The ultimate guide to better virtual meetings
Virtual and remote meetings are now firmly the norm in working culture, but they still fall behind in-person meetings when it comes to engagement, participation, and team collaboration.
While we’re quick to smile and greet people in a face-to-face meeting, we let them slip into remote meetings unannounced. Where we’d notice someone’s body language in-person, it’s easy to miss online. With so many people on a video call, it’s harder to engage with someone directly (especially if we’ve never met them before in real life).
This is a missed opportunity! Virtual meetings are a vital way to connect with your team across the distance. What we use as a space to capture updates and ask questions can also be an opportunity to grow, collaborate, and build a stronger culture.
Luckily, there’s a process that you can apply to almost every virtual get-together where you want to get things done. In this guide, we’ll show you how to transform your remote meetings from lackluster discussions into productivity powerhouses.
Step 1: Set guidelines for organizing remote meetings
It can be tough to get everyone on one call together, so make the time you do have count.
Establish some ground rules for how to organize and host meetings — here are a few examples:
Ask “does this need to be a meeting?” before scheduling one
Have a set length for each type of meeting, e.g. team meetings are always 45 minutes, one-on-ones are 30 minutes, all-hands are 50 minutes, etc.
Decide when to host meetings (and be mindful of different time zones — more on that below)
Consider a “no meetings” day for focused work
Check the calendar availability of the participants before scheduling meetings to avoid overbooking
All of these rules help you to run better, more consistent meetings. People know what to expect, and nothing comes as a surprise.
“One of the things we did to make our remote meetings better is introducing "meeting types" and clarifying them beforehand. If we want to discuss a project or product update, we set special rules for these meetings to help us focus on the task at hand and avoid drifting around the topic.” — Harry Campbell, CEO & Founder of The Rideshare Guy
Step 2: Establish your virtual meeting etiquette
A large part of your meeting culture revolves around your meeting etiquette. Build an understanding of how to approach and behave in your meetings, so they can run more smoothly. Think of this as establishing your “meeting norms”.
Set some responsibilities and guidelines on how to take part in your meetings, like:
Checking your tech before you join (to make sure you can share your screen, hear everybody, etc.)
Keeping your camera on (except for moments when you need to stretch, eat, etc.)
Using the mute button when you’re not talking
Avoiding bright or distracting backdrops
Showing you’re listening with your body language
Giving people the chance to pause and understand
Respecting others by not interrupting (or using a hand-raise feature when you need to ask a question or make a point)
These meeting norms might seem like common sense, but having them documented and shared with everyone in your company means you’re all on the same page.
“At Akiflow we have a standard speaking order at our daily standups: the marketing team members start, followed by the product and dev teams, ending with me. By doing so, we never lose time figuring out who is going to speak next.” — Nunzio Matinello, Co-Founder & CEO at Akiflow
Step 3: Respect people’s individual working hours
With team members scattered across the world, finding the perfect time to meet can feel impossible. Make the process smoother and reduce conflict by being respectful of all time zones, cultures, and working patterns.
Show that you care and be inclusive of everyone on your virtual team by:
Agreeing a time block where your meetings will typically take place (like 1-4pm)
Avoiding calendar conflicts wherever possible
Recognizing and respecting people’s “deep work” time
Checking people’s time zones to make sure the planned time is within working hours
Hosting social meetings on different days and times, so more people can make it to one
Respecting all national and religious holidays, plus special dates like birthdays
Offering ways for people to catch up on the meeting if they can’t make it (e.g. with a meeting recording!)
It’s not always possible to gather remote workers in one virtual meeting at the same time. That’s why hosting your meeting on Vowel is great for async work styles — instant recordings are easy to watch at 2x, or you can search the transcript and skip to important parts of the discussion.
A folder of recorded All Hands meetings in Vowel.
Step 4: Find the right video setup for your team
A simple way to run more effective meetings is to use meeting tools that are designed to give you a better experience. Sticking to the default video conferencing software could be holding you back if you want to introduce more collaboration, fun, and engagement to your meeting.
When you’re looking at different video conferencing and collaboration tools, seek out enhanced features like:
Shared notepads or whiteboards
Virtual hand raises and emojis
Integrations with other tools you use
Considering Vowel for your remote meetings but not sure how we shape up compared to the remote meeting software giants? Check out our Vowel vs. Zoom comparison to discover a better way to host engaging meetings.
