What is a virtual meeting?
I know we all have barely beaten our pandemic-fed Zoom PTSD, but like it or not, virtual meetings are here to stay.
So what is a virtual meeting? It may seem obvious because we have them all the time, but a virtual meeting is any “form of communication that enables people in different physical locations to use their mobile or internet connected devices to meet in the same virtual room.”
But instead of thinking about virtual meetings as the online version of your most boring meeting ever, think of them as a virtual hangout for your team, no matter where they're physically based.
While virtual meetings might seem different from traditional face-to-face meetings, at their core, both are about bringing people together, even if it's through screens.
Of course, no matter the technology, you are in for a lot of work to keep people engaged as they combat “you’re on mutes” and that overly talkative teammate.
But no worries, we've been there and done that.
In this article, I'll share why we need virtual meetings, their benefits, which platforms to use, and how to run a great and effective virtual meeting.
Why do we need virtual meetings?
Being able to connect virtually is more important than ever. There has been a massive rise in hybrid and remote work. To understand how much, we just have to look at the latest Stanford data on Work from Home.
Their December 2023 data showed that one in four days are spent out of the office.
This is one of the most remarkable remote work statistics, given that this is the average across all working days, including those of people who couldn’t work from home even if they wanted to.
And that's exactly why we now need virtual meetings.
Because whether it's about empowering remote teams to collaborate effectively or giving busy professionals a way to meet without the commute, the flexibility of virtual meetings is one of those modern work practices that we don’t want to turn the clock back on.
Benefits of virtual meetings
Besides being an essential tool in the modern management toolkit, as we work more online and remote, virtual meetings have additional benefits. Here are a few.
- Green: Virtual meetings contribute to a greener, more sustainable approach, reducing carbon emissions and waste while promoting eco-friendliness.
- Health: Beyond convenience and flexibility, virtual meetings prioritize health and safety.
- Cost Savings: Virtual meetings are also a cost-effective alternative to meeting in person, trimming expenses associated with travel, venue rentals, catering, and equipment.
- Inclusivity: Moreover, virtual meetings can enhance inclusivity and diversity, involving participants from various time zones and backgrounds – although, as the facilitator, you’ll have to work to ensure this inclusivity (more on that later.)
Another eye-opening finding from WFHResearch showed that people who can work from home stay at home when they feel sick, whereas office-first employees often still go in. Meeting remotely eliminates the need to be in the office and spread those germs to your colleagues.
And a virtual meeting isn't just about connecting screens; it's about creating meaningful connections in the modern work era.
Priya Parker, the best-selling author of “The Art of Gathering,” the bible for engaging groups and hosting amazing events, said similar principles apply to hosting amazing virtual experiences:
One question I get from every community I work with is, “Are the principles of The Art of Gathering relevant to virtual gatherings?” Even before the coronavirus, the answer was yes. Whether a group is gathering online or offline, group dynamics exist by definition, and through thoughtful design and facilitation, you can shape them. – Priya Parker
This is why we must master running engaging virtual meetings and say goodbye to boring virtual meetings, which can easily make attendees disengage and drift away due to the lack of human interactions.
Whether using Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, or Webex, the power to collaborate, communicate, and engage no longer knows geographical bounds.
What are the types of virtual meetings?
Not to be captain obvious again, but to make this guide as comprehensive as possible, let’s look at a few different types of virtual meetings that you may be hosting. Feel free to skip it and go directly to our tips for making virtual meetings fun or tips for making virtual meetings more productive.
Video conferencing is a highly interactive virtual meeting that offers high-quality video and audio to connect participants as if they were in the same room. This type of virtual meeting is the best choice if you want to facilitate team building and relationships by seeing body language, facial expressions, and other physical cues.
Web conferencing is another type of virtual meeting similar to video conferencing and involves face-to-face meetings. The main goal of this type of virtual meeting is to collaborate on projects using capabilities such as sharing and whiteboarding.
