Virtual meetings have changed the way state and local governments engage with one another, their communities, and elected officials – here’s how to make them better.
Organizations around the world suddenly had to change the way they work when COVID-19 necessitated employees and operations move remote.
Local and state governments had a bigger challenge in the transition to virtual environments, especially since the very nature of their work was predicated on in-person services. Further, the government organizations we spoke to had regulations that mandated in-person meetings, so there had not been a need to invest heavily in remote meeting technologies and process planning. When the move to virtual work become required to continue to operate, a technology gap appeared.
Most organizations quickly adopted Microsoft Teams or a similar solution, but were still left struggling with how to implement the technology and create the appropriate structured processes to enable efficient engagement with each other and communities they serve.
“Meetings were a particular challenge to the public sector,” said Jorgen Solberg, CEO of Decisions, the meeting SaaS solution for Microsoft Teams and Office 365. “Local and state government meetings require a necessary degree of formality, with a high number of participants and now the added complexity of being virtual.”
Let’s break government meetings into two segments: public meetings and general staff (or internal) meetings.
The more complicated meetings that government CIOs, CTOs, digital officers and technology teams needed to address quickly were public meetings. Public meetings typically involve committees and elected officials, with regulatory guidelines for how the meeting should be run.
“Using Microsoft Teams to run public meetings enabled many of our users to have a much smoother experience,” continued Solberg. “The agenda, voting and speaker management were built right into the virtual meeting tool itself, which allowed participants to focus on the actual meeting.”
Coordinating discussions will ensure participants are heard and eliminate the chaos of people talking over one another.
When the staff member or meeting secretary begins the session, hold participants in the “virtual waiting area” available in most virtual meeting technology, including Teams, so everyone joins the meeting simultaneously when it is ready to start. Additionally, mute all participants when the meeting is “opened” to ensure accidental background noise is at a minimum.
The most popular virtual meeting technology, including Microsoft Teams, have hand raise features that will allow you to call on people in order. Users of Microsoft Teams can also access the Speak Now add-in, which provides an ordered speaker list, plus the ability to make a rejoinder to the existing speaker and request a recess.
Formal, organized voting on resolutions and other measures is an important part of public meetings.
Since the meeting is being recorded, participants can respond verbally or with cue cards on camera when a vote is called. The staff member coordinating the meeting can simultaneously create a written record of the responses for the meeting minutes.
Staff meetings are easier to address because they are not held to the precise processes and regulations as public and committee meetings. These are meetings between the internal employees of the state or local government – not those in elected or appointed positions.
We suggest these four easy-to-implement tips to improve staff meetings – whether your employees are virtual, in-person or a hybrid of the two.
Create a well-planned agenda
Agendas are the foundation to productive meetings and can increase meeting preparation, engagement and energy. Creating structured agendas gives attendees the information they need to prepare and provides a guideline so the meeting stays on track.
The agenda include: Assigned topic owners, a clear purpose at both the meeting and topic level (why are meeting and why this topic – for information, discussion or decision), questions to prepare participants for the discussion, and relevant attached documents.
Read more: 8 tips to build an effective agenda
Prepare for the meeting
Successful virtual meetings are not just the responsibility of the meeting organizer. Meeting participants should actively prepare for the meeting by reading the agenda in advance, making notes of questions and comments to bring up in the meeting, and even starting pre-meeting conversations on a platform like Microsoft Teams.
Record clear meeting minutes
Taking meeting minutes is not just for large committee meetings or those involving the public. Minutes capture the purpose of a meeting and the agreed upon outcomes, serving as a record for reference later. They ensure a common recollection of the topics discussed, elements agreed to and important tasks to be completed. More formal meetings might require detailed minutes that outline discussions, while less formal meetings should focus on capturing decisions and tasks.
The minutes are especially critical for meetings governed by policy, as they provide the public with a transparent recording of what was discussed and what to expect next.
Read more: How to write great meeting minutes
Summarize action items
Outline meeting takeaways to ensure clarity and hold people accountable. Summarize tasks and decisions at the end of each meeting, record them clearly in the meeting minutes, and review past due and upcoming tasks in the next meeting. These steps will give participants an opportunity to clarify outstanding questions and keeps people focused on action items.
While virtual meetings have challenges, they also offer unprecedented opportunities to engage with the community. Today, people who might not have been able to attend in-person meetings can now participate in their local governments online and structure given to virtual meetings can often make them run more efficiently than their in-person counterparts.
Author or Company Bio
Decisions is an award-winning meeting solution for Microsoft Teams and Office 365 that offers government and public sector organizations a secure and efficient way to serve their communities. With Decisions, organizations can access dozens of features built entirely into Office 365 to improve meeting collaboration, engagement and productivity. Learn more at https://www.meetingdecisions.com/public-sector-meetings.
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