In 1964 people crowded around a booth at the World’s Fair in New York to watch the unveiling of Bell Laboratories’ new invention, the Picturephone1. Visitors watched as delegates in New York and California held a face-to-face video call—and imagined they’d soon be doing the same. But it took several decades for “videotelephony” to catch on.
Fast forward to 2023, and virtual meetings are just another part of your workday. Video conferencing is lightyears more affordable and practical than in 1964. But does it actually help us be more productive?
To make your virtual meetings spontaneous, engaging—and above all productive—companies need to adopt best practices to get the best out of their teams.
In this article, we’ll share our recommendations for setting up and running successful and focused virtual meetings. We’ll also show you how Switchboard can help you work smarter with side-by-side collaboration and permanent meeting rooms that store all the documents and apps you need in one place.
Want to run more interactive virtual meetings?
Switchboard gives remote teams the virtual space they need for spontaneity, collaboration, and productivity.
10 best practices for virtual meetings
There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Many best practices for an online meeting are the same as they would be for an in-person meeting—they just need a little tweaking.
Preparing for a successful virtual meeting
Preparation is key. Simply showing up ready to talk or watch a presentation isn't enough. Here are five tips on how to prep for a virtual meeting like a pro.
1. Share the agenda and objectives in advance
To help everyone stay on task, make it clear what you expect from everyone by sharing your agenda, meeting objectives, and any relevant documents in advance.
This gives participants the chance to add their own agenda points, research the topic, and prepare what they want to say—and ask—in advance, saving valuable time.
We make sure to clearly set an agenda before the meeting and define objectives that everyone should strive to accomplish by the end. We also ensure everyone has adequate knowledge about the topics being discussed and provide resources for further understanding if needed.
Erik Pham, CEO, Health Canal
2. Set realistic expectations
Before the meeting, decide what can realistically be accomplished and what you want deliverables or next steps to be. Share these goals with participants in the agenda ahead of time and invite comments and suggestions. Also, let participants know what you expect of them. Do you want them to have their cameras on and be active contributors—or to be more of an observer?
3. Schedule the right amount of time
Most calendars default to 30-minute blocks of time, but this might not be the ideal amount of time for every meeting. To make sure a meeting doesn't take up too much time—or run over—think carefully about how much time you actually need and schedule accordingly.
4. Pick your host wisely
Without someone in charge, a meeting can easily become unfocused and unproductive. So beforehand, decide who’s going to run the meeting. It’s important to pick a moderator who will keep everyone on task and make sure they have time to speak, if they want to.
5. Prepare your meeting room
While the Picturephone of the 1960s, and similar tools that followed, offered basic videoconferencing, today’s online meeting platforms give you the chance to prepare your meeting room before everyone else arrives.
This means you don’t have to worry about searching for the right tabs or sending invitation links once your meeting is already underway.
Make sure everyone has the meeting link in advance, whether that’s via a calendar invite or email, and prepare everything you’ll need to reference during the call ahead of time.
Pro tip: When you host a virtual team huddle with Switchboard, you can add all the necessary documents, apps, and websites to your meeting room in advance. This saves the stress of searching for that crucial tab or document when all eyes are on you.
5. Minimize distractions
When working remotely, you never know what can happen—a dog barks, a child runs into your room, the doorbell rings. By holding your meeting in a quiet workspace (not a cafe) and using noise-canceling technology, you can limit distractions and how much they affect your coworkers.
Given that, remember it’s sometimes impossible to cut out all distractions. Give your colleagues—and yourself—a break if anything does happen to disrupt the meeting.
Running a virtual meeting successfully
Now that you know how to prep like a pro, it’s time to run your virtual meeting. Here’s how you can keep participants engaged and on-task.
6. Assign who should do what
Make sure everyone understands why they’re there and how they can contribute. Who’s taking minutes? Who’s presenting? Who’s in charge of writing follow-up action items? Give everyone a role at the beginning of the meeting, even if it’s to pay close attention and ask questions when doubts arise.
7. Remind participants what you want to get done
Even if you’ve already laid out your goals in the agenda, use the first few minutes of the meeting to communicate the schedule and objectives. Whether it’s brainstorming a new product design or setting new protocols for debugging, remind participants of meeting goals to keep everyone on track and focused. Even better—add the agenda to your meeting room so everyone has it front and center.
8. Coax quiet colleagues out of their shells
Some people love to talk, while others are more quiet and observant. However, everyone should feel comfortable contributing to a meeting regardless of their personality style, so find inclusive ways to involve your quieter team members.
Some ideas include asking them beforehand if they’d like a dedicated slot to present or encouraging people to use the chat function rather than always having to unmute and speak. You can also use a round-robin technique, asking each participant for one contribution before letting anyone speak again.
9. Share takeaways and action points
Document your meetings to ensure they result in action after everyone logs out. Designate someone as a note taker during the meeting, or have someone jot down minutes on a Google Doc or sticky note within your virtual meeting room. Then, while the meeting is fresh in everyone’s mind, share a list of action points and takeaways so everyone knows what they need to do next.