Webinars are primarily one-way seminars with hosts or panelists presenting to attendees. Attendees can be seen or heard, depending on the host or admin settings. Webinars are popular for organizations looking to drive product demand through thought leadership sessions or technical demos hosted by subject matter experts.
Teleconferencing is an audio-only virtual meeting, a newer version of a traditional conference call. This type of virtual meeting requires minimal technology and can be more accessible for teams with internet connection issues or large numbers of participants.
If you’re wondering about the difference between virtual and online meetings, while some use "virtual meetings" and "online meetings" interchangeably, there's a subtle difference worth noting. Virtual meetings include many digital options, from video conferences to sessions powered by mobile data.
What are the disadvantages of virtual meetings?
If you’ve been in a virtual meeting, you know they can be painful. Some challenges and disadvantages of virtual meetings include:
Mastering the Tech: Virtual meetings offer efficiency but can also present technical hurdles. New participants might face a learning curve, and unexpected technical glitches, like connectivity issues or server outages, can disrupt the flow.
The mute button can become a major annoyance when people forget to unmute themselves or when background noise intrudes.
These hurdles can lead to frustration, hampering engagement and productivity and leading to people never wanting to join another one of your meetings again.
However, with evolving collaboration tools equipped with AI technologies, such as noise cancellation, the virtual meeting experience is continuously improving.
Setting the Stage for Engagement: Successful virtual meetings require preparation. Technical challenges like internet disruptions and software glitches can thwart collaboration. Facilitators might find themselves troubleshooting these issues.
To counteract this, proactive measures are key. Ensure participants are comfortable with the technology by having them install the software and check their equipment beforehand.
Participation issues also arise from time zone differences, multitasking, or lack of engagement. Facilitators play a pivotal role in encouraging active involvement. Tailoring meeting practices, addressing time zone challenges, and fostering a sense of inclusion help elevate the overall experience.
The Human Connection: Virtual meetings, while efficient, can struggle to capture the essence of in-person interactions if not facilitated well. The absence of facial expressions and body language can make understanding reactions challenging. Technical glitches can lead to delays, interrupting the flow of conversation.
In the dynamic realm of virtual meetings, these challenges are navigable with the right strategies, fostering better connections, engagement, and results for modern managers and their hybrid teams – a key element to mastering remote leadership.
What features should a virtual meeting platform have?
If your current virtual meeting platform keeps you from having more productive, fun, and interactive virtual meetings, look around for other options. The good news: there are plenty.
So what features should a virtual meeting platform have? To not feel like you’re in the stone age, virtual meeting platforms should have at least solid audio and video, a nice interface, helpful collaboration tools, and a terrific mobile app.
- Seamless Audio and Visuals: Clarity is key. Look for a platform that delivers reliable HD audio and video, ensuring uninterrupted connections and consistent high-definition quality. This enables participants to engage with crystal-clear visuals and sound, enhancing the meeting experience and making it more like seeing people in real life.
- User-Friendly Interface: Intuitive controls are a must. Seek a platform with straightforward navigation, enabling even non-technical users to join effortlessly. A one-click sign-on option streamlines the process, ensuring everyone enters meetings promptly, free from technical hindrances.
- Dynamic Collaboration Tools: Empower best-in-class remote collaboration through screen sharing and other collaboration elements. Sharing screens facilitates real-time editing and interactive whiteboarding, promoting efficient brainstorming and idea development. Also, direct and group messaging ensures seamless information exchange alongside ongoing discussions.
- Robust Administrator Controls: Customization is key. Opt for a platform offering extensive features and adjustments, tailoring each meeting to meet unique objectives and team dynamics. This flexibility empowers managers to curate effective sessions aligned with their goals.
- Efficient Documentation: Elevate productivity with recordings and transcriptions. Comprehensive meeting recordings coupled with automatic transcriptions ensure that valuable discussions are captured. This facilitates easy review and allows absent participants to stay informed, fostering engagement and follow-up. If your meeting platform doesn't have these features, you can also use integrations like Meetgeek and Fireflies.
