A company town hall meeting is the perfect opportunity for organisations to engage with their employees. Also called all-staff meetings or all-hands meetings, these events have historically focused on one-way communication — from management to staff. However, things have changed. The best and most effective town halls consist of a collaborative dialogue to help create a shared set of goals for all employees.
According to a Forbes study, 74% of employees say they are more effective at their job when they feel heard. The company town hall is one important place to make that happen.
Engaging employees in more and better ways is increasingly important. This is especially true in Europe where polling company Gallup reported that employee engagement rates have stagnated. At the same time, they are continuing to rise in the US.
Another factor is the remote office. The percentage of workers in Europe working from home has increased from 5% to 12% since the COVID pandemic hit, presenting additional challenges to organisations that are looking to engage with workers. This is where the virtual company town hall meeting comes in.
What exactly is a virtual company town hall meeting?
A virtual company town hall meeting is an online variant of the traditional in-person event. This could be a fully virtual meeting where all participants join on their various devices. Alternatively, it may be a hybrid event where some people attend live and others take part remotely.
The meeting usually involves the entire company. It is an opportunity to update staff on the most recent developments as well as to ensure everyone is aligned with the overall mission and goals of the business. The company town hall is also a chance for employees to connect with management and clarify any areas of concern.
A virtual town hall takes place using video conferencing or webcasting technology, such as Company Webcast.
Why should I host my town hall meeting online?
There are a number of reasons to hold your town hall online.
- Remote working is an ever more common practice and a virtual event makes it easier for those working from home to attend the meeting. Even before the pandemic, working from home was becoming more of a regular occurrence. A virtual town hall simply reflects this change in the way we work.
- Similarly, flexible working arrangements mean that not everyone is on-site at the same time or able to be physically present at the meeting venue when the event is scheduled. For example, if you hold your town hall at 9am, this makes it difficult for parents who begin their working day later to make the physical meeting after the school run. However, it is likely that they will be able to drop their kids off and then return home in time to join the virtual version.
- You might also have employees that work in various locations. Rather than take up their time by asking them to attend the event in person and spend money on travel and accommodation, you enable them to dial in from their home or office to take part. This is a more efficient use of their time, saves the company funds and is better for the environment, too.
Virtual vs hybrid town hall meeting
Here is a comparison between fully virtual and hybrid town hall meetings:
No venue costs Don’t need to spend time finding and booking the right venue Can be organised more quickly No travel or accommodation costs You don’t have to worry about protests outside or inside the venue if you are discussing fraught topics
Provides more flexibility and convenience as staff can choose the option that suits them best Offering both options can increase the reach of your event Venue costs are lower than fully live events as you don’t need as large a capacity Fewer travel and accommodation costs than fully live events
Both types of online company meetings offer the benefit that the meeting can still continue even if there are adverse weather conditions. They would also be minimally affected by incidents such as roadworks and accidents that could significantly delay an in-person town hall.
Another benefit of both fully virtual and hybrid events is that you have a recording of the meeting to keep and make available on your employee intranet for anyone who couldn’t attend or for staff to rewatch if they wish to.
How do I plan a virtual town hall meeting?
- Choose your platform
The platform you use is important to the success of your virtual town hall. It should be stable and secure as well as able to take a large amount of traffic, particularly if you work for a multinational business. You should look for a tool that is specifically created for these sorts of events, rather than a simple video conferencing solution. You need access to the specialist technology that enables you to stream large-scale events.
It should also be as simple as possible for users to join.
If you are currently considering solutions for your online town hall meeting, we invite you to try Company Webcast. The platform has created smooth, professional webcasts for more than 15 years and is ISO certified (27001), meaning that it can keep your sensitive information secure. You can take polls and ask questions. Your attendees will enjoy a simple user experience with easy sign-up, invite and log-in procedures.
- Define the objective of the meeting
Every town hall meeting has to have an objective — a reason for taking place and an area of the organisation’s work to concentrate on. This could be a major business development such as discussing sales figures or the details employees need to know about a new product launch. It could also be to foster trust within the business or to provide motivation.
