With multiple office locations spanning time zones, countries, and continents, enterprise companies are no stranger to large-scale virtual meetings.
These meetings—often town halls or all-hands—are a core part of their workplace culture and a crucial means of communication for executive leadership. They’re an opportunity for leaders to communicate strategy and vision, get in front of issues on the horizon, and publicly celebrate company and team wins.
The trouble is, successful virtual meetings, especially large-scale ones, can be hard to pull off. Technology issues and employee engagement concerns present real-world challenges when moved to a larger stage.
But how companies handle these meetings (and large-scale communications, in general) matters. It shapes employees’ opinions of their company’s competence. In fact, employees who believe their company communicates poorly are 5x as likely to believe their company lacks collaboration and productivity.
Large-scale virtual meetings don’t have to be a challenge. By being intentional when selecting technology and determining meeting structure, leadership can transform meetings into ongoing two-way conversations that ensure their workforce is properly informed and engaged.
Know Your Goals (And Also Your Challenges)
Leaders can set their town halls and all-hands meetings up for success by being clear about what it is they want to achieve and identifying what challenges might get in the way.
Here are some questions your leadership (and your company) can ask themselves as they consider these large-scale virtual meetings, and why these questions matter:
- What is the goal of the meeting? Goals should influence which method of communication leadership uses. Broadcasts or previously recorded messages work best when the goal is to simply communicate important information. If the goal is real-time engagement and feedback, then leadership will want to go the live route.
- What topics will be discussed? Knowing content ahead of time helps narrow down the audience. A broad company update is relevant to the company at large, but topics pertaining to sales strategies are likely only of interest to the sales department.
- What are the biggest challenges? Acknowledging challenges upfront allows leadership to proactively find solutions. Do meetings often run over time? Do employees feel empowered to speak up in real time, or is the pressure of a live Q&A too much? Does the quality of the live stream get worse as more attendees log on? Each of these challenges has an easy-to-implement solution.
Once your leadership has a better understanding of their goals and challenges, they can use that knowledge to prepare for and host a successful virtual meeting.
Prepare For Large-Scale Virtual Meetings
Successful meetings look easy, but they’re a lot of work. Coordinating schedules, creating agendas and slideshows, booking rooms, and testing technology—all that behind-the-scenes work is necessary for a flawless execution. That doesn’t change when meetings go virtual and involve large audiences.
Set A Cadence
Once leaders know what they want to accomplish in a meeting, they can figure out how often they need to host them.
While there’s no golden rule on how often to hold meetings, research has found some companies hold large-scale virtual meetings annually, while other executives host all-hands and town halls weekly. Annual meetings are great for strategy realignment, vision casting, or reflecting on the accomplishments of the previous year, while quarterly, monthly, or even bi-weekly meetings keep employees aware of events and decisions that directly impact their work.
Take the pandemic. During it, many leaders felt it was important to check in with their entire workforce weekly, answering pressing questions and delivering important updates. Hosting these meetings frequently helped leaders stay responsive to breaking news or government mandates, and also helped employees process important information alongside other pandemic-related concerns.
Get The Tech And Setup Right
Technology is a double-edged sword, but once leadership acknowledges potential challenges, they can work with their IT teams to get ahead of them.
First and foremost, leadership should ensure their company has the right infrastructure in place to support the needs of large-scale virtual meetings. With a large number of employees connecting to a call from a remote location, IT teams need to be sure their preferred video platform can support all of these attendees without impacting audio and video quality.
Second, leadership should entertain a video platform that provides flexibility in delivery. Leaders might rely on virtual meetings for regular communications, but having the option to send out broadcasts or host webinars can help leaders honor employee needs. On-demand videos are a great example. For employees working remotely and juggling the demands of at-home care of family members, having the flexibility to watch a leadership update when it fits their schedule is a huge win.
Last, leaders can get creative with their hybrid setups. For employees in the office, leaders can have teams gather in specific meeting areas and stream the feed into those rooms. It’s a great option if companies don’t have a large enough area to gather all employees, and it also gives teams a chance to unpack and discuss the information covered in the meeting.
Nail The Content And Delivery
Leaders can maximize the effectiveness of large-scale virtual meetings by avoiding information overload or running overtime—two common meeting challenges.
Too much information in one meeting can overwhelm employees. Think of those all-hands meetings where every major department—sales, product, finance, human resources—gives lengthy updates using jargon most people outside the department don’t understand. Instead, department leaders should choose two or three highlights that the company should know: We hit our sales goals last quarter! We’re welcoming 12 new employees this month! We’re on track to deliver our next major product release!
Meetings that run over are often seen as poorly planned and could interrupt employees’ flow and possibly result in missed deadlines. To keep things on track, leadership should consider appointing a moderator who ensures speakers keep within their allotted time. These moderators can also help facilitate Q&As and minimize downtime.
Have An Engagement Strategy
Live virtual meetings are a perfect opportunity for leadership to engage their workforce. Leaders can take advantage of tools that allow for real-time polls, chat, and Q&As with employees and discover which options work best for their company.
- Real-time polls. Leaders can set up polls that employees can respond to via an app or text and get live reads on how employees feel about a certain topic. Should we offer more virtual team-building events? Check Yes or No.
- Chat. Most video platforms offer chat functions, but leaders should appoint someone to monitor the feed. While in-office employees can raise a hand when they have a question, remote employees might feel they go unnoticed if no one ever sees or gives voice to their question in the chat.
- Q&As. Live Q&As are a great opportunity for employees to ask leadership pressing questions and get direct answers. While some employees feel comfortable picking up the mic, others might not feel comfortable speaking publicly. Leaders should consider opening anonymous questions in the days leading up to the meeting so that all employees have the opportunity to ask questions.
- Breakout sessions. Breakout sessions are a great way to get a read on big changes or company communications. Teams can share thoughts with their team leads, who in turn direct those insights upward.
Keep The Conversation Going
One of the biggest mistakes leaders can make is assuming an hour-long live all-hands meeting nailed its communication goals. Instead, leadership needs to come prepared to continue the conversation and reiterate important messages.
“Leaders should continue to participate on chat, through crowdsourcing and via social channels to hear what people care about after the video event ends,” says Adam Preset, Senior Director Analyst at Gartner.
Companies should make meeting resources, such as presentations and links to video recordings, available post-meeting. That way, employees who want to revisit the content or those who missed the meeting due to work-related calls, time zone conflicts, or outside commitments can easily access the resources.
Trello Enterprise makes it easy for leaders to keep a conversation alive. Leaders can create a dedicated board where they can attach agendas, slide decks, and video records, so employees always know where to find them. Every department can own a list and create cards that address each important talking point covered in the meeting. Employees can click into these cards and start conversations or ask follow-up questions of department leaders. Leaders can even create cards to execute on next steps and assign tasks or subtasks to other leaders or interested employees.
Don’t Assume Success—Measure It
Companies that approach meetings with goals, intentions, and the right tools have the opportunity to measure the success of their meetings. Metrics like how many attendees, post-meeting video views, engagement in polls, and Q&As or surveys give leaders insight into how their message was received. By dialing into what works and what doesn’t work for their workforce, leaders can improve future virtual meetings and get creative with their communications.
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