All hands meetings online took a lot of us by surprise. It can be so much more difficult to manage a meeting when employees are working remotely and they're having to watch eachother's Zoom windows to make sure they're not interrupting.
"We've been holding an all hands meeting virtually for months now and I can say we have adjusted well to this kind of set-up," says Willie Greer, founder of The Product Analyst, who help people get the most out of their sound systems.
Like many others, Willie explains that at first things were difficult when they moved their all hands meeting online to meet remote work challenges.
"We experienced a lot of complications, with regards to connection, and people having a hard time explaining themselves online. It was difficult especially to the boomers who aren't really into techy stuff, such as navigating programs and applications. But the more we practiced, the more we became used to doing things virtually and day by day we learned to appreciate the beauty of it."
In this guide, we'll take a look at some of the ways that you can make the most of virtual meetings and explore how different teams around the world are adapting to moving their all hands meeting online.
Psst... if you don't know what an all hands meeting is yet, you're going to want to read this guide first to get up to speed.
Set the ground rules
We've been a remote only company now for years, so we're kind of old hands at this. But in the first few weeks of life online for the general population of the world, I discovered that things that I thought were pretty basic protocols for online meetings were not commonly accepted.
"As our company moved our all hands meetings online, we have only encountered a few minor problems so far. Things such as employees forgetting to mute their microphones, a few faulty internet connections, family members accidentally popping up in the background, just small things that are quickly resolved and dealt with," says Tal Shelef, Co-founder at Condo Wizard.
These are basic things, but they drastically improve the quality of any virtual meeting whether it's a town hall meeting, an all hands meeting or even just a one on one.
The most obvious life hack for virtual meetings is asking everyone who's not speaking to mute their microphones.
With a few reminders and rules set in place, these problems became less and less and as time progressed
If you're the host in a Zoom meeting, you don't even have to ask. You can just mute everyone's Zoom mics for them with these quick steps:
- Click 'Participants'
- Select 'Mute All' in the bar that pops up on the right hand side of your window
Sharing these reminders quickly at the start of every meeting might be effective but after your first few, you should find that most people respond automatically and will mute themselves.
"With a few reminders and rules set in place, these problems became less and less and as time progressed, we all became used to these online meetings and have worked them to our advantage", Tal continues.
Side note: If you'd like to explore a more managed version of the all hands, check out this post on how we moved our live events to live streaming
Collect Q&A questions
One of the things that causes the most bloat and boredom in any meeting is having questions asked every two minutes.
And while it's a good idea to allow people to feel OK with asking questions – after all, that's how we learn – it's also a good move to put some structure around that so that it's easier to manage things.
If you haven't already, you should consider collecting employee questions before the all hands meeting.
You could do this by asking them to email you - although this is wildly inefficient.
"We noticed that when people are not physically present at the meeting, they are less likely to engage in conversations or raise their questions and concerns. Our solution was to create pre-meeting surveys to encourage our employees to share their thoughts and ideas," says Dorota Lysienia, Community Manager at LiveCareer. "During all hands, we address these things and openly talk about possible solutions and next steps. This new approach for gathering feedback helped us trigger more team interactions and gain new perspectives on how to handle remote work challenges.
If you collect questions for your Q&A session using a doopoll survey, you'll also be able to review the questions by emotion too – so that you can get a feel for the mood of the meeting before it even starts. Find out more about real time sentiment analysis here.
Prepare the agenda
Preparing a rough outline of the meeting and sharing it with your coworkers before the all hands meeting starts will improve their experience of the meeting greatly.
Take the questions that you collected from your pre-event survey and decide which ones you want to address. Combine that with updates on the company goals, and any agenda items from team members.
Put it all down into a Google document or into a tool like Notion and share it with your team in advance of the meeting.
Make sure you let them know that if they have anything you've missed out, they should let you know before the meeting starts.
And don't forget to leave some room for 'any other business' so that you've got some flexibility at the end of the meeting in case anything new comes up while it's happening.
Enjoy being human
An important and overlooked tip for improving all hands meetings is to enjoy being human with each other.
As the world still feels like it's on fire, it's so important to make sure that everyone is feeling good and to recognise that we're all juggling about a million different priorities all the time.
"I got used to [all hands meetings online] and so did my team. We rarely have issues with connection but even if we do, they are minor and everything goes back to normal real quick," says Olesia Melnichenko, Content Writer at HelpCrunch. "Sure, there are funny moments when my coworkers' cats show up, for instance. They make everyone laugh and lighten the atmosphere a little."
I remember being in a very serious meeting before lockdowns happened and one person dialling in from a different country. Despite the somber tone of the meeting, I found it hard to be downhearted because the room she was calling from was absolutely jam packed with Star Wars memorabilia.
Even at the end of the meeting, someone in the room – after having sat through a tough meeting – was able to pluck up the courage to say 'May the force be with you' as she announced she was leaving.
It's important to embrace that feeling of interest in your colleagues environments. After all, the webcam is like a window into your team mates souls right now.
What a life!
Introduce new hires
And while we're on the topic of team mates. Don't forget that some of your colleagues will never have met before – in a large company, or even a small one, new colleagues join all the time.
As most teams around the world are now remote, occasionally you'll have a new hire join an all hands meeting without ever having met anyone in the company in person before.
Just acknowledge it, make them feel welcome and introduce them to everyone on the call.
Break the ice effectively
A lot of blogs about all hands meetings will tell you that you should break the ice. But practically what does that mean?
According to Bradley Keys, Marketing Director at PatchMD, its all about energy and making sure that everyone is 'in the room' even when they're virtual.