Step 5: Aim to keep most meetings smaller
We’ve all sat in meetings that we definitely didn’t need to be part of. Make better use of everyone’s time by only adding someone as a meeting attendee if they absolutely need to participate. Or loosely follow this guideline set out in the Harvard Business Review: the most productive meetings have fewer than 8 people.
Inviting only the essential guests means that you:
Show respect for everyone’s schedules and responsibilities
Find it easier to schedule meetings (thanks to fewer calendar conflicts)
Can make decisions and take action faster
Create the best atmosphere for conversation, collaboration, and decision-making with a small yet perfectly formed attendee list. This means inviting people who know what’s being discussed (and can contribute meaningfully) and who are going to be impacted most by decisions made in the meeting.
Step 6: Default to shorter meetings
Being on autopilot means we schedule a lot of 60-minute meetings, since that’s the calendar default. If your meeting doesn’t need to be an hour long (and how many need to be, really?), schedule something shorter. Get more time back and be more productive with shorter meetings.
Shorter meetings bring lots of benefits, like:
Better concentration and focus
Higher engagement levels
More free time in your calendar for other work
Researchers and popularized methods like the Pomodoro Technique lead us to believe that 25 minutes is an ideal meeting length, which is much less than the standard hour-long slots we often book into calendars. Take inspiration from these great minds and make the switch to shorter meetings for a better experience.
“We start meetings at 5 minutes past the hour, and do them in 25-minute intervals. People in our organization have different responsibilities and attend a variety of remote meetings. By allowing everyone to get into the room on time, both physically and mentally, we have improved the quality of our meetings.” — Tomek Mlodzki, CEO of PhotoAiD
Step 7: Promote a culture of agendas and meeting notes
Every meeting should have an agenda — even if it’s only a handful of bullet points. A meeting agenda helps everyone stay on track, understand the goal, and work together to get results.
Your meeting notes are just as valuable — and often an extension of a well-crafted agenda. Without a reference of your action items and what was said, it’s difficult to follow up on your word.
A positive culture that appreciates the value of agendas promotes:
Having a rule that every meeting must have an agenda
Collaborating on agendas before and during the meeting
Sharing information before a meeting (so people can prepare)
Respecting the agenda and staying focused
With Vowel, it’s easier than ever to collaborate on meeting agendas and take notes while you’re right there in the meeting. Work together on your agenda items before the meeting, and use our integrated notepad as a place to take notes and list actions in real-time. You can note down what matters in the moment, before you’ve had the chance to forget.
Explore our agenda template library to find a great foundation for your next meeting, whether it’s a one-on-one or a design review meeting.
“We improved our remote meetings by capping the number of agenda items based on the time length. For example, 30-minute meetings have no more than four agenda items. Now, no one is rushed to speak about a topic, and less important topics are discussed via email or Slack.” — Shayla Price, Founder of PrimoStats
Step 8: Make everyone feel welcome
Aim to make people feel just as welcome joining your remote meetings as they would be if they walked into a room with you. Welcome people with a smile, say hello, and help them settle in before you talk business.
Have someone act as a facilitator and make it their role to help people feel welcome, by:
Smiling, waving, or using a wave emoji when someone joins the video meeting
Saying hello or verbally greeting attendees
Striking up a conversation with guests before the meeting
Checking in on people to ask for their thoughts during the meeting
The goal should be to make your guests feel as welcome as they would be at an in-person meeting, so they’re more inclined to engage the whole way through.
“We end our remote meetings with a moment of gratitude: everyone shares something they are grateful for, big or small, personal or professional. It's easier to feel disconnected when you're remote, so this helps bring everyone together and ends the meeting on a high note.” — Jennifer Smith, CEO of Scribe
Step 9: Consider using virtual meeting icebreakers
It can feel awkward to join a remote meeting, even if you’ve been doing it for a while. Ease your remote team members into the topic with an icebreaker or two, especially if it’s a new meeting or one where participants don’t know each other that well.
Give people something to do and encourage a positive atmosphere with activities like:
Introducing yourself to your team members, including your role, how long you’ve been at the company, and an outside-of-work fun fact
Asking people to share an emoji that describes how they feel that day
Asking people what they ate for lunch :
Asking about the weather where everyone is (small talk, but it works!)
Sharing an uplifting news story or moment with the group
Sharing an interesting fact
Trying a couple of (work appropriate) “would you rather?” questions
Use these icebreakers to warm people up, strengthen team culture, and boost morale right from the start. Avoid repeating them, though, and look for fresh ways to engage your team members.
