Distributed teams rely on virtual meetings. However, these meetings often feel awkward, impersonal, and frustrating. In April, Harvard Business Review shared ideas on How to Overcome Zoom Fatigue. In May, The Economist went so far as to synthesize Why Virtual Meetings Are So Dissatisfying.
However, in their January 2021 book “Rituals for Virtual Meetings: Creative Ways to Engage People and Strengthen Relationships”, Stanford d.school’s Glenn Fajardo and Kursat Ozenc show leaders, managers, and meeting organizers how to build team rapport and rhythm in today’s workplace.
Glenn and Kursat are part of the teaching community of the Stanford d.school. They describe the book as a collaboration between “ritual guy” Kursat (who wrote Rituals for Work in 2019) and “virtual guy” Glenn (a 12 year veteran of virtual collaboration with people and organizations across six continents engaged in social impact work).
Many of us are not yet comfortable with the context of virtual — so we hold on to the context of in-person. We may approach virtual meetings with a deficit mindset where “it’s never as good as in-person” — and end up with sad, second-rate copies of in-person experiences.
As designers, Fajardo and Ozenc ask a practical, forward-looking question: What if we could design our virtual lives to feel more human? In this book, they explain underlying principles and provide 64 sample rituals you can use and build on.
For underlying principles, we were particularly intrigued by Chapter 3, “The Secret Science of Virtual Meetings.” It unpacks what makes something feel human, explains what movie editing can tell us about reducing screen fatigue, and explores how narrative structure and game design can help us create better virtual meetings.
Rituals — acts that we perform with intention following a pattern — can support us with scaffolding as we find our footing in virtual meetings. They can serve as templates of action with intention, that can lead to meaning-making moments in our group. The book provides rituals for a variety of situations, including beginning and ending meetings, building human connection, fostering focus and flow, and rejuvenating when needed. There are special sections for one-on-one meetings, teaching and training, and social gatherings.
Rituals for Virtual Meetings was released on January 7, 2021 and is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
Virtual Meeting Etiquette
Some forms of virtual meeting etiquette should be put in place to make meetings work better at a distance. For instance, it’s recommended that you avoid distractions. This can help you stay engaged like you would be if the meeting was taking place in a room with everyone together.
Another etiquette lesson to consider for virtual meetings is to stay aware of your microphone and camera. If you aren’t speaking at the moment, mute your microphone so you don’t distract anyone. You should also be mindful and turn off the camera if you need to get up and do something else.
As far as video conferencing backgrounds go, make sure yours is professional. If the background wouldn’t be considered that, it needs to change. If there are dirty clothes behind you or something else that could be distracting, switch it up. Consider using a virtual background to hide anything you don’t want to show off.
The final etiquette tip for your next virtual meeting is to be sure you’re in a quiet space. Even if you only unmute the microphone when you speak, the noise can distract other participants from what you’re trying to say. Set up your laptop somewhere peaceful during the meeting.
Tips for an Effective Virtual Meeting
Before virtual meetings, there are three main things you want to make sure have been done. First, be sure all the parties that are coming to the meeting have been invited. Next, set up the dial-in or video conferencing details in advance. Third, make sure you have created an agenda for the meeting. This will make things go more smoothly when the meeting starts.
Once the meeting begins, there are several things you can do to create the best virtual meetings. Make sure you take notes so you have them for later. In addition, you should be sure you engage with every person who is in the meeting. Throughout the process of hosting the meeting, use time effectively as a kindness to everyone who attends.
After the meeting is over, what you need to do is much more limited. All you need to do is send out a follow-up. Make sure that it includes clear action items and goes over the next steps. As long as you follow these tips, you’ll create meetings that nobody minds spending time at.