The Ultimate Guide to Better Video Meetings

Avoid meeting fatigue and keep your remote team happy and engaged by creating an energizing meeting environment. With these tips, you'll re-engage your teams on video calls and hold more productive meetings.

Startups move fast, which means remote startup employees (and especially people managers) are in a lot of video meetings. Daily standups, 1:1s, team brainstorms, retros, all-company Town Halls…and that’s not even counting all the random conversations that don’t actually need to be meetings. These meetings end up getting scheduled anyway because how else do you talk in real-time, face-to-face with coworkers around the world? This guide will explore the reasons that make meetings so exhausting in the first place, and then provide tips to avoid these problems for some of the most common types of video meetings that remote startups hold.

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The Ultimate Guide to Better Video Meetings

Photograph of Philip Wang
Morgan Smith

For the last few years, remote employees have had two primary options for communicating with each other: 

  1. Send written communication, like Slack messages or emails
  2. Schedule a meeting to talk on a video call or voice call

Unlike working in a physical or virtual office where you can simply walk up to someone to ask them a question, isolated remote employees are often forced to schedule meetings with each other to communicate verbally in real-time. 

With everyone in so many meetings, the question becomes: How do you avoid meeting fatigue and keep your team energized and engaged with their work? 

We got you, we’re here to help! 

Before you can hold more engaging video meetings, it’s important to understand what’s not working so you can focus on the right solutions. 

Let’s start by exploring the reasons that make meetings so exhausting in the first place, and then provide tips to avoid these problems for some of the most common types of video meetings that remote startups hold.  

Let’s get started! 

Why remote employees burn out from video calls

‍A 2021 study by Virtira Consulting revealed that nearly half of individuals working remotely (49%) reported a level of burnout as a result of being on webcams for long hours. Woof.

We are sure you know when employees are burnt out, everything is at risk: Their productivity, creativity, collaboration, and job satisfaction. 

So, why are virtual meetings so exhausting? Here are five common reasons: 

  1. Bad meeting preparation 
  2. Too many meetings
  3. Getting bored of the video grid
  4. Clunky collaboration tools
  5. Feeling isolated when the meeting ends

Bad meeting preparation

Issue: When attendees lack context or guidelines for how they should interact in the meeting, it’s not easy to feel confident contributing. This is even more true in remote environments, because there’s the added step of having to unmute to talk or the awkwardness of interrupting someone to “take over” the meeting. 

Fix: You need better meeting preparation. This includes detailed agendas, sending out pertinent information ahead of time, and thoughtful early planning

Too many meetings 

Issue: Remote teams are required to rely on meetings to communicate in real-time, even for quick chats that don’t actually need to be a scheduled conversation. This fills up calendars, takes away focus time, and requires logistics for something that was meant to be quick. Ain’t nobody got time for that!

Fix: You need better team time management. Assess all the meetings you and your team are in. Do you actually need them all? Are they scheduled during unproductive times? Pull up the calendar and see what you can cut. Don’t be shy, you can always add back something later.

Getting bored of the video grid 

Issue: Especially for managers who tend to be in back-to-back calls all day, the video grid can start to get really old. People grow weary of staring at the same screen all day, every day. 

Fix: Find ways to make virtual meetings interesting. The meeting app software your team uses can go a long way here; more on that in the next section.

Clunky collaboration tools

Issue: Virtual meetings require screen sharing, shared notes, real-time whiteboards, and a variety of other collaboration tools. If they’re not working or not built into your meeting app, it makes the meeting harder than it needs to be. This really disrupts productivity. 

Fix: Choose reliable collaboration tools and methods. Again, software (and how you use it) plays a big role in this. 

Feeling isolated when the meeting ends 

Issue: Once that video grid drops, it’s hard to feel connected to your team. This can cause feelings of isolation, which are especially multiplied after low-morale meetings. (Like announcing a disruptive team restructure or a teammate leaving.) 