“There are a ton of different icebreaker games and activities out there, so you can definitely find one that fits your group's personality and interests. Some of our favorites include things like 'Two Truths & A Lie' and 'Would You Rather.' (tailored to be work appropriate) — Gauri Manglik, CEO & Co-founder of Instrumentl
Step 10: Use social cues and hand raises
One of the challenges with remote meetings is that you lack some of the visual, spatial, and social cues that you get with in-person meetings. It’s harder to notice someone raising their hand or motioning that they want to speak next. Use virtual hand raises and social cues to bring some of that turn-taking back into the conversation.
Take advantage of features and prompts that encourage your guests to:
Virtually (or physically) raise their hand
Type a comment to say they want to speak next
Share a “hands up” emoji
With Vowel, it’s easy for your guests to signal they want to speak. Use our virtual hand raise feature to show that you’re ready, without interrupting the current speaker. It’s an effective and thoughtful way to continue the conversation.
“Our team has found the "raise hand" feature on video calls to be super helpful. That way, we know that a teammate has something to add to the conversation and it avoids accidental interruptions or the awkward "No, you go next!" moments.” — Anna Burgess Yang, Account Manager at Campfire Labs
Step 11: Encourage group participation
If your guests aren’t sure why they’re at the meeting or what they’re meant to be doing, they’ll become disengaged. That’s usually where they start multitasking. A lack of participation can become a real roadblock when it comes to team engagement in meetings.
Foster more participation from your meeting guests by:
Encouraging people to contribute to the agenda
Giving everyone a role or job to do (or something to present)
Offering easy ways to engage (like emojis)
Breaking up the meeting with short icebreakers or quizzes
More participation from everyone stops your meetings from being led by only one voice. Vowel’s talk time feature gives you a quick and easy way to notice whether someone is dominating the conversation, or if you could be doing more to encourage participation from others.
Interestingly, 71% of people say it’s easier to present to a group in a virtual meeting (versus an in-person meeting), and 66% say it makes participation more equal.
“My number one tip for making remote meetings better is to follow the 8% rule, where 8% of the time in any virtual meeting should be spent doing fun social activities. This helps emulate the casual social interactions that occur more naturally in an office.” — Michael Alexis, CEO of TeamBuilding
Step 12: Prepare for interruptions
Most meetings run smoothly, but every now and again you’ll run into some technical issues or interruptions. When that happens, find a way to stay focused, keep your cool, and continue the meeting without fuss.
Technical issues reign top when it comes to video meeting challenges, with 58% of people experiencing a tech issue with them last year.
You can’t anticipate the wildly impossible, but aim to have a Plan B for when your:
Internet connection gets interrupted
Microphone or webcam stops working
Guests can’t access your remote meeting room
Screen sharing stops working
Documents don’t have the right sharing settings
Speaker or key attendee cancels last minute
Your Plan B might simply be to wait it out, move onto another agenda item, or to get in touch with someone who can help troubleshoot. The idea is to know what to do, so you can decide to postpone or continue and move forward with confidence.
Step 13: Stick to your scheduled meeting time
We’ve all been stuck in meetings that have gone on way past their scheduled time. Not only is this frustrating, but it causes a chain reaction — if you’re late to your next appointment or can’t complete your work for the day, it’s hard to catch up.
Create positive habits to help you stay on track, like:
Confirming the meeting length or end time at the start of the meeting
Assigning someone to be a “timekeeper” so you don’t go over on any one topic
Giving each agenda item a specific length of time
Allowing time for a short recap before the meeting ends to capture next steps
Creating a buffer zone between one meeting and the next
Making plans to continue the conversation at another meeting (or asynchronously on Slack)
Timekeeping should be a key element of your meeting culture. It signals a respect for not only your time but others’, and helps everyone run their own day and workload more effectively.
Agenda timers in Vowel.
Step 14: Create a system for follow-ups on action items
It’s unusual to have a meeting where nobody walks away with something new to do. Capture, assign, and follow-up on tasks and action items so that everyone is aware of their responsibilities.
Give yourself and your team the best chance of making progress by:
Noting down action items during the meeting
Sharing a brief email summary with action items, deadlines, and the next meeting date
Following up before the task’s due date
Asking for a progress update at your next meeting
Wouldn’t it be great if there was a remote collaboration tool that made it easier to record notes and action items? 54% of managers and executives agree.
