How to make virtual meetings and events more engaging and inclusive

They were a novelty at first, but now that we’re used to them, it’s clear there are some serious drawbacks to Zoom and other digital meeting platforms. One person’s audio isn’t working, another has a screaming child or barking dog in the background, and others are clearly not paying attention, unless of course the meeting is interrupted by a Zoombomber.

Another problem is that it can be hard to read the virtual room. With fewer nonverbal clues, people often talk over each other. A 2019 Women in the Workplace report created by McKinsey and LeanIn.org found that 50% of women surveyed had experienced being interrupted or spoken over during a workplace meeting. Digital meeting platforms have likely made the situation worse, allowing workplace bullies to hide behind their screens.

But with some workplaces going permanently remote, it looks like Zoom, Skype and Google Hangouts are here to stay. Luckily, there are ways to make virtual meetings more entertaining, compelling and equitable, according to Creative Impact Group President Joanne Brooks, whose company stages corporate events such as trade shows, product launch celebrations, team building exercises, and lately, virtual meetings. Brooks offered the following tips for agents looking to think outside the “Brady Bunch” Zoom box to create a memorable virtual event.

  • Plan ahead. Create an agenda and share it prior to the meeting, but don’t stop there. Have a plan in place in case the meeting — or any participant — goes off on a tangent. Knowing how to bring it back on track is key to keeping participants involved while avoiding dead air or a loss on engagement.
  • Build inclusive interaction. Attendees will get the most out of your meeting if they are able to participate before, during and after the meeting. Find out what participants want to discuss beforehand, organize breakout groups to give attendees the chance to interact and discuss topics at hand, and follow up with relevant resources afterward.
  • Take breaks. Attention spans are even shorter in a virtual setting, according to Brooks, so it’s important to give audience members time to process all the information you’re giving them. The venue may be virtual, but attendees can still move around their space. Incorporate physical movement — even elements of yoga — to retain concentration and focus during a long meeting.
  • Bring in some talent. For a special virtual event, surprise guests by bringing in a comedian, local celebrity or important figure in your company to moderate the meeting. Give attendees a chance to ask questions and interact, something they can’t get from watching a recording. Other ideas to engage stressed out clients or associates include hosting an interactive cooking demo or a virtual fitness training session.
  • Hit them up with treats. Not everything has to be virtual, said Brooks. She suggested mailing packages with branded items ahead of the meeting or delivering lunch to participants’ homes, a memorable way to thank attendees for their time and engagement.
  • Rehearse. Treat a large virtual event like any other involved production you might undertake and give it a dry run ahead of time. Make sure your content is polished, technology is working, and key players are on script.

If you’re looking to work optimally from home, our article on productivity habits has you covered. If you’re looking for other ways to adapt to the new landscape created by COVID-19, read our post on staging for the post-coronavirus era.

3 ways landlords can be a resource for struggling tennants

3 ways landlords can be a resource for struggling tenants

Everyone in the multifamily sector is feeling the pain of the COVID-19 outbreak right now, from owners to residents to maintenance workers.

“There’s a lot of stress out there,” Doug Bibby, president of the National Multifamily Housing Council, said in a webinar organized by the Urban Land Institute to examine what owners and operators of multifamily buildings can do to ease the pain of the coronavirus pandemic and the social isolation that comes with combating it. “Love on your residents any way you can.”

Bibby and the other panelists involved in the webinar noted that the recently passed CARES Act did not do enough for multifamily housing. Among other provisions, President and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition Diane Yentel noted that her organization will be lobbying Congress to include measures such as a national uniform moratorium on foreclosures, as well as evictions. “Small landlords cannot afford to maintain their units without rents coming in,” she said. “We all have a stake in getting this right.”

Regardless of the legislation that still needs to be crafted, the webinar also included a few small things that real estate professionals can do right now to make a real difference in their residential communities.

1. Reach out to all tenants in a proactive way

It might be tempting to limit outreach just to those who have already expressed worries about being able to pay their rent, but Bibby said this minimalist approach doesn’t cut it in a time of crisis. “Contact every single resident and assess their needs,” he said, adding that it’s important to make individual outreach efforts, not just send blanket emails to all residents. “It’s got to be one-on-one contact.”

Also, even if you don’t think a tenant is going to have any issues paying rent for the foreseeable future, it can still be helpful to let them know they’re a vital part of maintaining community stability. “Thank residents who make their payments, those that can,” Bibby said.

2. Help fill holes on store shelves

It’s important for residents to maintain the cleanliness of their homes during the outbreak, but supply-side problems may be making that more difficult for some tenants.

“It’s incredibly hard to get cleaning supplies right now,” said Megan Sandel, co-director of the GROW clinic at the Boston Medical Center. However, she noted that many local public health departments offer resources that landlords can distribute on how to turn common household supplies like lemon juice, baking soda and white vinegar into green cleaning supplies.

Sandel added that indoor air quality is more important than ever now that many are spending so much time in their homes. “We have to be thoughtful,” she said. “Our homes are not necessarily designed to be occupied 24 hours a day.”

3. Find ways to restore broken connections

Each panelist encouraged property managers to reach out to tenants to see what they need. Oftentimes real estate professionals can do the most good by simply connecting residents with people or agencies that can solve the problems they’re experiencing.

Most people are suffering some degree of isolation, but the situation is felt most acutely by seniors, according to Bibby. “The connection to loved ones is almost the most heartbreaking thing about this,” he said, encouraging webinar attendees to offer help troubleshooting video conferencing apps if possible. “There’s got to be a way of creating links.”

Sandel agreed, noting that she’s seen some senior housing complexes institute social hours where residents open their doors and wave or converse from inside their respective units as a way to encourage social connectivity.

Yentel encouraged property owners to find local food and equipment providers that might be able to help residents out. She noted that, while many libraries are closed, they might have computers or routers they can loan out to help kids who aren’t able to connect to e-learning opportunities from home. “Partnerships in this moment are critical,” she said.

For more information on how to best represent the needs of your clients, watch AgentEDU’s track on representing real estate buyers.