Fix: You need to connect with your team outside of meetings. Spontaneous conversations and interactions can build better relationships and help someone feel like they’re truly a part of the remote team. 

Feeling exhausted just thinking about how to solve these meeting fatigue problems? We get it. There are simple changes you can start making today to reclaim your team’s time and help prevent burnout. 

First, we need to talk about software real quick, because it does make a difference in the options you have for improving remote team collaboration in meetings. 

Types of virtual meeting apps

You’re probably familiar with the standard options like Zoom, Google Meet, and Microsoft Teams. 

While these all work for the literal use of video conferencing, they leave a lot to be desired in terms of engagement, especially for fully remote teams who depend on virtual meetings for daily communication. 

Instead, remote startups and innovative teams of tomorrow are turning to interactive tools like Gather instead. 

Gather helps remote teams build digital Spaces that make virtual interactions more human. From collaborating in meetings to stopping by someone’s digital desk to say “hi,” Gather brings authenticity, spontaneity, and human-first collaboration to distributed teams. Neat, huh?

Now, obviously we're a little biased and believe that tools like Gather can help your team host better virtual meetings and ultimately build a stronger remote culture! Take it from us, we use the tool every day to work together regardless of distance.

As we discuss solutions for the most common meeting problems, we’ll include tips you can implement if you’re still using traditional software like Zoom, and then share Gather-specific advice if you’re ready to take engagement to the next level. 

Looking for a full comparison of meeting apps? Check out our top five list or the top Zoom alternatives

Common meeting types and how to keep them engaging

In this section, we’re going to explore five different types of meetings and break down how to avoid the five most common problems for each. 

Here are the five types of meetings we’ll explore: 

  • 1:1s
  • Recurring standups or status meetings
  • Brainstorms or discussions
  • All company Town Hall or All Hands 
  • Coworking

Virtual 1:1s

1:1 meetings often take place between a manager and a direct report or important crossfunctional collaborators. While sometimes the conversation stays focused on projects and day-to-day work, often 1:1s are a place for feedback (positive and negative), performance reviews, and discussing career goals. 

Due the personal nature of these calls, it’s critical to prepare for them in advance to ensure both parties walk away feeling good (or at least on the same page about next steps). 

How to prepare

Collaborate on the agenda with the other member of the 1:1 ahead of time, and then send it out for review at least 30 minutes before the meeting. This will ensure both people know what to expect from the conversation and can prepare accordingly. 

For Gather users: 

You can embed links into objects. So once the agenda is set, you could place it on your teammate’s desk for them to review before the call. 

The benefit of this over sharing it in Slack or via email is that they’ll find it without having to navigate a sea of other notifications first. It can also add a little pinch of delight to the moment. For example, leaving a note of positive feedback on someone’s virtual desk is a fun surprise to return to!

Scheduling tips

Receiving negative feedback first thing in the morning is a guaranteed way to crush productivity for the rest of the day. When scheduling a 1:1, be mindful of the conversation you need to have and the timing of it. 

We also recommend pulling up the calendar of the person you need to meet with. If they’re coming to the 1:1 right after five other back-to-back calls, you can take a guess that they’re going to be exhausted. Save both of yourselves the trouble and pick a different time! 

For Gather users: 

When you’re working in a Gather office, you’ll see your coworkers' avatars moving around throughout the day. You’ll get a sense for who’s been in meetings all day vs who’s had heads down time, and can adjust accordingly. 

Gather brings back visibility of team dynamics to remote workers, without having to manually pull up everyone’s calendars or stalk Slack to get a sense of how busy someone is. 

Keep it interesting

1:1s are a great chance to connect with your direct reports as people. Instead of diving straight into the agenda, take time at the beginning to bond and get to know each other. 

A casual conversation or a quick online game work well. You could also consider “getting out of the office,” by turning your videos off and maybe even going on a walk while you talk. Especially if either one of you has been in other meetings throughout the day, walking around can help bring the energy level back up!

For Gather users: 

Meeting in Gather automatically gives you a chance to walk around a virtual office to switch up your location. (And it’s surprising how even looking at a different part of a digital office can make it feel “new!”)

There are also built-in games and ways to interact with the Space, which act as great icebreakers to kick off the call. 

Collaboration tips

The primary goal of any 1:1 is that both manager and direct report leave on the same page. If anyone’s unclear about feedback given or expected performance outcomes, it only leads to greater confusion down the road. 

The best way to prevent this during the meeting is to take shared notes, so everyone knows exactly what’s expected. This helps document the conversation in real-time, so you have something to reference later, also. 

For Gather users: 

Like every other virtual meeting app, you can always open a Google Doc and share your screen while taking notes. 

You could also use a Whiteboard in Gather, which gives you a shared space for typing or drawing together. You can download the notes, or leave them up to revisit in the Space later. 

(Just don’t forget to “wipe it down” if you’re discussing anything confidential, otherwise anyone could walk up and see your notes, just like a real whiteboard.) 

How to connect outside of the 1:1

1:1s with difficult conversations can leave remote employees feeling…weird. As much as you can, try to stay reachable for the rest of the day via Slack and try to keep your calendar open for follow-up conversations. 

You may also want to consider proactively reaching out just to check in. This quick touchpoint can go a long way in decreasing any feelings of isolation or loneliness that creep in after the call is done. 

For Gather users:

You’ll have the opportunity to walk back to your desks together, or at least see each other throughout the virtual office the rest of the day. 

This can also give you a sense of how someone is feeling. Did they join their friends in the coworking spot like normal, or did they remain isolated at their desk the rest of the day? 

For a long time, remote managers haven’t had this kind of insight, but Gather brings back the visibility of how your team is doing.

Virtual standups or status meetings

These meetings often take place with a small group, either a team within the organization or sometimes a cross-functional group working on a project together. Standups typically occur at a regular frequency with a regular agenda, such as a daily status check or bi-weekly progress review. 

The repetition can increase productivity because meeting attendees know exactly what’s expected of them, but this can also cause these meetings to feel mundane and uninspiring. Standups are often some of the first meetings to be criticized with “This could’ve been an email,” so it’s your job to make sure they’re providing value to everyone in attendance. 

How to prepare

Be really specific about the information you want shared during a standup. For example, for a weekly team meeting, you might ask each person to share:

  • 1-3 priorities for the week
  • 1 thing they’re blocked on or need help with
  • 1 insight or win from last week

Having a structured format makes it easy for everyone to prepare, ensures no one person is taking up too much of the meeting time, and gives everyone a chance to speak. 

For Gather users: 

Use your Space to encourage the standup structure in a more engaging way. For example, share updates based on which chair they’re at around the table (going clockwise, for example.) Or you could build a custom, dedicated standup Space. 

One idea: Place three rugs on the floor, a green one, a yellow one, and a red one. Have standup attendees stand on each to communicate how they’re feeling about progress this week. 

  • Green = Good, on track
  • Yellow = Okay, in progress
  • Red = Concerned, blocked

If your entire group stands on the red rug, you don’t even need to hear their updates to know that things are off track. It adds a nice visual queue in addition to verbal or written updates. 

Scheduling tips

Standups usually happen at an agreed upon frequency, so it’s easiest just to set up a recurring calendar event so you don’t have to manually schedule these calls each time. 

Try to find a time where everyone can attend without having to reschedule other calls or interrupt focus time. Mornings, the end of the day, or right before or after lunch are typically good times for recurring meetings. 

For Gather users:

Some teams use standups mostly to have face-to-face time with everyone on the team, when realistically…the updates could be an email. 

Gather is great because it makes informal communication with your team easier. Because you can cowork together, walk up to people’s desks, or just see everyone moving around the virtual office, you might find you’re able to fully switch to digitally-written standups while still feeling connected to the team.

Everyone loves the hero on the team who’s able to remove a meeting from the calendar!

Keep it interesting

An easy way to break up the monotony of recurring standups is to add an icebreaker at the beginning. You’ll learn more about your coworkers, kick off some creative thinking, and help everyone ease into the conversation. 

For Gather users:

Use your virtual office to facilitate an icebreaker. Take this example of a “Rose, Bud, Thorn” room, for example.

Source: Komponent Works

The Rose, Bud, Thorn icebreaker is a creative way to reflect with your team and share what’s on your mind, based on the visual prompts. 

As you move from room to room, here’s what your discussion would sound like: 

  • Rose: What was beautiful, or what went well? What are you excited about or proud of? 
  • Bud: What’s blooming soon, or what’s on the horizon? What’s something upcoming that you’re looking forward to? 
  • Thorn: What hurts right now, or what’s difficult for you? And how can the rest of us help? 

Collaboration tips

With standups, it's easy for everyone to give their own update and sort of tune out while others speak. To prevent this, use a visual aide (like a shared Google Doc or Slides) that people can comment on and reference before/after the standup.  

For Gather users:

Gather allows multiple people to share their screen at the same time. It’s an easy way for anyone to share additional information without disrupting the general flow of the standup.

How to connect outside of the standup

Outside of meetings, it’s common for the group holding the standup to have a matching Slack channel, Asana project, Notion database, etc. 

This gives you other touchpoints to reach your team in the other tools you use throughout your day. 

For Gather users:

Have you ever reached the end of a group Zoom call, only to say to a single person, “Hey, do you have a minute to stay on?” 

Gather lets you naturally keep talking when the standup is over. Whether you’re strolling through the office together or walking up to someone’s desk, follow-up conversations don’t require a second meeting or extending the original call.

Virtual brainstorms or discussions

Brainstorms and discussion-based meetings are similar to standups in that they usually involve a group, but typically the topic is different each time, which makes them naturally a little more interesting! 

The best thing you can do for these calls is to provide as much information as possible ahead of the call, so everyone’s prepared to engage. 

How to prepare

Document everything you can about the topic (What’s the problem to solve? What’s been done in the past? What’s the goal?) and send this information to your meeting attendees at least a day in advance. 

If you’re presenting new information for the first time during a brainstorm, it’s likely you’ll need to schedule a follow-up call so people have time to process and suggest ideas they believe in. 

For Gather users:

Once you’ve created the project brief, drop it off on Gather desks (via an object with an embedded link) a day before the meeting. You could also leave it in the meeting room you’ll use, allowing people to walk up to it and dedicate some preparation time. 

Scheduling tips

Schedule your discussion in advance to give everyone enough time to review the context you’ve prepared, do their own research, and complete their normal weekly tasks. 

And don’t force it. If everyone’s preparing for a big Wednesday launch, don’t schedule a brainstorm for a new project on Tuesday – wait until later in the week when the launch is complete. 

For Gather users:

Haven’t seen your teammates at their digital desks all day because they’ve been running from virtual conference room to virtual conference room? Gather gives you visibility into what your team is doing, so you can make strategic scheduling decisions (like moving a brainstorm if it’s clear no one’s had adequate preparation time.)  

Keep it interesting

Kick off this meeting with a creative exercise. This will help energize your attendees and create an environment where everyone feels comfortable sharing ideas. After all, whether you’re brainstorming or trying to make a decision, you want to make sure everyone is empowered to voice their opinion (even if it’s silly answers to an icebreaker at the start).

For Gather users:

Again, use the virtual Space to your advantage. A fun exercise for this scenario is to facilitate a debate. For example, if you’ll have six people in your meeting, you might sit at a table with three red chairs and three blue chairs. Everyone in the red chairs has to argue FOR an idea, while everyone in the blue argues AGAINST it. 

When you add the element of “physical” space back to your virtual meetings, you have a lot more options for facilitating discussions and creative exercises. 

