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As workforces continue to leverage some level of remote work activity during the pandemic, the need to engage employees in both remote and in-office settings continues. What can learning and development professionals, trainers, managers and others do to ensure these meetings are productive and engaging, especially when managing a hybrid workforce?

Here we offer a number of ideas for generating employee engagement when using Zoom for meetings. Leverage these tips for more productive team meetings.

Establish Expectations for Employee Engagement

There are certain elements of “Zoom meeting etiquette” that need to be considered and conveyed to employees to ensure productive team meetings on Zoom.

Robert Kienzle is a senior consultant with Knowmium and has been running interactive virtual and hybrid sessions for five years—well before the pandemic. “One of the biggest challenges of virtual and hybrid sessions is keeping people present,” says Kienzle. “Facilitators should require everyone to be on video—of course, there are exceptions both personal and technological. Require headsets or external mics for clear audio.

Require participation from everyone, Kienzle recommends, whether that’s speaking off mute, adding content to shared whiteboards, or typing in the chatbox. “There’s nothing worse than trying to include remote participants only to find out all of them are paying attention to their email with video off and not responsive in a timely manner,” he says.

Melanie Musson, an HR expert with USInsuranceAgents.com, recommends setting the expectation that active employee participation is expected during online meetings and that employees are subject to being randomly called on at any time. “People will pay a lot more attention if they know they may be called upon to address the subject or answer a question,” she says.

In addition, Rahul Bhargava, a partner at PurpleCrest, a management consulting firm in Toronto,  suggests assigning a designated meeting facilitator. “Often in large meetings, some people don’t get an opening to raise their voice.” This is where a facilitator can intervene and ask people specifically what their views are on a topic, he says.

Make Assignments

Don’t just leave it to chance that you will stumble into a productive team meeting. Make sure something productive will happen. Musson recommends giving team members specific assignments to prepare and share during the meeting. “By giving them time to prepare and share, they’ll be more invested in the team meeting. Also, when each team member gets to speak, the attendees can get to know each other’s personalities and expertise,” she says.

Assignments don’t necessarily have to be related to the tasks team members are working on, Musson says. “Sometimes team leaders can give assignments to share something fun or an interesting fact about themselves or something they’re interested in.”

Bhargava has also found that making pre-meeting assignments can be a good way to ensure productive meetings. PurpleCrest, says Bhargava, effectively manages more than 120 participants through hybrid Zoom meetings—where some people are online and others on-site. One of the tactics he uses is asking participants to share their thoughts in writing before a meeting using Miro, an online whiteboard tool. “Then we convene on a video call to discuss the ideas people shared.” This, he says, has cut meeting time in half and increased participation by 57%.

Be Prepared

Don’t leave anything to chance when holding virtual or hybrid meetings. Preparation is important and shouldn’t be overlooked even when meetings are repetitive and ongoing.

Activity instructions and materials need to be planned extremely well, says Kienzle. “How will remote employees get all the materials needed? How will instructions be given to both groups? How will the timing of activities work when in-person groups possibly finish earlier than their remote peers? Will in-person employees need to converse with remote employees? That requires tech for the in-person employees. Will they simply go to their desk to connect on a personal device?”

These details need to be considered and worked out in advance to ensure productive team meetings by anticipating and avoiding the kinds of issues that can detail virtual meetings.

Keep Things on Track

Toolie Garner is CEO of Remote Leadership Success and works with C-suite executives and other corporate leaders to help them successfully manage remote teams. Another role for an assigned facilitator can be to keep things on track, she says. It’s important, says Garner, to “move things along at a good pace” and avoid getting bogged down by side discussions that can derail productive team meetings. If topics come up unrelated to the meeting, she suggests identifying who needs to be involved in that discussion and setting up a separate meeting time.

Facilitators can play an important role in hybrid meeting settings as well, says Alexis Haselberger, a productivity, time management and leadership coach. “If some people are remote and some are in the same room, ensure you have a method for including the thoughts of those on Zoom who might have a harder time breaking into the conversation,” she says.

Meetings should be kept short and focused, Garner advises. And, she points out, “if you can’t come up with an agenda, then perhaps your meeting should really be an email instead.”

Haselberger agrees. “Ditch meetings that are information only, like status updates,” she recommends. People can access that type of information asynchronously.

Follow-up is also important to ensure continuity and task completion. Don’t make the end of the meeting at the end of the meeting.  “Always send a meeting recap email or Slack message including what was discussed and decided, including next actions, who’s responsible for what and timelines,” Haselberger recommends.

Don’t Make it All About Doing Business

Finally, Garner recommends setting up some non-work hangout time via Zoom. Managing virtual employees isn’t just about making sure work is getting done – it involves keeping morale and team cohesion strong. “One client I worked with established a Thursday afternoon happy hour,” she says. “It was fun and festive, and people could drink alcohol if they wanted to because they didn’t have to drive home—they were already there. That meeting was the team’s most favorite time of the week and they truly bonded even though it was a remote gathering.”