The objective helps you plan the right agenda, decide on the speakers and work out whether you need any breakout sessions or exercises, for example.
- Set a fixed date
You should fix a date for the town hall as soon as you can to give people as much notice as possible. When plotting the time and day, you should take into consideration the availability of your staff. This could involve thinking about different time zones as well as employees who might work in countries where the workweek is different from where you are based. But it might also include not holding the meeting too early or late in the working day so that you don’t exclude flexible workers.
- Build a clearly structured agenda
Once you know the date of the event, you can build the meeting agenda whilst bearing in mind the objective. This helps you choose the speakers and plan the presentations in a way that keeps the interest of the attendees and also delivers the information you need to impart.
Ensure that you don’t devote too much time to one particular area as you need to keep people engaged. There is also the danger of trying to fit too much in. Instead, choose two or three crucial areas that relate to the objective and concentrate on them. The topics you cover must add value to the employees. Otherwise, they could become distracted and stop listening.
- Send out meeting invites
With the date and agenda settled, it is time to invite your staff. Include the agenda so they know what to expect and lay out the details of how the event will run on the day. This should explain how the live stream will work, what will be expected of the participants during the meeting and when they will have a chance to contribute. Also, note down the technical requirements for joining the meeting as well as details on who to contact in case of issues.
- Prepare your presentation
Presentations should be as engaging as possible, so it’s best to think beyond slides. Try to include visuals such as images and video, audio and other elements to capture the audience’s attention. Keep it simple and provide new information that staff need to hear. Returning to old topics that employees already understand can prove a turn-off in situations like this.
You could even ask employees in advance about what they would like to hear regarding the topics on which you will be talking. This will enable you to prepare the content that is likely to be of most value on the day.
Once you have your presentation complete, you should make sure you practise it as much as possible to ensure it runs smoothly on the day.
Tips for holding your company’s town hall meeting online
Keep the opening short and use icebreakers
To give the meeting some momentum, the opening should be short and interactive. There is no point in spending a lot of time telling people what is going to happen. First, they know because they have already seen the agenda and, second, they are about to hear the speakers anyway. If people are watching from home, there are many distractions that can seem more attractive when the stream is not offering them any value.
It is more useful to settle people in with some interactive icebreakers. This could be a poll, a fun question or a story related to the point you want to make. Such an opening immediately grabs attention and engages people.
Celebrate the company
You want to foster an atmosphere of togetherness and community with your assembled staff, so celebrate their achievements and wins. Mention the successes of individuals or teams. Highlight milestones that staff members have hit. Talk about the business results and show that you appreciate everyone’s hard work for the cause.
Team spirit is key and this is your opportunity to help develop that. Forbes found that employees who acted collaboratively stuck at their tasks 64% longer than their solitary peers. These employees also reported higher engagement levels, lower fatigue levels and higher success rates.
Give employees a voice
Your virtual company town hall should offer the chance for a discussion on topics that matter to employees. That’s why we recommend dedicating time to a live Q&A session. It is certainly handy to invite questions in advance because it gives management an idea of what might come up and helps them prepare, but you should also allow staff to ask questions live as a marker of the company’s dedication to transparency, openness and honesty.
Give department leaders a chance to speak
Leaving the entire event to be hosted by the CEO can be seen as only offering a narrow view of the company. Team members want to see their departments’ leaders talking on their behalf. Allowing your top-level managers to take part in planning the agenda and announcing their news makes for a more inclusive experience.
Choose the right frequency of virtual town hall meetings
The frequency of your virtual town halls depends on the nature of your business. Some companies hold them once a quarter, others once a month. If you do them too often, people will be less likely to attend as they can become run-of-the-mill. However, have them too infrequently and you lose momentum with the sense of community that a virtual town hall can foster.
As more of modern life goes online, elements of working life like the company town hall meeting begin to change. Going online makes sense to fit in with the way we work and play today, offering the chance to staff members who live further afield and don’t visit the workplace to take part and feel like a valued member of the team. It also brings teams together across different territories and fits in with flexible workers. However, it is essential that you choose the correct platform for your needs.