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July 31, 2020

4 simple tactics to improve your virtual meetings

Daily Briefing

    As many health care organizations enter their sixth month of remote work amid the epidemic, they're pressing pause on many of the strategic planning workshops and business retreats that traditionally occur during the summer—not to mention the frequent, collaborative meetings between teams that often inform these larger retreats. But leading a remote team doesn't mean you have to suspend these critical strategic planning events; in fact, they're more important than ever. 

    After several months of experimentation, trial-and-error, and perhaps a little too much time spent in WebEx and Zoom training guides, I'm confident that health care leaders can host critical decision-making meetings, retreats, and workshops in a virtual setting. Here's how.


    Summer is often a time for planning ahead, from setting your budget and strategy, to preparing for fall presentations to the board. But remote work has made it difficult for leadership teams to engage in the time-honored tradition of the retreat: the board retreat, strategic planning retreat, service line retreat.

    Perhaps less obvious (but just as impactful) is the interruption to more frequent collaborative meetings between teams that often inform these retreats: operations and performance improvement committees, service line business planning and growth discussions, strategic plan building, physician leadership meetings, and more. These gatherings are critical for collaborative decision making, innovation, getting ahead of future market trends, and ensuring accountability.

    But now that we're remote, where does that leave us?

    For many of the strategy teams I've spoken with, remote work has thrown a wrench in this collective decision-making process. But that can't be the case. With a dispersed remote team, it's more important than ever to schedule time for teamwork—particularly in today's environment, which requires agile, informed decision-making from health care leaders.

    How to take your critical meetings remote—successfully

    While I'm confident that health care leaders can host these critical decision-making meetings, retreats, and workshops in a virtual setting, I won't pretend that it comes without challenges. It takes a little adjustment and a lot of forward planning, but you can lead engaging, interactive, internal and external meetings—completely virtually.

    Here are the four key lessons I've distilled so far on how to get the most from your virtual meeting or retreat:

    Get your complete list of best practices for your next virtual meeting

    1. Don't be shy: share your video!

      One of the most impactful changes is also one of the simplest: use your video. Whether it's a one-on-one conversation with a colleague, a group strategy session, or a board retreat, using video increases engagement and sets the stage for an interactive event.

      Yes, you may have the occasional child, pet, or partner appearance, but the value of using video outweighs any of those interruptions. Just let people know ahead of time that interruptions are to be expected from time to time so that no one is caught off-guard.

    2. Get comfortable with your virtual platform's interactive functions, such as chat and polling (and make sure attendees are, too)

      Sometimes, the greatest limitation to virtual collaboration can also be its most necessary component: technology (we have all had our share of log-on and mute-button issues). But many virtual meeting technologies also have features that can facilitate conversation—some in ways I wish we could replicate in-person.

      For example, my team has found the chat function to be one of the most helpful features we hadn't been using. Invite participants to use the chat to share ideas or questions without interrupting the flow of conversation, link to resources related to the presentation or discussion, and chronicle "parking lot" ideas that should be discussed later. You can also program quick polls to read the room on a certain topic (and make sure everyone is paying attention).

      Trust me, you don't have to be a wizard with your virtual platform of choice. But make sure your team is comfortable with logging in, sharing video, and participating in chat or quick poll features. And if you are hosting a retreat with others outside your team, consider scheduling a quick prep session beforehand to help attendees get comfortable with the platform, and give them a point of contact to troubleshoot any ongoing technology issues.

    3. Scope the goals and length of your meeting to the realities of virtual attention spans

      Virtual conversations have made obvious a pitfall we commonly face with in-person meetings: the lack of a clear goal or agenda. While every meeting should have a defined purpose, the bar is even higher in a virtual session, where it's far easier for people to become disengaged.

      Before even drafting an agenda, define the goals (as well as the "anti-goals"—what you don't plan to address) and review them with a representative group of attendees for feedback. Once finalized, make sure those are front and center for all attendees to keep the conversation on track.

      You also need to be realistic about the length of your meetings, acknowledging that participants are not going to remain engaged in a virtual meeting for as long as they would in-person. I've typically found three hours is the maximum amount of time you can keep a virtual audience's attention—and that's only if you build in ample breaks and variety. If attendees are expected to actively participate and generate ideas (such as in a virtual strategic planning or business session), then I would consider a max of two or two and a half hours. This means no more full-day strategic planning retreats. Instead, consider transforming your day-long in-person retreat into two half-day sessions that build upon each other.

    4. Leverage virtual platforms to get diverse perspectives

      The most surprising takeaway I've had these past few months of remote meetings? The many unexpected benefits of engaging through a virtual platform. For instance, and perhaps most importantly, these platforms provide more room for quieter voices to share their insights. Whether through facilitated discussions that give each person a chance to speak, or the chat or poll functions, virtual facilitators can ensure each person has an opportunity to share their opinions more easily than in an in-person setting. In fact, I've also found people are sometimes more comfortable being open and honest from behind the screen.

      Virtual also lowers the barriers to collaboration. You have an opportunity to involve more perspectives in conversations, as there is no travel or cost involved with convening a cross-disciplinary or cross-site group.

      I of course eagerly await the chance to get back in a room with my colleagues and members, once it is safe to do so. But even then, I believe there will be many scenarios where virtual is actually the best option.

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