10. Show, don’t tell
The golden rule of teaching, storytelling, and even virtual meetings is “show, don’t tell.” Rather than simply talking about a new product design, pull up your wireframe so all participants can see it. This is a more effective way to communicate ideas that will keep participants engaged.
One way to make your meetings more visual and interactive is with an online whiteboard like FigJam. Use it to brainstorm ideas and get teammates’ ideas for features and improvements.
Pro tip: Switchboard works with all the web-based apps you know and love, like Google, Figma, Jira, Mural, Notion, Asana, and Salesforce. Bring any tool you need to your meeting to get work done then and there.
What features should a virtual meeting platform have?
To run efficient and effective virtual meetings, you need a solution that goes beyond videoconferencing and meets your specific needs and goals. So step away from anything that resembles the 1964 Picturephone and look for something way more collaborative and engaging.
The technology exists, but you won’t find it in every web conferencing platform. Here are the key features you should prioritize when choosing the best virtual meeting platform for your team:
Permanent meeting rooms
To create a virtual office space that gives you the feeling of being in the same place, permanent meeting rooms are the ticket. They let your team pick up where they left off and hold spontaneous meetings in the same dedicated space at any time.
Your permanent meeting room should save all the documents and links you shared during the last meeting so they’re ready for the next one whenever you need.
For example, if your product team is organizing key takeaways from beta testing, they can jump in and out of a permanent virtual meeting room to check out screenshots of the product, review a user testing video, and add notes on next steps to a Google Doc.
Easy file and app sharing
Collaboration is essential if you want to see concrete results from remote work. That’s why it’s so important to be able to easily share files and apps in your online meetings.
Choose a virtual workspace software that lets you easily pull up PDFs, documents, apps, and the websites you need.
For example, a team of UX designers should be able to share their wireframing tool directly in the meeting room so their teammates can view and interact with a new app design prototype.
Meetings are meant to be interactive, which is why you need more than screen sharing to run an effective virtual event.
Side-by-side collaboration allows every participant to interact with documents, websites, and apps within the same meeting room.
For example, in a bug review session, your team can open Linear or Sentry and each person can update their tickets in the same browser without anyone sharing their screen.
Space to share multiple assets at once
In a physical meeting room, you have space to spread documents out on a table and pin sticky notes on a wall. Viewing multiple assets at once helps participants see the bigger picture and spot opportunities or inconsistencies. Your team will also have their best and brightest ideas when they have all the information they need in front of them.
A virtual meeting room that gives you a large canvas replicates this experience by letting people zoom in and out of different documents and apps. For example, your marketing team can present three different ideas for a new ad campaign and focus their attention on each one in turn. They can then zoom out to compare them side by side before making a final decision.
Chat makes video meetings more efficient than in-person ones, as participants can ask questions without interrupting the speaker.
For example, when your product manager is presenting customer feedback, team members can drop their questions and thoughts into the chat without having to stop or redirect the conversation.
Not everyone can attend every meeting, so being able to record your meetings lets your team members catch up on what they missed.
Recording is also great for:
- Training. You can share successful and unsuccessful client meetings and analyze how to improve them in the future.
- Stakeholder involvement. Conflicts come up and your team will appreciate knowing recordings are available to watch.
- Client relations and expectations. You can remember what you promised in a sales call to make sure you haven’t missed anything.
How you can work smarter with Switchboard
Bell Laboratories was ahead of its time. But why are there so many virtual meeting tools that still resemble the Picturephone, with its basic audio and video capabilities?
Switchboard revolutionizes the way your remote team collaborates. That’s because we’ve designed our virtual meeting rooms to maximize opportunities for team participation and communication.
By setting up permanent meeting rooms for specific projects and clients, you can organize your documents and apps in one place and access them whenever you need them—not just when you’re in a meeting.
For example, you can set up a customer feedback room where you keep a link to your CRM database, chatbot data, and the results of your customer surveys. During meetings to improve the customer journey, your team can access all the data they need in real-time and work together to create a more refined customer experience.
Switchboard makes real-time communication for remote teams productive and interactive. Collaboration tools like Switchboard are the only way to make remote work as engaging as in-person work.
Productive virtual meetings: A better way to work with your remote team
Video conferencing has come a long way since the 1960s. Today, hybrid teams can enjoy the best of both worlds: the convenience of remote work and the buzz of working in-person. But if you’re relying on traditional video conferencing, you could still be missing out (sorry Picturephone).
To create a great remote work environment, use virtual meeting software that lets you meaningfully engage people, create permanent meeting rooms, and be more productive than ever before.
Switchboard checks all those boxes by creating an interactive virtual space where your teams can work side-by-side for more effective collaboration, any time, on any project.
Want to run more interactive virtual meetings?
Switchboard gives your remote teams the virtual space they need for spontaneity, collaboration, and productivity.