Vowel makes it easy to note down action items and follow up on them. Add a checklist of tasks to your shared notepad before the meeting ends, then check in on progress before the next meeting. Building your action list this way means you won’t miss a thing, and it becomes everyone’s responsibility to contribute to the list.
Step 15: Keep a video meeting repository
One of the challenges with any organization is keeping track of every meeting, action, and outcome. A meeting repository gives you a dedicated place to store your meeting and share the ones that are relevant with other team members (or the whole company), so nothing gets lost.
A meeting repository allows you to:
Create a central database for all things “meetings” at your organization
Revisit previous agendas, recordings, transcriptions, and meeting minutes
Share recordings and highlights with others
Easily reflect on and update action items
Share templates and remote meetings best practices with the whole team
Building a meeting repository takes time if you do it manually — so lean on better meeting software to help you build one.
Use Vowel as your go-to meeting software and’ll have a built-in meeting repository where you can quickly access recordings, transcripts, notes, and agenda items all in one place.
8 types of remote meetings you can make even better
Now that you have some ideas of how to make your virtual meetings better, here’s a list of some common meeting types that you can work on improving in a remote setting.
1. Daily standup meetings
Suggested time: 15-20 minutes
Daily standups offer you a quick and effective way to understand what’s happening across your product team. Give each team member a minute or two to talk about what they’re working on now, and any roadblocks they foresee. Introduce daily standups when you want to spot challenges before they become problems and add more frequent interaction across your team.
2. One-on-one meetings
Suggested time: 30-45 minutes
One-on-one meetings are sessions where you meet one-on-one with someone, often a direct report. You can hold a 1-1 for lots of different reasons, like to discuss goals, workload, planned leave, and more. Add more 1-1 meetings to your routine — especially ones with team members who aren’t your direct reports — if you want to build relationships and trust.
3. Team meetings
Suggested time: 30-60 minutes
Virtual team meetings are an ideal way to catch up with your team members, discuss learnings, and make decisions. They’re more in-depth than a daily standup, with the opportunity to raise issues or talk about larger topics. Use your team meetings to build rapport, connections, and a sense of community.
4. All-hands meetings
Suggested time: 45-60 minutes
All-hands meetings give you a way to communicate with remote employees at scale, but still in a personal way. Gather everyone for company and team updates, share news, and celebrate success. Position your all-hands meetings as an opportunity to prioritize employee appreciation and transparency across the organization.
5. Design review meetings
Suggested time: 30-45 minutes
Design review meetings are ideal if you need a decision made so you can move forward with a project. Whether it’s a design review on a potential feature, or a proposal review before you impress a new client, it’s a great way to get feedback from your team. Use your review meetings to gather expert feedback and make decisions swiftly.
6. Project meetings
Suggested time: 30-60 minutes
Project meetings help you get to know everyone else on the team, assign responsibilities, and check in on progress. Whether it’s a project kick-off meeting, project discussion, or a retrospective, progress and collaboration are always key themes. Smart project managers use these meetings to help their projects run more smoothly and to identify challenges before they become bigger problems.
7. Executive staff meetings
Suggested time: 45-60 minutes
Executive staff meetings give your leadership team a chance to sit down together and talk business, free from distractions. You can candidly discuss and reach decisions on opportunities, threats, and sensitive subjects like pay and benefits. Well-run executive staff meetings empower your leadership team, improve cross-team knowledge, and give you the ideal place to make key decisions.
8. Creative brainstorming meetings
Suggested time: 60-90 minutes
Creative brainstorming meetings are ideal if you want a space to come up with ideas, discuss and debate them, and collaborate on fun or challenging projects. Your team members can surface new ideas, share inspiration, and solve problems together away from their to-do list. Run creative brainstorming sessions when you want to spark creativity, encourage remote collaboration, and find fresh new ways to do something.
Run more successful remote meetings with Vowel
To run better meetings, you need a solid foundation. Develop a strong meeting culture that respects agendas, timekeeping, individuality, and inclusivity. Create healthy meeting norms and rules to follow. Give your team the best possible chance to succeed with a culture that reflects your goals.
Mirror your investment in your meeting culture by choosing the right meeting software. Say goodbye to generic video calls, and hello to an environment where productivity isn’t a happy accident, it’s the driving force.
Try Vowel today for free and unlock a better meeting experience for all!