the Ground Rules and Stick to Them


Distractions and late arrivals can be detrimental to your meeting. Make it clear that you expect everyone’s full focus and participation, and that you need everyone to join the meeting on time. Tell everyone to inform you at least an hour in advance if they won’t make it on time, especially if they’re going to play a crucial role during the discussion.


Document Everything


All meetings should be documented properly. This makes it easier to cascade any necessary actions and tasks, and allows you to keep track of the important points made during the discussion. Take down detailed notes, or have someone do it for you. Record and transcribe voice or video chat. You can use third-party recording software for chat clients like Skype, or use tools with built-in recording features like Google+ Hangouts. Send all participants a copy of the documentation after the meeting.


End the Meeting with an Action Plan


You may have created a tentative action plan during your initial preparations, but some important factors and points may be brought up during the meeting. Review everything you’ve gone over during the meeting, and develop a clear plan that outlines the tasks, people involved, and deadlines. Document collaboration tools may prove useful when creating this plan, as it allows everyone to see it and make suggestions.


Having too many meetings can be counter-productive as it disrupts people’s routines and workflow, but they are still necessary to keep your business organized and on track. It’s better to have fewer meetings that are more productive than have several meetings because you missed a few things. Make sure all your meetings are worthwhile through careful preparation, focused participation, and proper documentation.

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