"Employee engagement is one of our problems when conducting virtual all-hands meetings. We conduct ice breakers before and in between the meetings," he says. "The presenter will make fun activities to energise the employees, to keep them motivated to attend and encourage them to participate."
A couple of quick ideas for ice breakers for remote teams?
- Play a round of get me the object – have the moderator of the meeting say an object (e.g. a piece of headgear) and then see who can bring back the best version of that object in a period of time
- Quick draw Virtual Backdrops for Zoom – specify a theme for each round (e.g. my celebrity crush) and then have people download the best image they can find from Google image search and set it as their virtual backdrop.
- Digital 'catch' – Everyone gets a small round object like a ball. One person starts and nominates a second person before gently throwing their object off their webcam view. It's the job of the second person to throw their object into view and pretend to be catching it.
- A real time poll asking employees fun ice breaker questions and then displaying the results in real time as a screen share by the moderator. Here's a whole bunch of our ideas for ice breakers to engage the entire company
Whatever it is you're doing, your all hands meeting online becomes way more fun when you embrace a little ice breaker before the proper meeting starts.
Embrace live voting
How is it that even though it can be tough to get a word in edgeways on a Zoom conference, there's still the small group of alphas who will manage to be heard above everyone else on any topic?!
Well, let's cut that out.
When you're trying to make a choice about something as a team, whether it's your company culture in a remote world, or your company vision in response to the trash fire of 2020, bringing live voting and live polls into your all hands meeting makes sure that more people get heard.
Look, I know we're biased but I genuinely believe that doopoll is the best platform to create your next online poll with.
You can set up questions before hand or on the fly, display the results in a beautifully designed presenter screen (with the screen share functionality of Zoom or Hangouts), and then you'll see the votes come in in real time as your employees and coworkers vote from wherever they are in the world.
Pretty neat eh? And cool news: doopoll's free to get started – you upgrade when you're getting more than 10 responses to a poll. There's pricing options available to suit every business.
Find your moderator
Moderators are important for in person meetings. But they're even more important when everyone can have their say at the same volume as anyone else at any moment.
For your all hands meeting to run smoothly online, you're going to want to make sure that someone is a moderator and establish them as running the meeting.
The best way to do this is to make them the host of the meeting itself. You can do this by having them create the Zoom meeting and send out the invite – or you can manage the host settings in the Zoom call itself.
Having a moderator in place will help you make sure everyone feels welcome, manage the agenda, move things along when they're lagging behind and facilitate the the Q&A session.
It'll take you a minute to find the moderator. It'll save you 60 minutes.
Check in with your team
I recently heard a great interview with Steli Efti, CEO of Close.io on the Indiehackers podcast. He was talking about how the team at Close had adapted to remote meetings.
"We changed the way we do meetings in the sense that every meeting that’s happening now at Close starts with a personal update. So we do meetings and people go, 'Okay. Since last week, things are fine. I'm happy. I started gardening and so I feel a bit better,'" Steli says. "Then the next person would go, 'Well, my mom is sick. I'm stressed out. I'm constantly on the phone with her. I'm worried and I can’t focus.'"
A lot of the time, you won't be able to do anything for your team mates whoa re going through a tough time. But when everyone is working from home, they'll appreciate being able to just put up their hand and say, 'Hey, I'm here and I need to get this off my chest.'
"For many it was also a relief to hear that everybody was struggling with the same stuff they were struggling with, so it just made them feel a little bit better and a little bit more connected," Steli adds.
Tip: If you're doing a lot of Zoom meetings with your employees and your staff are there just to digest information, it's worth reminding them that it's OK for them to turn their web cams off. People become fatigued easily and going audio only can help them avoid Zoom fatigue.
Be transparent about company priorities
A quick one now.
When things are changing a lot and because everyone's remote, fewer spontaneous chats happen in offices, company priorities, updates on the company mission and key metrics progress go unshared often.
When you're in your company all hands meeting online, you can share these metrics, priorities and mission updates using a simple slide show. Even a quick couple of bullet points will help people stay on top of things.
Round it up neatly
Going back to our earlier point about the moderator, one task that person should be in charge of is giving a quick summary comment about the meeting.
They can use this 2-3 minute period to give an overview of what was discussed, including action points and next steps on any decisions that were made.
As an additional benefit of a Zoom all hands, make a recording of the call and set it to be available to the attendees using a service like Dropbox or Zoom's cloud recordings functionality.
Keep in mind this won't last forever
Some people love virtual meetings.
"We are planning on never going back to physical meetings. In the virtual setting, everything happens in one place, on one call. Everyone feels equal and there’s a higher sense of togetherness. The Q&A feels more spontaneous, and the experience is even smoother than when we were in a meeting room," says Kristian Rasmussen, CEO at Ultify. "The executives weren’t as in the spotlight as they usually are when sitting in front of everyone in a room, and both questions and answers seemed to be more on point."
But while a lot of people love working from home all the time, there are definitely people who don't feel so great about it. It can feel isolating to miss the physical all hands meetings that you used to have.
So remember and reiterate to your team during your conference calls: this whole thing will one day come to an end and you'll find some kind of normality again.
But for now, while we're apart, let's enjoy the expectation of being together. I loved this comment from David Baddeley, Director at ScottishTrustDeed:
"I was laughing with a colleague the other day that when we finally meet in person it will be funny to realise one of us is a lot taller then the other or much smaller. It is strange to acknowledge we have really never met despite having meetings almost every other day together."
Get feedback after the meeting
We're all adapting to this brave new world. So it's important to stay flexible and upbeat about everything, collecting feedback on what went well, could be better and what we should change entirely.
Unless you've got only 1 or 2 other team members, you should collect feedback using an online survey tool like doopoll.
We even prepared a post-all hands feedback survey template that you can use just for this purpose: