Balancing Productivity and Personal Connections During a Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has left no facet of our lives untouched, including the way we do business. Over the past year, meeting apps such as Zoom and FaceTime have been a lifeline for maintaining both business and personal connections, but virtual burnout is inevitable.

As such, the challenge of conducting effective and exciting business meetings has become more daunting than ever before.
Luckily, there are ways to reduce virtual burnout while also fostering productivity and personal connections. Read on for ideas from local meeting experts.

1. Consider holding an occasional in-person meeting if you can do so safely.

Although virtual meetings are the safest option right now, several local venues have continued to offer their meeting spaces during the pandemic with safety protocols in place. If your company is staying vigilant in terms of employee health checks and you feel that an in-person meeting is necessary, these venues can assist you.

“We are pleased to say we have continued to stay open and offer meeting spaces throughout the pandemic,” says Ben Williamson, manager of Liberty Mountain Conference Center. “We have had to be flexible and creative through this time so as to comply with all of the governor’s mandates, while also introducing measures of our own, which include masks, spaced out seating options, and vigilant cleaning and disinfecting between groups.”

The Virginian Hotel also continues to host meetings and events, as long as they are abiding by the limit of people the governor’s office has mandated. “[We] require the use of masks throughout all areas of the hotel, unless seated at a designated table in a private event or restaurant while eating and drinking,” says Shelley Simpson Waldeck, director of sales and marketing at the Virginian Hotel.

Waldeck also says to keep in mind that regardless of any state mandates, you may need to utilize a larger space to accommodate social distancing protocols. Jennifer Adamczyk, director of sales at Hilton Garden Inn and Homewood Suites, agrees.

“We do allow groups at both of our properties and strictly adhere to both the government and Hilton guidelines,” says Adamczyk. “Seating for corporate meetings is one person per six-foot table and social events have three people per 72-inch round. This allows for plenty of distancing between the guests.”

2. Add variety to virtual meetings.

Ice-breakers, breakout activities, and breaks should not be reserved for in-person meetings only. Opportunities for lighthearted social interaction are especially important when colleagues cannot be together in person and may also be experiencing isolation in their personal lives. Additionally, although attendees may be able to attend virtual meetings from the comfort of their own homes, breaks are still necessary for productivity and morale.

“Virtual meetings can remain interactive and exciting for attendees by introducing the attendees, assigning small tasks or projects throughout the meeting, and using virtual breakout options with specific goals to accomplish within the timeframe,” Adamczyk says. “A variety of speakers, breakouts, group tasks and breaks can keep the flow of the meeting interesting.”

Exercise breaks and scavenger hunts are two specific ideas you may want to consider integrating.

“When meeting with a group virtually, you remain stationary in one place for a long period of time,” Waldeck says. “I recently attended a virtual meeting where the presenter took a portion of the morning session to have us all meditate and stretch. It was very relaxing and allowed us all to get into a ‘zone.’ After lunch, a time when people start to become less engaged, the presenter had us do a quick scavenger hunt, collecting items from our homes to meet a certain description. It was fun, active and allowed us to get our heart rates up.”

3. Keep virtual meetings as concise as possible.

Of course, including these breaks and engaging events should be utilized thoughtfully and in such a way that the meeting can still be fairly concise.

“My recommendation to presenters is that all meetings, whether virtual or in person, should be as concise as possible,” Williamson says. “You want to prepare as much in advance as possible so that the most important information is communicated, but not drag on longer than necessary. And allow time for questions, clarification, and connection. This is obviously going to vary from meeting to meeting.”

Adamczyk believes that around three hours is an ideal time limit for a virtual meeting. “The length of a virtual meeting can be a determining factor in the success of the meeting,” she says. “Keeping the meeting to three hours or less will help the attendees stay focused and keep distractions at bay.”

4. Try to maintain a positive outlook and make the best of a challenging situation.

For all its innovation, technology tends to add stress and require some troubleshooting. Virtual meetings will inevitably involve some microphone and camera issues, lost connections, and other patience-testing scenarios.

It is important to remember that, despite these sometimes frustrating issues, your team is still united by a common desire to communicate and work together effectively. Increased use of technology does not mean you have to reinvent the wheel, and technology issues will not derail your team and your objectives if you try to stay positive. You will likely grow and learn—and perhaps even laugh together— which will only make you stronger as a team.

“In most cases, I would think the primary goals of a business meeting are connection and communication,” Williamson says. “I don’t think that the goals have changed, but I do think the new environment does present some new challenges to overcome on both fronts. Stay patient through the bumps in the road with technology.”

5. Consider the positives that could shape the future of business meetings for the better.
The effects of the pandemic will undoubtedly be sweeping and long-lasting in many aspects of our lives, but not all of these effects will necessarily be negative. Virtual meetings will likely become more commonplace and thus more innovative and effective, and in-person meetings will likely be much safer and may mean a little bit more to us than they used to.

While Waldeck and Adamczyk agree virtual meetings will continue to be more common even after the pandemic, in-person meetings are not going anywhere—and they may even improve when this is all said and done.

“Nothing beats an in-person meeting,” says Waldeck. “Being able to be in the same room together and experience the same senses—food and beverage, light, and temperature—connects people more than you think! It allows you to create memories in a more focused atmosphere.”

“There will always be the need to connect in person and the extra precautions we are taking will make a permanent footprint on the industry,” notes Adamcyzk. “Events will be cleaner, safer and more creative.”