Can you hear me? 10 tips for keeping attention in online meetings

Work-from-home meetings have the same challenges as in-person meetings, only with increased intensity. The problem of people zoning out during meetings isn’t new, it’s just much worse online. Social pressure generally stops people from scrolling social media or answering emails during in-person meetings. Online, that pressure is gone. We’ve all seen the glazed eyes of someone scanning a social media feed during a 2-hour meeting. Below are 10 tips for keeping meetings relevant, engaging, and useful.

  1. Have a shepherd or host to keep things on track.
    The host is in charge of defining and communicating a clear purpose and agenda for the meeting. Also, they can assign clear actionable tasks at the end of the meeting. When the call ends, remote workers are very isolated, it’s important to make everyone has everything they need.
  2. Keep meetings brief and on time.
    Work from home often requires more frequent meetings, we can compensate for this by making them shorter. Focus on items that need consensus or action, rather than trying to work through every line item. If you run out of time, use the last 5 minutes to schedule another meeting.
  3. Protect the human moments.
    When trying to keep a meeting brief, it’s easy to accidentally cut the wrong parts. Protect the moments at the beginning and end of a meeting where people greet each other or build small social connections. These moments help foster team cohesion and trust.
  4. Sometimes it doesn’t need to be a meeting.
    People rarely tune-out in useful, relevant meetings. Some communications are fine to do by message or email. That said, if an issue takes more than a few emails back and forth, it’s probably best to jump on a call.
  5. Keep mandatory attendance tight.
    If an issue only requires a few people, don’t make it a company-wide meeting. Extend invitations to anyone who is interested, but make sure people know the meeting is optional.
  6. Don’t stack 10 meetings in a row.
    People new to work-from-home often stack meetings on top of each other until everything topples over. Stacking meetings can lead to extreme meeting fatigue. Instead, schedule time between meetings so you can allow for overflow, take a break, or catch up on small tasks that come out of the meetings.
  7. Give everyone space to speak.
    Avoid monologuing. One person doing all the talking is the quickest way to lose engagement in online meetings. Invite people to speak. Many people won’t participate in online meetings if there isn’t a direct and personal invitation to contribute.
  8. Use visual props.
    Don’t make your mouth do all the work. One diagram can replace hours of talking. Having touchpoints like style bibles, visual references, and design documents can keep attention in the meeting and engage people.
  9. Collaboratively document.
    Take advantage of the collaborative features of online docs and invite people to take collaborative meeting notes. Collaborative note-taking can help people stay actively involved when they aren’t speaking.
  10. Experiment with multi-channel discussion.
    In video meetings, only one person can talk at a time. Use emoji and chat to communicate in a low-pressure and collaborative way. Different people enjoy different ways of contributing to the conversation, so diverse tactics entice everyone to jump in.

Types of meetings when working from home

Standups: many studios swear by doing rapid standup meetings once or twice daily to keep everyone synchronized and accountable.
One-on-ones: one-on-ones can fill the vital role of creating space for personal connection and resolving small issues.
Standard meetings: standard project-based meetings are useful for discussing specific issues or topics that are only relevant to a few team members.
Team syncs: weekly or biweekly team syncs help ensure timelines are on track and maintain team health. These meetings can include playtests.
Company-wide meetings: all-hands are great for sharing good news and discussing company-wide challenges or opportunities.
Impromptu: many studios have systems that allow for impromptu meetings, similar to the kind you might have in an office when swinging by someone’s desk. Some studios are experimenting with an “always-on” video or voice meeting that people can drop into. Other studios have created online environments based on their physical offices where their avatars can hang out in the break room to signal they’re open to chat.

Created by Marie Claire LeBlanc Flanagan from GAIN and funded by Ontario Creates and the CMF, Isolation Nation tackles the tough pandemic-related problems like motivation and communication, as well as continuing challenges like market discoverability and work-life balance.

Download the full free 32 page resource here, or read another excerpt “What your manager secretly wants to tell you about work-from-home“.