Ways to Increase the Quality of Virtual Meetings

woman leading virtual meeting
Topic(s): goals, performance, teams
Publication: Harvard Business Review (2021)
Article: (A) Make Time for Small Talk in Your Virtual Meetings; (B) 3 Steps to Better Virtual Meetings
Authors: (A) B. Frisch, C. Greene; (B) S.D. Anthony, P. Cobban, N. Painchaud, A. Parker
Reviewed by: Mona Bapat, PhD

Though Zoom and other online platforms have allowed organizations to hold virtual meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic, making those meetings productive and engaging has been difficult. How can organizations improve the quality of virtual meetings?


Small Talk

The concept of small talk does not typically have a positive connotation. Further, employees who are trying to balance work and family might get frustrated with excessive non-work conversation on Zoom when they could be spending that time with their kids.

On the other hand, we may have forgotten that small talk was very much a part of the work environment prior to the pandemic. When first arriving at the office, there was chit-chat with cubicle neighbors prior to settling down and logging into the computer. There may also be short conversations in the break room as employees pop in to refill their cups of coffee.

Moreover, social distancing has taken away opportunities to connect with co-workers over lunch, happy hours, potlucks, and team-building activities. These types of events and office small talk allow co-workers to connect with each other, which helps build team cohesion.

For this reason, Harvard Business Review authors (Frisch & Greene, 2021) suggest that small talk should actually be a part of virtual meetings; the authors offer four suggestions:

  1. Put small talk as the first item on the agenda. For example, it could be called “Informal conversation time.” 
  2. Start the meeting with individual check-ins or an ice breaker activity. 
  3. Add an agenda item made for sharing opinions or conjecture. For example, “What is the first thing you plan to do once the pandemic is over?”
  4. Leave unstructured time at the end of meetings.

Allowing time for staff to interact can hopefully meet the needs of everyone: those who value the informal conversations with their coworkers, and those who could join a meeting late or leave early if that extra 10 or 15 minutes helps them to do non-work tasks. 

Build a BEAN

The phenomenon known as “Zoom fatigue” is another problem associated with virtual meetings. The added layer of technology presents more challenges, whether it be due to eye strain from looking at a computer screen for long periods of time or not being able to make eye contact with co-workers. These issues make it harder to engage in creative problem solving or hold contentious but necessary discussions. 

A second group of Harvard Business Review authors (Anthony et al., 2021) provide a formula for addressing such challenges. They recommend building a BEAN – which stands for Behavior Enablers, Artifacts, and Nudges. Behavioral enablers are things that help people enact desired behaviors (e.g., checklists for accomplishing tasks). Artifacts and nudges are reinforcements for the behaviors (e.g., visual reminders, alarms). The process begins with setting a clear behavior goal, identifying “behavioral blockers” that stand in its way, and then “building a BEAN” to overcome the blocker and encourage the behavioral goal.


Given the need for virtual meetings, it is helpful to have a solid plan to allow for better communication, stronger interpersonal connection, and increased productivity. Following the advice of these articles will help organizations overcome some of the problems they may currently face.


Anthony, S.D., Cobban, P., Painchaud, N., & Parker, A. (2021). 3 steps to better virtual meetings. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2021/02/3-steps-to-better-virtual-meetings

Frisch, B., & Greene, C. (2021). Make time for small talk in your virtual meetings. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2021/02/make-time-for-small-talk-in-your-virtual-meetings