Easy Hacks to Improve Your Virtual Meetings
Skip to content
Leadership May 19, 2020

Easy Hacks to Improve Your Virtual Meetings

From “speed-storming” to building a team charter, these ideas boost creativity and comfort on video calls.

Michael Meier

Based on insights from

Leigh Thompson

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of articles based on Kellogg Executive Education webinars focused on COVID-19.

A few months ago, video meetings were relatively rare in most organizations: occasional stand-ins when in-person meetings weren’t feasible.

Today it’s all that most of us do. And given the speed of that change, few of us have any idea how to conduct these meetings well.

Each Thursday, Kellogg faculty are offering free webinars on how COVID-19 is impacting businesses, markets, and careers. You can sign up for upcoming sessions, hosted by Kellogg Executive Education, here.

“There’s no playbook; there’s no manual,” explains Leigh Thompson, a professor of management and organization at Kellogg.

So Thompson, who has researched and written about virtual negotiation and collaboration, offered up a number of “hacks” to improve our online meetings during a recent webinar from Kellogg Executive Education. The talk was based on insights from her new book, Negotiating the Sweet Spot: The Art of Leaving Nothing on the Table.

Most people agree that virtual meetings are highly efficient, but they lack a good deal of the spontaneity and creative energy of in-person meetings. So Thompson suggests building in time for that at the start of a gathering.

“Before we get down to business, we should try to do something that’s fun,” she says. That could mean three to five minutes of improv exercises, or telling embarrassing stories, or rotating who brings a joke to share.

Another hack is designed to ensure that team introverts—who may not feel comfortable speaking up to a gallery of Zoom faces—have their voices heard during brainstorms. While there are various ways to use breakout rooms to encourage conversation, Thompson’s favorite technique is called “speed-storming,” which she describes as “brainstorming meets speed dating.” Pairs of colleagues are put into breakout rooms together for a couple minutes to brainstorm, then switched up into new pairs, which keep rotating.

Other hacks addressed the fact that we are not always at our best online. “Your brain changes when you’re not face-to-face, and it ain’t pretty for some of us,” Thompson says.

One way to curtail bad behavior is to establish a virtual-team charter. This could include rules that everyone have their camera on, or that no one should be multitasking, and should clarify whether people speak up by raising a hand or just unmuting and going for it.

“Virtual teams that have structure, ground rules, and norms outperform those that don’t,” Thompson says.

There are also some unexpected perks to meeting virtually, which should be embraced.

Thompson refers to one as the “weak get strong effect.” Many of the signals of who has power in a group—sitting at the head of the conference table, demonstrative body language—are eliminated online. This means people who may have historically not spoken up (a group that might disproportionately include individuals from marginalized groups) feel more comfortable doing so.

She’s seen this among the students in her virtual classes this spring. “The people that I’m seeing emerge as the thought leaders in my own classes are not the usual suspects,” she says.

Thompson acknowledges that people may feel silly suggesting some of her hacks to their teams. But she encourages everyone to give it a try, saying there’s very little to lose.

“No one is going to judge someone who is committed to the improvement of their team,” she says.

You can watch the full webinar here, and see previous articles from this series here. You can also read more from Thompson here about using improv techniques in your meetings.

Featured Faculty

J. Jay Gerber Professor of Dispute Resolution & Organizations; Professor of Management & Organizations; Director of Kellogg Team and Group Research Center; Professor of Psychology, Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences (Courtesy)

About the Writer
Emily Stone is the senior editor at Kellogg Insight.
Most Popular This Week
  1. How Much Do Boycotts Affect a Company’s Bottom Line?
    There’s often an opposing camp pushing for a “buycott” to support the company. New research shows which group has more sway.
    grocery store aisle where two groups of people protest. One group is boycotting, while the other is buycotting
  2. 5 Takeaways on the State of ESG Investing
    ESG investing is hot. But what does it actually deliver for society and for shareholders?
    watering can pouring over windmills
  3. Could Bringing Your "Whole Self" to Work Curb Unethical Behavior?
    Organizations would be wise to help employees avoid compartmentalizing their personal and professional identities.
    A star employee brings her whole self to work.
  4. When Do Open Borders Make Economic Sense?
    A new study provides a window into the logic behind various immigration policies.
    How immigration affects the economy depends on taxation and worker skills.
  5. Which Form of Government Is Best?
    Democracies may not outlast dictatorships, but they adapt better.
    Is democracy the best form of government?
  6. How Has Marketing Changed over the Past Half-Century?
    Phil Kotler’s groundbreaking textbook came out 55 years ago. Sixteen editions later, he and coauthor Alexander Chernev discuss how big data, social media, and purpose-driven branding are moving the field forward.
    people in 1967 and 2022 react to advertising
  7. What Happens to Worker Productivity after a Minimum Wage Increase?
    A pay raise boosts productivity for some—but the impact on the bottom line is more complicated.
    employees unload pallets from a truck using hand carts
  8. Why Do Some People Succeed after Failing, While Others Continue to Flounder?
    A new study dispels some of the mystery behind success after failure.
    Scientists build a staircase from paper
  9. What Went Wrong at AIG?
    Unpacking the insurance giant's collapse during the 2008 financial crisis.
    What went wrong during the AIG financial crisis?
  10. Why Well-Meaning NGOs Sometimes Do More Harm than Good
    Studies of aid groups in Ghana and Uganda show why it’s so important to coordinate with local governments and institutions.
    To succeed, foreign aid and health programs need buy-in and coordination with local partners.
  11. 3 Tips for Reinventing Your Career After a Layoff
    It’s crucial to reassess what you want to be doing instead of jumping at the first opportunity.
    woman standing confidently
  12. How Are Black–White Biracial People Perceived in Terms of Race?
    Understanding the answer—and why black and white Americans may percieve biracial people differently—is increasingly important in a multiracial society.
    How are biracial people perceived in terms of race
  13. Podcast: Does Your Life Reflect What You Value?
    On this episode of The Insightful Leader, a former CEO explains how to organize your life around what really matters—instead of trying to do it all.
  14. Immigrants to the U.S. Create More Jobs than They Take
    A new study finds that immigrants are far more likely to found companies—both large and small—than native-born Americans.
    Immigrant CEO welcomes new hires
  15. In a World of Widespread Video Sharing, What’s Real and What’s Not?
    A discussion with a video-authentication expert on what it takes to unearth “deepfakes.”
    A detective pulls back his computer screen to reveal code behind the video image.
  16. College Campuses Are Becoming More Diverse. But How Much Do Students from Different Backgrounds Actually Interact?
    Increasing diversity has been a key goal, “but far less attention is paid to what happens after we get people in the door.”
    College quad with students walking away from the center
More in Leadership