Virtual meetings have been around for years. But, thanks to COVID-19, they’ve exploded. Take Zoom, for example. The company announced on April 22, 2020, that it had surpassed 300 million daily Zoom meeting participants. And, even if things go back to some sort of standard, I think that these types of remote events are here to stay.

Unfortunately, as our calendars become increasingly full of virtual meetings, they can become exhausting, distracting, and add even more stress and anxiety to our lives. Eventually, if we have too many meetings, it’s going to cause morale to plummet. You can avoid the negative consequences as long as you freshen your team’s virtual meetings using the following then techniques.

1. Start with a sizzle.

“When people turn up to your meeting, their brains are all in different states based on where they’ve come from previously,” writes author and workplace wellbeing teacher Michelle McQuaid. For example, they may be tired because they’ve been working all day or just finished homeschooling their kids. Suffice to say, they’re not exactly in the right mindset just yet.

“To get them into a broadened state of mind you want to inject some positivity by asking ‘What’s working well?’, sharing a funny story or joke, using a good video clip or even trying a silly (but task-related) quiz or game to get people laughing and feeling good,” suggests McQuaid.

Publicly acknowledging the achievements of specific team members is another way to kick-off your meeting on a high note. You’ll find about 71% of highly engaged employees work in organizations where their peers recognized at least once a month. The reason? According to avid Sturt, author of Great Work: How to Make a Difference People Love, public recognition “in a meeting or peer group makes people feel even more appreciated.” However, presenting an award in public “is most effective in conveying a sense of a good job properly acknowledged.”

2. Plan themed days.

“Get your team together for a themed day,” suggests Esther Yoon over on the Zoom Blog. “Zoom’s internal Happy Crew does a great job putting together themed days where Zoom employees can get on Gallery View and share each other’s get-ups” for holidays or work-from-events.

Need some ideas? How about dressing up as your favorite superhero or hosting a formal event? You could also throw a beach party, bring your pet to work, host a movie night, or plan virtual lunches where everyone shares their favorite recipes. With so many options, this could easily become a fun and recurring event.

3. Conduct weekly team check-ins.

If you’re frequently meeting, let’s say once a week, then you should also allow time to discuss non-work related topics. As a leader, you could go around to each attendee and ask how they’re doing and what they could use help with. It’s a small gesture that shows that you sincerely care about them. What’s more, this could build rapport among your team members since it can help them learn from each other.

You could also use this time to provide industry updates or squash myths. For example, there’s a lot of uncertainty and confusion surrounding COVID-19. Do a little research and share with your team members fact-based resources that can keep them calm, safe, and healthy.

4. Mind your manners.

One of the perks about working from home is that your days don’t have to be as formal. For example, you can work in casual clothes, not worry about distracting co-workers, and have some flexibility with your schedule. Over time, you might get a little too comfy when it’s time for a video call.

That’s why you should always keep virtual meeting etiquette on the top of your mind. It shows others that you’re respectful, professional, and it keeps the event moving along seamlessly. For example, if you have a bowl of soup for lunch and you’re slurping the daylights out of it, that’s not only distracting, it’s also annoying — research shows that such loud noises are insufferable.

Don’t know where to start? Well, in a previous Calendar article, here are some suggestions from Deanna Ritchie:

  • Use technology that participants are already familiar with.
  • Keep your hands off your keyboard during the meeting.
  • Mute your mic when not speaking.
  • Speak clearly and concisely.
  • Only have essential windows and programs open.
  • Do not multitask, like checking your smartphone or playing games.
  • Get dressed.
  • Make sure that your background is appropriate.

Most importantly, don’t waste anyone else’s time. Make sure that you test your connection and meeting settings in advance, arrive on time, come prepared, and don’t keep attendees longer than needed. And, if a meeting isn’t essential, look for meeting alternatives like email, quick phone call, or online chats.

5. Use silence to improve brainstorming.

“Research supports the benefits of embracing silence during meetings to better leverage the ideas, perspectives, and insights of all attendees,” notes Liana Kreamer and Steven G. Rogelberg for HBR. “Silent brainstorming produces significantly more ideas than brainstorming out loud — and these ideas tend to be more creative and of higher quality.”

“Why? Because encouraging meeting attendees to contribute — silently and individually — allows multiple people to express their ideas all at once,” explain Kreamer and Rogelberg. “Instead of hearing from one attendee at a time and responding to each person, many voices can be “heard” via this written style of brainstorming.”

What’s more, “because the written brainstorming can be done anonymously, there is less filtering of ideas.” In turn, this “allows attendees to write their contributions with less fear of judgment.” Hence making this an ideal technique for remote meetings.

6. Organize virtual team-building activities.

Team building activities are a proven way to promote teamwork. As a result, this improves synergy, unity, innovation, communication, and trust. Additionally, teamwork will boost efficiency and morale.

Best of all? There are hundreds of virtual team building activities out there that you can use to spice up your next team call. Examples include virtual happy hours, scavenger hunts, or games like Charades. You could also have fitness, DIY craft, or online game challenges.

Need more ideas? You could host a learning workshop, hold a background contest, or have virtual lunches together. There are even offline options like a book club or gratitude commitments.

I suggest that you head over to SnackNation for even more ideas. They have a solid list of 52 virtual team building activities for remote teams.

7. Challenge your team.

As noted by HBR, an easy way to make employees happier is to challenge them. And, whether you realize it or meetings are the perfect platform to push your team members. For example, you could ask them to recall how they overcame a challenge or brainstorm a problem as a team.

Another perk? Asking this question will keep them engaged during the duration of the event since it adds a little interactivity to it.

8. Embrace the unexpected.

There’s nothing wrong with routines. They can actually come in handy when you need structure or a sense of normalcy. At the same time, they can thwart creativity and lead to boredom and monotony.

To prevent those downsides, occasionally surprise your team. For instance, you could take your team on a virtual road trip to a museum or destination like Yellowstone National Park. You could invite a guest speaker to teach invitees something new or have a yoga session. Or, you could delight them by inviting a goat, llama, chicken, or cat to your meeting.

9. Don’t disrupt schedules.

“Office morale often suffers if team members are feeling like they can’t meet their personal, social, or family obligations outside of work,” Ashely Fidel for The Muse. “As a manager, you should set up your team for professional success—but also help team members achieve goals in their personal lives.”

“An easy way to do this is to talk regularly with your team about their preferred weekly schedules,” recommends Fidel. “Find out which employees have standing appointments—book club on Wednesday evenings, yoga at 6 PM on Tuesdays, breakfast with a mentor on Mondays—and make it a priority to accommodate those schedules.”

“No, you won’t be able to work around everyone all the time,” she adds. But, “if you’re helping your team members maintain a happy life outside of work, they’ll bring a better attitude to the office.”

10. Follow the peak-end rule.

As defined by Wikipedia, “The peak-end rule is a psychological heuristic in which people judge an experience largely based on how they felt at its peak (i.e., its most intense point) and at its end, rather than based on the total sum or average of every moment of the experience.”

It was developed by Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman and can be used to make your meetings happier and more productive. I don’t want to get too much into the psychology here. But, the key takeaway should be ending the remote meeting on a high note so that they’ll feel motivated and excited about the next event.

You can leave on a high plain by asking positive-direction questions like, “What did you find most valuable?” Sincerely thank them for attending. And end your meeting with a call-to-action like what steps they should take before the next gathering — or where each employee believes the company is headed.