For many of us, the past few months of sheltering-in-place has made virtual meetings a new normal for our daily work routines. We have mastered the art of screen-sharing, muting (and unmuting), and raising our virtual hands, but there are still a few more ways we can increase the effectiveness of our meetings while decreasing the amount of time we all spend on a camera. Here are five recommendations you can use to make your virtual meetings more effective:

  1. Have an Agenda and Purpose — Before scheduling the meeting, make sure that you have a clear purpose outlined for conducting a virtual meeting instead of handling the interaction through email. You should also establish an agenda of what will be covered and what the expectation is for participants attending the meeting. You should attach the purpose, agenda and expectations to the calendar invitation to ensure all participants come prepared and you maximize the time you have scheduled. 
  2. Keep Meetings Compact — Pre-COVID-19, it was a common occurrence for in-person meetings to be scheduled for a full hour, but the same standard does not need to be applied to virtual meetings. With a clear purpose and agenda, most virtual meetings can be conducted in 30 minutes or less. Some companies have had great success with hosting highly productive meetings as short as 10 to 15 minutes. Expert Tip: If you get through everything you need to cover on your virtual meeting in a shorter time period then you originally scheduled, adjourn early and give attendees the time back. Earlier endings — or the scheduling of shorter meetings from 60 to 30 to even 15 minutes — is a measure of organizational maturity and makes a great incentive with a built-in reward. 
  3. Build in Spacing Between Meetings — Virtual meeting fatigue is a real challenge, but one way to curb this by scheduling 15- to 30-minute spaces between each meeting. This time provides an opportunity for you to complete the necessary follow-ups before you begin your next meeting, which prevents you from having to complete all of that at the end of the day. One example of this would be to schedule 45-minute meetings with 15 minutes of follow-up time for a total calendar block of 1 hour. Or if you want to give the compressed meeting format a try, you could schedule a 15-minute meeting with 15 minutes of follow-up for a total calendar block of 30 minutes. 
  4. Find the Right Backdrop and Lighting — There is no shortage of viral meeting videos online that show participants that didn’t pay attention to their environment — something happened behind them or sometimes to them — and they went viral. Most of these challenges can be prevented if you have a dedicated space where you can close your door and work from. But if this is not a possibility, most platforms now enable you to use a virtual or blurred background (without the need for a greenscreen) to minimize any background distractions. For the best virtual background experience, find a space with good natural or artificial lighting that is in front of you instead of behind you. Expert tip: If you want more options than the stock virtual backgrounds, there are a number of sites where you can download free virtual backgrounds for use in your virtual meetings. 
  5. Learn the Shortcuts — Everyone is familiar with the challenge of managing the "mute button" during meetings, typically done by dragging your mouse to the microphone button each time you want to mute or unmute — but seasoned virtual meeting pros know how to use keyboard shortcuts to be more effective. Keyboard shortcuts can enable you to do things as simple as muting and unmuting with your spacebar key (on Zoom) or quickly silencing disruptive background noise by muting everyone’s audio at one time. Check out the full list of shortcuts for Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Webex and Google Meet to get started.