- Integration and Mobility: Embrace the synergy of calendar integration. Platforms synced with meeting calendars provide a unified view of upcoming sessions, eliminating the need for application juggling. A dedicated mobile app further enhances accessibility, enabling hosting and participation.
- In the ever-evolving landscape of virtual meetings, these tailored features cater to modern managers like yourself, facilitating fluid, engaging, and impactful collaboration for hybrid and remote teams. Woohoo!
Not enough? Brownie points for innovative features! Elite virtual meeting platforms go beyond the basics with AI-drive features like real-time translations that transcend language barriers, background noise removal, gesture recognition for expressive interactions, smart backgrounds, and voice-guided assistance.
The five best virtual meeting platforms to consider
If you’re looking for a better virtual meeting platform, we have good news: there is more choice than ever. That's why we've curated a selection of virtual meeting platforms to elevate your remote work experience.
While Zoom, Google Meet, and Microsoft Teams are widely known, numerous other options offer enhanced remote engagement and collaboration features. Our article presents the scoop on the 12 leading virtual meeting platforms poised to elevate your virtual meetings.
If you’re looking for the tl;dr, here are five virtual meeting platforms to consider and how you can make the most out of them:
Embodying an intuitive interface and flawless meeting flow, Zoom has become synonymous with virtual gatherings.
The platform's repertoire includes screen sharing, breakout rooms, and interactive whiteboards, solidifying its status as the ultimate choice for people and companies.
Pricing: Zoom offers a free account with a 40-minute meeting cap and tiered paid plans catering to diverse feature needs.
How to make it fun: In March 2023, Zoom introduced the new Avatars feature that allows users to show facial expressions and head movements without showing their faces. Your avatar will smile when you smile and nod when you nod (pretty cool, right?).
If you’re thinking about your most introverted teammate right now, you’re right; Avatars are perfect for them!
On days when you don’t feel as social, Avatars are a great in-between option to attend virtual meetings. They give you a safe space for yourself while still engaging with your coworkers. All that aside, Avatars are simply fun to try out!
Another feature of Zoom to consider for a more engaging team meeting is Immersive View. Instead of showing separate frames of all participants, Immersive View puts everyone on a virtual table.
For beautiful free virtual meeting backgrounds, see our 18 Office Backgrounds for Zoom. (They also work on Google Meet and MS Teams!)
After Zoom, Microsoft Teams is the second most virtual meeting platform.
And in contrast to Zoom, Microsoft Teams brings virtual meetings, chat, file sharing, and project management together within a unified interface. Its integration with Microsoft's suite, including Outlook and OneDrive, ensures a seamless productivity journey.
Pricing: Starting with a free plan, the Essentials Plan is $4/month, while Teams also offers options like the Business Basic plan at $6 and Business Standard at $12.50.
How to make it fun: When chatting in a Teams call, you can tag other participants, react to others’ comments, send stickers and gifs, and more, which you can’t do in most other virtual meeting platforms. This is great when you want other meeting participants to interact, comment, or ask questions during the meeting.
Microsoft Teams also has a feature similar to Zoom’s Immersive View called Together Mode.
3. Google Meet
Last but certainly not least, Google Meet seamlessly integrates with the Google Workspace suite, offering a familiar environment for users. It packs reliable video and audio quality, live captions, and the convenience of scheduling and joining meetings directly from Google Calendar.
Price: Google Meet is free with a Gmail account, while Google Workspace has paid plans beginning from the $6 Business Starter and building up to the $18 Business Plus package.
How to make it fun: Although Google Meet has fewer interactive features than Zoom and Microsoft Teams, your team can still have fun with their visual effects.
Choose the three-dot button next to the red button and choose “Apply visual effects.” A side panel will appear, and you can choose your virtual background, static or animated, and your filters.
