I'll bet my last pack of toilet roll that at least one of the following three happened during your last virtual meeting:
- Someone was late due to ‘technical difficulties'
- Someone’s audio was compromised or not working at all
- No agenda was prepared
If you managed to avoid all of these then congratulations - you’re one of few.
But all jokes aside, most of us are still getting to grips with the newfound frequency with which we find ourselves communicating virtually.
Unfortunately, technical difficulties, distractions and a lack of structure are all too common in the land of the virtual, and can result in lost time and low productivity.
So how do we avoid this, and get the most out our virtual meetings?
You might still be grappling with the odd tech issue, but with the right equipment and knowledge, you can improve your virtual meetings so that they become more productive, enjoyable and worthwhile.
So where to start?
Define the objective
First you need to define the objective for the meeting. What is the end goal?
- To educate?
- To network?
- To develop a project plan?
- To check in/catch up with colleagues?
- To outline project responsibilities?
Every meeting will have a different purpose, and likely different participants. Every meeting also requires a different outcome.
As an example, the Equinet team still participate in daily 'stand-up' meetings. For these we now use Slack. The whole company can dial in at the same time to share the premise of their working day, and discuss any obstacles or accountabilities.
For this, the Slack video call function is more than sufficient. It allows us all to all join the same call, and even use emojis to communicate with each other. But this is an informal, daily, internal 'catch-up'. Project meetings or check-ins with clients will require more formalities and structure.
Here is quick overview of some of the most popular virtual meeting software platforms in the market right now - all with different functions and variables:
Choose a platform that works for YOU
As I mentioned, Slack is great for internal or more informal catch-ups and video calls. If you haven't used it yet, it's an instant messaging app that allows you to create different channels. Those channels can then be allocated to clients, projects, for example, depending on your needs.
Perfect for streaming and sharing globally, Youtube might be better for webinars, seminars and presentations.
Zoom allows you to schedule, launch and run video meetings with instant chat and an easy screen-sharing function. Zoom is great for larger scale professional meetings. Where a project or presentation is being worked on, Zoom allows you to collaborate as if you were next to each other in the office.
Another favourite of businesses, Join.me and its functions are conducive to group collaboration. With screen-sharing software and video call, it'll feel akin to a formal business meeting but from the comfort of your home desk.
- Goto Meeting
GoTo Meeting follows the same pattern as Zoom and Join.me. With a recording function, it's excellent for interviews which can then be saved and transcribed.
- Google Hangouts
Google Hangouts is another favourite for larger companies with the the need for group collaboration. An instant chat function helps colleagues stay in touch throughout the day, and of course, the familiarity of Google makes everything seamless and easy for everyone to adopt.
There are plenty more. But once you’ve established your goals, objective, number of people and so on, it’ll become clear which tool is best for you your team.
Don’t be afraid to spend a little time trialing a handful of tools first. Most of these companies offer free trial periods or demos, so you can try before you buy.
Keeping everyone engaged
As I've already mentioned, virtual meetings (particularly when taking place outside of the usual office environment) can be fraught with distractions and technical challenges. Here are some basic tips to help keep everyone engaged:
Get the best sound
For the best sound, general advice is to opt for a quiet, carpeted room - if possible. Wooden floors can result in echoey, distracting audio. But if that’s no possible, simply placing a rug down can reduce any reverberation.
It's also best practice to use a headset or headphones to reduce echoing and minimise disruptive sounds picked up by your PC or laptop speakers.
It might be tempting to switch video off, especially during quick internal catch ups, but there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that face-to-face contact is far more effective. It will help to personalise the meeting and keep participants engaged. It also encourages you to keep yourself and your working space presentable, which should contribute to an overall more productive working day.
With a dual screen set up, or even with windows still open on your current screen, it can be tempting to clear through some emails or see to a quick admin task while other participants are talking. But this is not only poor etiquette, but you’re also only committing half of your attention to the meeting. And how can you expect a good outcome if you’re not fully present? Respect your participants and close those other windows.
Ever attended a virtual meeting with a mismatch outfit of pyjama bottoms and a smart top? You're certainly not alone.
But making the effort to be fully presentable - just as you would any normal working day - can impact how you feel and therefore how you perform. There is a body of research to suggest that sticking to a usual routine can help preserve a sense of order and purpose that can otherwise be lost when working from home. Plus when you feel professional, you'll act that way too. So while your comfy PJ bottoms may help you feel more at home, remember, this is a professional meeting, so treat it as such.
Getting the most out of your virtual meetings
As with any formal meeting, ensure your have all necessary information, files and knowledge to hand. You should arrive at the meeting with a clear idea of what's expected of you. Are you clear on your accountabilities? Do you understand what you need to gain from this meeting?
If everyone arrives at the meeting with the same level of preparation, it will save time and effort in bringing people up to speed. Everyone's time is valuable, after all.
Roles and responsibilities
This is an excellent tip and one that again, gets lost in the virtual world. Appoint a facilitator, a notetaker and a 'timekeeper' for every meeting. The timekeeper isn't necessarily responsible for watching the clock, but rather for keeping everything and everyone on track. In assigning these roles, you maintain some structure and formality.
Disseminate information before and after
Ensure that you stick to meeting etiquette by preparing an agenda beforehand, outlining the roles of each participant, and disseminating any useful information before and after the meeting has taken place. The notetaker can share important highlights or key points after the meeting too, which again highlights the importance of assigning those roles.
Advantages and disadvantages of virtual meetings
There are so many advantages to hosting virtual meetings which I am sure many of us are benefitting from right now. But of course, there are some inevitable disadvantages - some of which I have already discussed. However, with the right tools, preparation and equipment, you can easily swerve some of those cons:
Harder to interpret body language cues
Minimal logistics (no need to find a room/stationery/clean cutlery etc)
Distractions from people’s individual locations are harder to manage (children/pets etc)
Location is no longer a barrier
Time differences could be hard to negotiate
No need to travel
Dependent on a good internet connection across all participants
|Can be recorded and transcribed||
Technical difficulties could cause interruptions (for example, problems with audio and cameras)
At Equinet, we often use virtual conference software to keep in touch with clients, prospects, and others when working remotely. But with the impact of the coronavirus causing the adoption of virtual conferencing to dramatically take off, we want to be as proficient as we possibly can when using them. If you have any additional tips, please feel free to leave a comment below.