Collaboration tips

Ideally, this meeting will go so well that people are sharing ideas left and right! To make sure you document everything you discuss, you’ll want to designate someone to take notes and may even consider recording the meeting.

For Gather users:

One of the objects built into Gather is a Pomodoro timer. (It’s powered by Cuckoo, and looks like a bird!) This object is helpful for putting a time limit on your brainstorm or discussion, to make sure you save time at the end for discussing next steps. 

How to connect outside of the brainstorm

Remote teams often leave a brainstorm or discussion feeling inspired and connected. Try to keep that energy flowing by following up in Slack or sharing results from whatever was decided. 

For Gather users:

Sometimes you don’t actually need a dedicated meeting for a full brainstorm or discussion, but rather you’d just like to bounce ideas off of someone other than yourself. 

Teams on Gather often create a coworking space. Think of it like the water cooler or lunch room – a space where anyone’s avatar can sit and chat with others. These spaces are perfect for these informal brainstorms, especially with people outside of your immediate team.

Virtual All hands or Town Hall

These company-wide events are usually hosted by leadership or upper management to keep the entire company up-to-date about projects, results, and strategic changes. 

Often there are few speakers relative to the size of the video call, which can make it difficult for participants to engage with each other. And because this is where “big” company updates are usually announced, the feeling of isolation when the Town Hall ends is a big risk. 

How to prepare

Involve your middle managers. They’re the direct line to individual contributors throughout the company, which gives them a unique opportunity to reinforce company-wide strategy or reassure the team after big changes are announced. 

As you prepare the agenda for the All Hands meeting, consider how you can prepare your managers, also, for any follow-up questions they might receive from their teams. 

For Gather users:

Embed the agenda, slides, or recordings in the Space. This makes it easy for anyone in the company to reference later or get a preview of what’s to come.  

Scheduling tips

Once you find a time that works for your All Hands, set the recurring meeting event and don’t change it. Consistency is key here, so employees know when to expect communication from the leadership team. 

And choose a frequency that makes the most of this time together. Because all your employees will be there, it’s an expensive meeting. Make it matter!

For Gather users: 

Make sure to add the link to your Town Hall room to the recurring meeting event. Then for everyone who’s linked their Google calendar to Gather, they’ll be able to click “Take me there” to head straight to the meeting. 

This will help make sure employees never miss this important meeting with the rest of the company!

Keep it interesting

Town Hall meetings shouldn’t feel like lectures. Let your company culture shine! Show videos, share compliments from clients, and have multiple members of the leadership team speak to engage members of the whole company. 

For Gather users: 

React in real-time beyond posting messages in the chat. Throw confetti, start dancing, or high-five your coworkers. These little moments of engagement will bring you closer together during an All Hands, even if your audio and video are turned off. 

Collaboration tips

Encourage participation from the entire company, even if you only have a few members of the leadership team formally presenting. Use chat for side conversations, and consider ways to get involved before the Town Hall takes place (like nominating fellow coworkers for a shoutout or submitting a “win” to celebrate together).

For Gather users: 

Have important docs you reference during your All Hands? Embed them in objects throughout the Space, so everyone can easily access them without digging through Slack or chat. 

For example, our own team uses a Google Form to collect questions that are answered in a Q&A at the end of All Hands. The form is embedded in several signs throughout our dedicated All Hands room, which makes it easy to reference and actually ask questions. 

How to connect outside of the All Hands

One of the benefits of a regular Town Hall meeting is that employees get a chance to see others in the company outside of the people they normally meet with. 

To promote this feeling outside of a full-company meeting, consider creating a culture where employees are encouraged to connect with a random member of the company every few weeks. (Donut for Slack has become popular for this.)  

For Gather users: 

No more isolation when Town Hall ends! Employees can continue talking in the meeting room, walk back to their desks together, or simply know they’re not alone by seeing everyone’s avatars around them. 

Sharing disruptive news during All Hands? Gather also makes it easy for managers or leadership to hold “office hours,” or time they’re available to answer private questions following a Town Hall. 

