Guidance for planning your virtual meetings so everyone gets the most out of them.
Planning the Meeting
Scheduling and the ‘UCL Hour’
Meetings that you would normally schedule for an hour should be made shorter to last no longer than 50 minutes, starting at five past the hour and finishing at five minutes to (“the UCL Hour”). If it is necessary to have a longer meeting, allow time for a short break of at least 10 minutes and try not to schedule meetings that take over 2 hours. This will give staff chance to move away from their screens, stretch their legs and get refreshments, or to process/focus on matters arising from the meeting.
When scheduling meetings do so in core hours – 10am -4pm where possible. Meetings outside of this timeframe should be agreed with participants. To assist with meeting scheduling and wellbeing, staff are encouraged to block time out in their diary for their lunch break.
Half day and full day meetings are no longer acceptable
Whilst pre-pandemic was perfectly reasonable to schedule a full or half day meeting, with refreshment breaks , it is no longer considered inclusive and equitable practice to plan these sessions. Everyone’s home working circumstances are different, and you need to take into account the variance in home-working conditions that your attendees are experiencing. Some employees may be working in a shared space with others or have spaces that are ill-equipped for long periods being seated and focusing, or health conditions that make this challenging. For these reasons you are encouraged to break long meetings into a series of shorter ones instead.
Plan your guest list
Aim to strike the right balance between being inclusive but also mindful of other people’s time. Think about who needs to be at your meeting and who else might benefit from being there (either as a development opportunity, or simply so they can keep abreast of what’s going on). Use the labels in Outlook so it is clear whose attendance is optional, which gives them more choice to determine the best use of their own time.
Consider if all participants need to attend your meeting for the whole duration. For some meetings, it might be suitable for people to join only for a specific part and the rest of the time may, or may not, be optional to attend.
‘Huddle’ team meeting
The huddle is a short team meeting, used to brief staff on important matters or goals for the day/week. A daily huddle can be really useful for a team to get together every morning and discuss the objectives for the day, ask urgent questions and, perhaps most importantly whilst teams are working remotely, to have the chance for social interaction.
A weekly huddle can be useful where the main purpose is for one person to share updates and not much interaction is expected from other attendees. These work well for big team/ departmental catch-ups and can be done effectively in as little as 15 minutes.
Don’t overfill the (virtual) room
We don’t have to rely on booking physical meeting rooms anymore and so there may be tendency to invite too many people to a virtual meeting. Whilst this can be good, inclusive practice and means you can invite people who you may not have invited to an in-person meeting, this needs to be balanced with efficiency.
Bring in help for larger meetings
If you are required to hold a large meeting, where people are invited to participate in discussions and ask questions, consider having a facilitator or co-chair to support you with timekeeping, monitoring questions posted in the chat section, hands being raised etc.
Make your meetings accessible (Reasonable Adjustments)
Make reasonable adjustments to ensure that people with a disability, impairment, mental or physical health condition can participate in the meeting.
Example reasonable adjustments include, allowing the recording of a meeting or additional breaks in the meeting. Staff should familiarise themselves with the UCL accessible remote working guidance. If you are unsure about agreeing to any reasonable adjustments, discuss the request with your HR Business Partner.
Some people may need to use the live captions function in MS Teams so that they can follow the discussion. You will need to speak clearly and ensure that people aren’t speaking over each other, in order for it to work effectively.
Participating without necessarily being there
Think about whether a meeting is really required at all. Teams is a good collaborative tool that enables people to work on projects together without meeting.
It can be helpful to record some meetings, particularly those where significant updates have been shared or those which feature external speakers. These recordings can be viewed at a later date by colleagues who would have benefitted from being there. A really inclusive tip is to spend the last 5 minutes of the meeting summing up the discussion and actions points agreed, so that people who have missed the meeting can listen to the final few minutes and still be appraised of all the salient points.
