In an increasingly remote working world, it’s more important than ever to communicate directly and clearly with constituents and give them a say if you want to create a sense of shared purpose.
Why Town Hall meetings are on the rise
The move to more flexible, agile workplaces in recent years has seen many organisations become more dispersed, with staff working across different teams and territories, and from home, as well as in the office.
The shift to remote working has dramatically accelerated since the advent of COVID-19. As a consequence, it has become harder for business leaders to effectively communicate the strategy and goals of their organisation to foster alignment and create a shared experience with employees.
In remote teams, virtual all-staff updates, All-Hands meetings or Town Halls — where staff or other stakeholders come together for a common purpose — are a great way to engage employees. They’re also an effective way to communicate with community interest groups, and other constituents.
In terms of organisations, there’s plenty of research that shows that effective communication is linked with employee engagement, which in turn has a positive effect on productivity and profitability, staff retention, absenteeism, and employee health.
But when should you hold a town hall-style meeting? Well, as with many things in business, timing is everything. And one size doesn’t fit all.
What is a Town Hall Meeting?
Town Halls, known as ‘assemblies’ at the time, were a key tenet in the first democracy established by the Greeks thousands of years ago. They were designed as a way to give citizens a voice and a role in government.
Today, they offer employees and other stakeholders an opportunity to ask questions of leaders and managers, and provide a chance for all constituents to be heard.
Besides being an opportunity to update staff on internal matters, Town Halls are also utilised by politicians, government bodies, corporations and others to meet with the general public, community interest groups, local businesses and other stakeholders to discuss new initiatives, policies and projects.
A Town Hall should bring together people from an entire organisation, or disparate groups connected through a shared interest in a particular topic or organisation, to discuss important issues and share information and feedback.
Effective Town Hall meetings should inform attendees, and align them around common goals.
What is a Virtual Town Hall Meeting?
While restrictions on travel and gatherings due to COVID-19 have seen 2020 become the year of the virtual Town Hall, improvements in technology, the tyranny of distance and the cost of travel and other expenses have seen the popularity of Town Hall webcasts increase for several years.
A virtual Town Hall meeting is one that is hosted and broadcast online to a live audience using video conferencing or webinar technology.
They can be managed completely online with everyone attending remotely, or you can have one or more key presenters in a studio with your audience attending remotely.
A third option is to have a cross-section of staff or other interested parties in the studio (or an external venue if required), to complement the online audience.
Professional broadcast studios can provide a range of formats and presentation styles to suit different requirements.
For example, you could have a moderator and your CEO seated on stools or a lounge for a more casual approach, or seated at a desk for a more formal setting.
A key advantage of virtual Town Halls – besides the considerable cost-savings compared with physical venue hire, travel and catering costs – is that participants can be located just about anywhere in the world – as long as they’ve got a reliable internet connection.
The Benefits of Holding Town Hall Meetings
Why should you hold an All-Hands update or Town Hall meeting?
When All Hands meetings are managed effectively, they give staff and other stakeholders, as well as key executives or representatives of related organisations, the chance to closely interact. The benefits from running successful Town Halls include:
- Building trust and morale
- Promoting transparency
- Helping to create a collective sense of purpose
- Building momentum towards achieving business outcomes or strategic goals.
When staff are included in discussions and feel like they’ve been consulted in decisions that impact not only the organisation but also themselves, it boosts motivation and creates a more unified team.
This only becomes more critical in times of crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic, when employees are feeling even more displaced from their working environment.
How to Hold a Town Hall Meeting
The key to holding a successful town hall meeting comes down to getting the technology right.
With so many of us working remotely due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve become a lot more familiar with video conferencing platforms and webcasts in a relatively short space of time.
But there’s a bit more involved when it comes to making sure your town hall is a success, than simply setting up a video call.
Network congestion can stop even the most well-planned Town Halls in their tracks — and it’s an even more important consideration if you’re broadcasting to large numbers of staff in multiple locations and time zones.
Make sure the webcasting or video conferencing platform you choose is secure, easy to log into, doesn’t involve software installations or plug-ins, and won’t cause internet usage to spike such that it slows down your network.
Make sure your video conferencing platform supports interactive elements like file sharing, live polls and surveys, and live chat, to facilitate collaborative Q&A sessions.
When you need to give your webcast a professional look and feel, or offer your presenters the option of using an autocue, a broadcast studio with multiple HD cameras, professional sound and lighting, and on-site producers working along with you live are the best choice.
How Often Should You Hold a Town Hall Meeting?
When and how often you hold a Town Hall meeting depends on a variety of factors, but it should be about sharing news, or collaborating on or explaining an important initiative.
If you’re a rapidly growing start-up working in a fast-moving, agile environment, you might need to hold one every week to make sure all staff are up-to-date with the opportunities and developments that presented themselves in the previous week.
Some popular occasions include:
- End of financial year or reporting season
- End of calendar year
- Important anniversaries (eg. the date a company was founded)
- Major announcements
- Coinciding with regular strategic reviews (half-yearly or quarterly)
- Periodically in the lead-up to major developments and other initiatives.
It’s important to remember that the further apart you schedule your Town Hall meetings, the more information you may need to share with your staff.
Try to avoid information overload and meetings that are too long, or lack focus. Instead, engage your audience by building in opportunities for collaboration and giving your constituents a chance to express their views or have their say.