While you can technically do this without Gather, it’s a lot less intimidating to walk up to someone’s desk when they’re sitting there alone than it is to send a Slack message to your CEO asking to schedule 15 minutes of their time. 

Virtual Coworking

These meetings are less of an actual meeting and more of a way to just feel connected to your remote coworkers. They inspire cross-functional conversation, which can lead to better ideas and productivity for the entire organization.  

Generally for remote teams, you have to set up a meeting in order to hold a virtual coworking session. If you’re using Gather, however, you can do this naturally throughout your virtual office – no meeting required. 

How to prepare

Really the only preparation required for coworking sessions is that you announce to others when they’re happening and how they can join. 

To make others find them enjoyable and productive, however, you may want to prepare a few icebreakers to keep conversation going or focus the session around a specific type of work so everyone’s working on a similar task. (A coworking session for customer support, for example, where everyone is responding to customer emails together.) 

For Gather users: 

Add a coworking space in your office that people can join at any time. This helps remove the need to prepare anything, as it’s always available as a digital amenity to use. 

A large table with lots of chairs works well. We recommend placing it in a central location in your office, that way it’s easy for everyone to see when others are there. 

Scheduling tips

Don’t schedule coworking sessions during “prime” meeting time. After all, you’ll want that time for more important brainstorms and structured calls! Coworking is best during more casual times, such as after lunch or Friday afternoons. 

For Gather users: 

We find it’s best to have two types of coworking spaces in your office: a quiet zone and a social zone. This gives people the option to choose what type of Space they want to work based on their workload and communication needs each day. 

Introverts especially love the quiet zones, because it’s a way to peacefully connect with others without as much pressure to “talk” the whole time!

Keep it interesting

Co-working sessions tend to come up naturally between people in the same team. To mix it up, schedule one with another department, like Marketing and Sales. This gives you a chance to build deeper cross-functional relationships.

For Gather users: 

With coworking spaces available 24/7 in your Gather office, there’s always the opportunity to connect with someone you don’t normally get to from your team. It’s naturally exciting! 

To make sure these areas feel extra special, however, consider designing them differently from the rest of your office. For example, you may design your quiet coworking area to feel like a library and your social area to feel like a beach. The digital environment can help reinforce the type of behavior you want. 

This is from the rooftop of our Startup Template for 18-25 people. View all Templates here.  

Collaboration tips

The most important collaboration elements for virtual coworking are ensuring your audio, video, and chat are working, that way you can communicate with the people you’re coworking with. 

For Gather users: 

This is another great time to make use of the built-in Pomodoro timer. If the coworking chatter is getting a little too distracting, consider setting a timer for focused work time for the group, and then taking a break together when the time is up. 

How to connect outside of coworking sessions

This is where all your other work tools come into play: Slack, Google Docs, Notion, etc. Outside of a coworking session, you’re likely communicating with your team in these other digital tools. You’ll get a (small) sense of “working together” as you see activity notifications filling up your inbox. 

For Gather users: 

Feel a sense of presence with your remote coworkers whenever you want, no meeting, coworking, or notifications required. 

When you look at your Gather office, you’ll see people moving around and talking to each other. Without ever turning your video on or reading all the messages you need to catch up on, you’ll feel a sense of connection to these other people around the world who are working on the same company mission that you are. 

Conclusion: It IS possible to hold engaging meetings for remote teams

While there will always be times you want to bring your distributed team together in the same place (Quarterly retreats! Yearly offsites!), that doesn’t mean that meetings have to be a boring battle the rest of the year. 

If you want to avoid meeting fatigue and keep your remote team happy and engaged, prioritize creating an energizing meeting environment. With these tips, you'll re-engage your teams on video calls and hold more productive meetings. 

And if you’re interested in adding a whole new layer of depth to virtual collaboration, try a meeting on Gather today. It’s free for teams smaller than 25 people!

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