6 Effective Ways to Make Your Remote Meetings More Human-Centered

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If you are like me, you have been inundated with essays, articles, and tip sheets about how to make our new work from home (WFH) reality more productive and efficient. Soon, managing virtual remote meeting tools and collaboration software like Zoom will be old hat for everyone. But given the stress everyone is under and the uncertainty of what lies ahead, it’s never been more important to also approach your remote meetings and collaborations from a human-centered, people-first mindset. After all, according to a Forbes report, 96% of employees believe showing empathy is an important way to advance employee retention.

As our work can provide some respite from the mindset of social isolation, it’s perhaps more vital than ever to incorporate workplace strategies that can boost empathy and connectivity when working in-person online (IPOL). These include ideas like those I wrote about on the blog last week using human-centered group activities like Five Things, a creative brain game using improv, and favoring video conferencing meetings over phone calls for remote meetings as much as possible to promote an authentic and present style of engagement.

Another great idea—especially when you want to provide your team the anonymity to decompress fully during this difficult time and bring their whole selves—is to pose questions like these to everyone on an anonymous whiteboard.

  • “What else is stressing you out right now besides the coronavirus?”
  • “What 3 things are you feeling most grateful for right now?”
  • “What was the last donation you made and why?”

Space for emotional vulnerability and empathetic connection is something everyone can benefit from right now. To that end, frequent breaks during remote meetings are also an important tool for everyone’s mental health right now. While we normally suggest breaks every 90 minutes, the sedentary nature of a remote meetings means you should aim for breaks at least every 45-60 minutes to keep everyone engaged and also practice some humanity. But that downtime doesn’t have to be passive.  Breaks, when strategically used and planned for in advance, can be an active space for rejuvenation and  human-centered collaboration.

Below are some quick break ideas we have for how you can bring a little empathy, connectedness, and even lightheartedness to your remote team work.

1) Make the elephant in the room a collaborative ritual

Instead of ignoring what everyone is going through, take advantage of the fact that the coronavirus pandemic is a shared experience everyone in your remote meeting is experiencing. Breaks are the perfect time to do some hand-washing as a team and stop COVID-19 in its tracks! Have your team members bring their cameras over to the sink and lead everyone in a chorus of “Happy Birthday,” (twice!) to ensure everyone is washing for the recommended amount of time.

You can also help each other get in the habit of not touching your faces by having some fun or silly action whenever you see someone on video touch their face — perhaps a bell sounds or everyone holds up a sticky note with that person’s name. This can be fun AND inspire the behavior change everyone needs right now.

2)  Get Physical!

As we all remain indoors for hours on end, it can be hard to get ample exercise. So, why not make work breaks time for some jumping jacks, sit-ups, or COVID-minded stretches? You could even set up a fitness competition amongst team-members for some added incentive, or have everyone bring a stretch or an exercise to share with everyone else during breaks. Exercise is not only great for our bodies, but it releases endorphins that help reduce stress, but have also been shown to help humans learn more efficiently. Plus, according to a Gallup poll, 62% of engaged employees feel their work positively affects their physical health, whereas with disengaged employees, this number drops to 39%.

3) Practice mindfulness

We’re all feeling anxious as COVID-19 spreads and could benefit from a little relaxation and renewal. Mindfulness, or the idea of slowing down and being in the moment, is already proven to be a great tool for boosting mood and productivity. One great, simple way to achieve this state of zen as a team is to take several long deep breaths together. Here are some other great group mindfulness exercises to try.   

4) Leverage animal/kid therapy

Caring for and sharing our pets is a scientifically-proven way to cut people’s stress and bring a little joy. With everyone engaged in remote work and close to their fur babies, do a little cat, dog, or guinea pig, show and tell during remote meetings. Have team members bring each pet on-screen to introduce their animal—or child, because everyone’s kids are likely lurking behind the couch, too— and it can be great to incorporate some laughs and team-bonding into the workday. Change the mindset about a pet or child getting on camera from a “faux-pa” to a “fun-paw” by normalizing and embracing it.

Who DOESN’T want to see the love of my life, Nikka???

Nikka the Bernese Mountain Dog

5) Give the gift of music

Music is another powerful tool for happy making, research shows, and everyone’s got a favorite song! And, according to this study in the Psychology of Music, music can be a great medium for facilitating higher quality relationships amongst your team. So, have each team member play a recording of a song for everyone at break times during remote meetings. You could even make it more specific, such as asking everyone to play a favorite song from when they were in high school, or the song they danced to at their wedding. Another great way to share music is to have musical team-members share songs they can play on guitar, piano, or whatever instrument they play. If everyone has instruments lying around, perhaps breaks are used to learn a song together?

6) Exercise your civic responsibility collectively!

Sometimes, all someone needs to exercise their civic duty is for others to do it with them. As everyone works on their teams from home, take one of your fifteen-minute breaks to fill out the 2020 Census together. The 2020 census is designed to count every living person in the United States, and is important—especially during COVID-19—for providing critical data to politicians, business owners, teachers, and medical professionals. It’s online and easy to fill out as a group!


These are just a few tips for more human-centered remote meetings, and maybe you’ve come up with some of your own? Share your ideas in the comments below!

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Coonoor Behal
written by

Coonoor Behal

Coonoor Behal is Founder & CEO of Mindhatch, and an experienced and recognized business strategy and innovation consultant with focused expertise in design thinking, improvisation, and innovation facilitation.

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