Here is our team having fun with the filters on Google Meet:
Butter is meeting software that seamlessly blends artificial intelligence with a user-friendly interface, making it a prime choice for elevating remote collaboration.
Butter goes beyond just meeting and includes automated transcriptions, real-time summarization, and intelligent action item management.
Price: Butter offers a 21-day free trial for managers keen on embarking on a new platform adventure and paid options to suit your needs.
How to make it fun: With Butter, you can say goodbye to meeting fatigue and say hello to participation. Keep everyone engaged with emoji reactions, sound effects, a hand-raise queue, polls, flashcards, music, and GIFs.
Butter incorporates emoji reactions and lively sound effects, providing feedback and motivation to all virtual meeting participants. This dynamic feature maintains a vibrant atmosphere and enables individuals to express themselves freely.
Attendees can also engage in chat threads to share thoughts, questions, and ideas while adding a touch of enjoyment with entertaining GIFs.
What's more, Butter goes the extra mile by offering a built-in music player that you can personalize to align with your workshop's theme or objectives. Embrace your inner workshop DJ and inject fun and interactivity into your sessions. DJ “No Requests” has entered the virtual building!
Want to turn the engagement dial to the max? Leave the virtual meeting rooms and step into a virtual meeting world!
The best way to think about Kumospace is as a digital world where you can walk around freely, occupy designated spots, and engage in spontaneous discussions, almost like an offline office.
And teams love it! Kumospace is the #1-rated virtual office on the renowned review site G2.
Price: Kumospace has a free plan for up to 5 members. Comprehensive features and larger teams use a premium plan starting at $16 per month per user.
How to make it fun: Kumospace's spatial audio mimics hearing sounds in the real world. The closer you are to a person, the more you can hear them. Wow, indeed!
Tired of talking? Play a game!
Kumospace has a bunch of mini-games in your virtual world. I dared my team to a game of sidewalk tag, and off we went. Very fun.
Check out more at our 12 Virtual Meeting Platforms To Make Remote Work Effective & Engaging
How to improve virtual meetings
As the saying goes, “a fool with a tool is still a fool.”
No matter which platform you choose, it’s still up to you to make virtual meetings great events that everyone attending loves to be a part of and stay engaged in.
So how can you take your virtual meetings to the next level? Here are few of our meeting facilitation tips and tricks, from our experiences of running hundreds of remote events.
How to make virtual meetings more productive: have a clear agenda
No one holds an event without a clear purpose and agenda; a virtual meeting is just another type of event. This is why the second step in the F.A.I.R. framework to reduce meeting overload is to have a clear agenda.
Whether it is a weekly one-on-one meeting with your managers or a monthly project update, make sure you define clear desired outcomes and agenda for the meeting. Don’t make your participants leave the meeting thinking, “This meeting could have been an email.”
How to make virtual meetings fun: turn on the music
Another facilitation tip when hosting a meeting is to turn on background music during waiting time. This is a common strategy event hosts do to elevate the energy among their audience but not many people apply this to our daily virtual meetings.
It can be when you’re waiting for other colleagues to join the meeting or when everyone is taking some minutes to brainstorm on their own, some energizing music will make a huge difference. To do this, simply turn on one of the YouTube playlists below and share your screen.
Check out some of our favorite playlists to boost the energy of your meeting:
- Playlist of songs that'll make you dance
- Upbeat Instrumental Work Music | Background Happy Energetic Relaxing Music for Working Fast & Focus
- Morning Vibes 🍀 Positive Feelings and Energy
How to make virtual meetings more effective: tap into AI
In 2024, AI can vastly improve the meeting experience.
Zoom, Meet, and Teams all offer AI assistance, including real-time language translation, which would break down language barriers and facilitate global collaboration.
Additionally, ai websites can offer personalized meeting summaries, action item tracking, and more efficient scheduling based on participant availability.
