Perhaps not all that obvious to many, but the annual National Football League draft is one of the world’s largest business meetings with millions of people watching live. This year, however, the League was forced to hold the meeting virtually due to COVID-19. How did this experiment go? Here are 5 lessons other businesses should consider when organising their own remote meetings.

Every April, the National Football League’s (NFL) 32 teams gather for the Draft – the process of choosing the top college talents who are eligible to turn professional. Over three days, and seven rounds, each team gets a fixed time in which to pick, with last year’s worst team choosing first, then the next worst team, and so on. The event is really just a business meeting. No sport is played.

Photo by HENCE THE BOOM on Unsplash

Nevertheless, it has become an enormous event, with thousands of fans attending in person and millions more watching on TV to see where the top talents end up. The Draft routinely draws more TV viewers than many National Basketball Association playoff games. This year’s event, held last weekend, should have taken place in Las Vegas. Instead, with the world in the grip of a pandemic, the event had to be ‘virtual’.

 

The team decision-makers and the league officials, all in lockdown at home, would have to communicate online and by phone. Would the technology hold up? And would the TV broadcast still hook viewers? The answer to both questions turned out to be yes, and the way the weekend unfolded holds lessons to other organizations working remotely, both during the pandemic and afterward.

 

#1. Make sure you are prepared

 

We’ve all been there; when using technology, things don’t always go as planned – especially when it comes to conference calls. The NFL’s practice run did not go according to plan either. One team had the wrong phone number, and everyone talked at once on the conference call because nobody used the mute button. Those problems were ironed-out by the time the real event arrived, demonstrating the importance of preparation.

 

💡 Lesson: In a large remote team, not everyone will have the same comfort with technology, so take the time to get them up to speed. Test the technology beforehand to make sure the actual call runs smoothly.

Roger Goodell speaks from his home in Bronxville, N.Y., during the first round of the 2020 NFL draft on Thursday. (NFL via Associated Press)

#2. Get the technology right


The NFL sent out more than 100 tech kits to managers, coaches, players and team owners so they could film themselves during the draft. These included iPhones, lighting rigs, microphones and more. However, the rest of the technology was left to the teams themselves. Some coaches were behind banks of screens, with multiple computers, tablets, and phones. Others sat in front of a TV with a laptop.

 

💡 Lesson: Make sure people have the technology setup that works for them. Some people can switch easily between multiple devices, while others struggle with information overload.

The Video Call Center is managing the “interview camera” feeds from the 58 prospects for the NFL Draft, including No. 1 pick Joe Burrow (shown here) – via sportsvideo.org

#3. Stay secure

 

Teams were worried that sensitive information could fall into the hands of hackers or that pranksters would sabotage the process. Video chats were encrypted and when teams sent their player picks to the NFL, they had to include a unique PIN to authenticate themselves.

 

💡 Lesson: More remote work means more sensitive data being shared. Ensure that everyone understands increased risk and how to minimize it.

 

#4. Understand the importance of work/life balance

 

NFL coaches work long hours. Legendary coach John Madden said that one reason he retired from coaching aged 42 was that “I didn’t have any idea how old my kids were”. The 2020 NFL Draft was notable for how many children watched their dads work. Added family time was one of the main benefits coaches and executives mentioned after this draft. Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager, Jason Licht, said: “I’m almost at the point where I like working this way, I’m getting so much done.”

 

💡 Lesson: It’s a cliche that remote workers don’t get things done – and added family time can be good for morale too.

Via NFL

#5. It is okay to show a more human side

 

All those shots of coaches’ children – and numerous family cats and dogs – have humanized the NFL’s decision-makers in a way nobody predicted. The draft broadcast was enormously popular, with 15.6 million Americans watching round one – an increase of more than a third over 2019. And the league’s reputation has probably benefited from showing a more human side.

 

💡 Lesson: Business is based on relationships. Those interruptions by a child or family pet show a different side to a worker’s personality and help strengthen relationships.

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