Using MS Teams effectively
Ensure you and your team are up to speed with how MS Teams works. You can access technical guidance for detailed information. Allow time to familiarise yourself with the system and, if you are a manager, ensure your team are able to do this. This is particularly important for new joiners and those who have never used the MS Teams before. UCL has also published tips to help you manage a meeting on Zoom - Zoom tips.
Teams usage policy
Presentation or pre-read?
Consider whether the information you need to share could be shared ahead of the presentation, or if it needs to be presented live to all attendees. It might be better to share any slides you’ve created as pre-reads ahead of the meeting, rather than taking everyone through it together. Review guidance on how to make slides accessible, both in terms of viewing them on a screen and when printed.
Meetings on campus with participants also attending remotely
If some participants will be on campus and some will attend virtually, the meeting organiser should ensure they book a meeting room that is set up with Audio Visual equipment that will allow everyone to be seen and heard. If possible, the equipment should be tested prior to the meeting.
Whilst social distancing is required, the meeting organiser should book a room that does not exceed safe capacity. The meeting organiser should provide attendees the ‘Working on Campus’ guidance.
Etiquette during the Meeting
Do not assume that everybody at the meeting knows each other. In smaller meetings, introductions may take place at the start. In larger meetings, ask staff to introduce themselves before they speak for the first time.
Recording a meeting
Consider whether you need to record the meeting, so that unavailable invited participants can catch up later. Visit Recording Calls and Meetings in Microsoft Teams and review the guidance.
When to be seen and heard
Being present and seeing each other is an important part of getting to know new colleagues; keeping connected with established colleagues and focussing on the meeting. Having your camera on also allows better communication within a team, including non-verbal communication to take place, and supports teams in keeping relationships strong whilst working remotely.
We recommend you keep your camera on for team and smaller group meetings, and especially when you are speaking so that colleagues can see who is talking. For larger meetings and particularly those where you are listening and not required to participate, you may be asked to turn your camera off.
For reasons of privacy and equality, you may wish to use a UCL background effect so your home environment is not visible.
Speak clearly and steadily as this will help ensure everyone can understand you. Try to modulate your voice, to keep people interested and engaged. If you are not talking mute your mic, so that background noise is kept to a minimum.
Give everyone a voice
Arrange ‘hands up’ signals to agree who speaks next and use chat functions to allow everyone to contribute. Engage participants regularly. It’s hard to simply listen online for a long time. Invite participants to give comments or ask questions, and use tools like chat or polls.
Use names and give context
When responding to chat comments, repeat the relevant remarks and make clear who you’re responding to. If you respond to an individual via the chat function, use ‘@ followed by their name’ to alert them to the message.
Be explicit about actions and summarise
Spell out clearly any actions that need to be taken and by whom. Summarise meeting takeaways and circulate notes promptly.
Keep it short and snappy
Going around the virtual table for everyone to give updates can be time consuming. We’ve already mentioned getting pre-meeting updates via email or Teams, but you might also want to give a three-minute cap for live updates. If it’s going to take longer than that, perhaps it should be on the agenda instead?
Stick to the agenda
For formal meetings, it is of course helpful to share an agenda beforehand, especially if you want to highlight decisions that need to be made and any prep / reading that’s required. It can help optional invitees decide whether or not to attend, and it can help you plan partial invites where appropriate. Store the agenda as a file in Teams and share it, to help participants locate the document quickly at the start of the meeting.
Try and stick to the timing of your agenda as much as possible. It’s best to plan the more substantive / discursive items near the beginning, when people are most attentive. As a chair watch the clock and use the ‘hands up’ function on Teams to manage contributions.
Allow time to wrap up
Allow time at the end of the meeting to deliver a summary of the meeting and to list any action points, their owners and associated timeline. This way, if anyone missed the start of the meeting they can still take away the key messages and be clear of any actions that are expected of them.
Don’t forget to be polite
By focussing meetings on the essential attendees and sticking rigidly to your agenda, it can feel too much sometimes to also remember to have warm, human interaction. Try to start and end with a thank you to someone or recognition of a great piece of work.