This time of year is often dedicated to annual planning and bringing full (and sometimes large) teams together for all-day sessions. Team members might travel in from out of town, stay at HQ for a few days and participate in afterhours team building activities with colleagues they don’t typically interact with in person. For many companies, this type of in-person planning and fun isn’t on the agenda heading into 2021, but don’t let that stop you from bringing your team together virtually to plan, learn and build connections.
Developing an all-day virtual session presents new challenges beyond the day-to-day meetings that fill our calendars. After you’ve selected your preferred virtual meeting technology – Zoom, Microsoft Teams, WebEx, etc., here are a few tips I’ve used to navigate planning long virtual sessions this year.
- Expand your reach. Being virtual eliminates travel and cost barriers, allowing more cross collaboration with colleagues. Consider including your international colleagues to bring new perspectives to your sessions. Also, extend the invite to the full agency team, not just the account leads, to give everyone supporting your business deeper context on the goals, challenges and plans for the year ahead.
- Break it up. We’ve all been in the day-long meeting with the monster agenda that never ends. When you don’t have to squeeze it all in to reduce the number of nights in a hotel room, consider spreading the meeting out over a few half days. It helps keep your team stay engaged and reduces the crush of feeling behind, providing time to catch up on business in the second half of the day so you can tackle Day 2 of planning as fresh as you are on Day 1.
- Do a pulse check. Without the organic mingling with colleagues happening near the coffee station, checking in with everyone at the start of the session is key. How are they feeling? Are they well rested? Are they going to be present today or is there an email in their inbox that is competing for their attention? Online facilitation tools like Mentimeter make it easy for participants to share anonymously, answer questions and respond to polls. And, it doesn’t have to be all business. Memes and emojis are a great way to capture attention and share answers.
- Stick to the agenda (that includes taking plenty of breaks)! Just because you are virtual doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a plan. Always make an agenda. Share in advance so the team comes prepared and assign a timekeeper to keep the meeting on track. And, most importantly, plan for plenty of breaks. Now more than ever, we need to schedule time to stop, turn off the camera for 15 minutes and step away. Consider sharing a countdown clock on the screen so everyone knows when it is time to start again.
- Have fun. In-person all-team meetings likely included team building activities and delicious meals. But, virtual doesn’t mean you have to lose these important things, they just look different. Set a theme for virtual backgrounds to break the ice (favorite television shows and alma maters are a few thought starters). Still serve food: Door Dash for Work gives employers three options for sending employees meals while working from home. And, bring the team together to let off a little steam. Set a time after the meeting for some non-work-related fun. Kahoot is great for facilitating trivia remotely and Drawize is a fun (and free) drawing game like Pictionary.
Virtual meetings aren’t going away anytime soon, and they offer benefits that are more inclusive and flexible. I’ve experienced first-hand how taking the time to plan and engage teams virtually can create new connections and empower different voices in meetings, and have been able to convert these lessons into powerful meetings for my clients this year.
Kristin Tyll is the managing director of Stratacomm’s Detroit office and an agency partner. She misses in-person meetings with her colleagues and clients very much and is thankful for technology that allows her to stay connected with everyone.