Tools like Teams even allow participants to edit meeting notes live, and Zoom has a feature to ask AI questions about a meeting you joined late.
Yes, we are truly living in the future, friends.
For more, see our comprehensive guide on AI in the Workplace.
How to make virtual meetings more interactive: small-group icebreakers
1. Break the ice
Another effective meeting strategy is to include virtual icebreakers before you dive into your main agenda.
Many think you don’t need to break the ice if your team already knows each other, but that’s not true. The truth is the ice always creeps in if you don’t break it often enough.
As Beyond Thank You founder Christopher Littlefield writes in 6 Super Fun Activities for Your Next Virtual Meeting for Harvard Business Review, one-sixth of your meeting time should be dedicated to relationship-building, and there are many ways to do this.
You can choose among our free icebreaker templates or tap into AI-Generated and run the activity independently.
The templates include everything you need, from step-by-step guidance, messages to instruct your team before the meeting, and a script for you - the facilitator, so make sure you check them out!
The AI-powered random question generator customizes fun questions for the team to answer. And thanks to the power of ChatGPT, the questions are fully tailored to your wants and needs.
Our team recently also built an AI This or That game, where you can let ChatGPT generate customized Would You Rather questions based on the level of fun, difficulty, and any specific theme you may want to apply. We love playing on maximum fun, maximum difficulty mode, with themes like going to space, Asian foods, and childhood dreams.
2. Put participants into smaller groups
In our virtual events, we often have an activity where participants are put into breakout rooms to discuss and share their ideas.
This is the chance for participants to let their guard down, share their ideas, and create more personal connections with other participants. Consider doing the same thing if your virtual meeting has more than 20 attendees.
This increases the level of interactivity in your meetings. Making smaller groups is easy with a random group generator.
What are typical ground rules for virtual meetings?
As Priya Parker says, “Don't be a Chill Host.” This may sound counterintuitive, but if you seize control, you leave it up to your attendees to control the meeting, often resulting in a messy affair. Priya suggests that we should practice ‘Generous Authority’:
“A gathering run on generous authority is run with a strong, confident hand, but it is run selflessly, for the sake of others.” – Priya Parker.
Being a good and strong facilitator helps protect your guests from each other (especially rotten apples), from boredom, or from the addictive technologies that lurk in our pockets.
Additionally, since there will be some hierarchy and difference in status in almost any human gathering, it is up to the host of the meeting to balance these differences through their generous authority.
Finally, guest-to-guest connections rarely happen all on their own. The host's job is to design the gathering deliberately for the relationships they want to create. Hosts must use generous authority to guide guests into making connections.
Common ground rules should include the following:
- Come prepared: Come to the meeting prepared to contribute and keep the meeting on track.
- Be on time: Arrive at the designated time to respect others' schedules and start the meeting on time.
- Listen actively: Listen to others without interrupting and allow everyone to express their views and ideas.
- Minimize distractions: Avoid checking emails or messages and silence all electronic devices to minimize distractions during the meeting.
- Stay focused: Focus on the meeting's agenda and goals to ensure that discussions remain productive and efficient.
In conclusion, as we shift to hybrid teams and remote work, virtual meetings are a must-have for modern managers who have to become the equivalent of game show hosts to keep meeting attendees engaged and participating.
Virtual meetings are vital for fostering engagement, inclusivity, and effective decision-making when physical distances no longer limit collaboration.
While technical hurdles and the absence of in-person cues exist, they are surmountable with proactive strategies and thoughtful facilitation.
Whether using Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, or exploring innovative platforms like Butter and Gather Town, the potential for connection knows no geographical bounds.
Modern managers can elevate their virtual meeting experiences and foster meaningful interactions by embracing features and practices prioritizing clarity, collaboration, and customization to have virtual gatherings rival traditional face-to-face interactions.
Have fun on your journey to being a fantastic facilitator, and let us know what else would be helpful as you navigate this new role!