8 Tips for Successful Virtual Meetings
The pandemic has indeed pushed everyone out of their comfort zones. Its disruptive pressures onto the marketplace are astounding in all aspects. And for businesses to thrive in an ever-dynamic landscape, companies require a radically adaptable leadership that embraces changes and uses. The inability to adapt comes at a high cost, and leaders are called on to hard-wire themselves with that power to transform teams and reinvent collaboration techniques.
Fortunately, we have the technology to see us through these trying times. Thanks to Netflix and social media, cabin fever is not as unbearable. They keep our sanity in check so that we live to tell the tale of how we got through embracing the “new normal.” And in that new paradigm, both audio conferencing and videoconferencing tools are the main avenues to stay connected and do remote work – may it be corporate or personal.
Much has been raved about these online meeting tools, promising a world that defies distance barriers. Closely looking in, among the many benefits include cost-effectivity and time savings, increased productivity and efficiency, worldwide reach, environmental preservation, and the list goes on. Compared to a physical meeting that not only incurs prep and transit time, but also incurs travel, hotel accommodation, and other representation costs, virtual meetings only require a device with an internet connection, and you’re good to go. One provider you can rely on to provide a fast, seamless video meeting for 250 participants from anywhere in the world simultaneously is Gotomeeting. They offer a free 14-day trial, no credit card required, and if you’re satisfied with the quality, sign up and get a 20% discount off their published rates. With a service such as this, your company can save much money. Doing the math, you save around 70% on communication costs.
Will our virtual meetings be truly efficient and effective?
Such brings us down to the discussion of the efficacy of video conferencing and other collaboration tools. To those accustomed to face-to-face meetings, the first virtual meeting could pose a challenge, especially for non-techie individuals. People doubt if virtual meetings would be as personal, compelling, and engaging. And for many people, it hasn’t been the ideal alternative they thought it would be since problems arise even before the meeting starts. For one, most people forget that there is even a meeting. Out of sight, out of mind? Yes, that rings a bell. And in some virtual meetings, even under the best circumstances, productivity starts to suffer as soon as they log in to the call. What are these reasons?
Well, for one, people often see virtual meetings as a license to multi-task. Remote workers fidget with their phones, chat on social media, or do something else. One survey conducted in 2007 affirmed that during the meeting, only 23% of managers give their undivided attention during the call. The level of distraction is higher than that of the face-to-face.
The speaker might not be able to see what the participants are doing, especially if more than ten people are in the call. He, too, might be too preoccupied with his presentation or in navigating the control panel or attending to questions from multiple attendees speaking at the same time. Since people are not in the same room anymore, the level of control becomes degraded.
Meeting organizers also tend to be less deliberate with the KPIs or purpose of the meetings they hold. More often, the design of the conversation and meeting flow is usually undefined, with one or two people dominating the sessions. This results in fragmented discussions lost productivity, and attendees tuning out because of collaborative overload or just boredom. From this standpoint, it’s quite a chaotic sight, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Virtual meetings have survived for decades, and the benefits are phenomenal. If done correctly, it could be the norm your company adapts to permanently, even if the COVID situation ceases.
How do we create extraordinary virtual meetings that live up to expectations?
Understand the Landscape
A critical thing everyone needs to note in virtual meetings is to understand the different variables that come into play such as trust levels in the team; work urgency, cross cultures, the potential for conflicts, the need for in-depth conversations or creativity, time zone differences, familiarity with the technology, and many more. Considering these variables will make virtual meetings more productive and fruitful.
Set an Agenda and Meeting Objectives
In the invitation, be particular with the ‘what, where, when, and who’ of your meeting. More importantly, be specific with the meeting agenda and what each participant needs to prepare so everyone comes with fresh and well-thought-out ideas, eliminating idle time and allowing more time to discuss points of view. It’s easy for meetings to get off course, and setting an agenda is always beneficial to let everyone mentally prepare for what is to come. Put the agenda on the slide to serve as a visual reminder when things get off track so that everyone can refocus. Call out a meeting at least three days ahead with a receipt and make sure to follow up with alerts a day before. This is to ensure that everyone received the notice and is looped in.
Choose the Right Technology
Having a suitable web conferencing platform is key to seamless communication. There are many options you can choose from for remote work, depending on your requirements. Among those that top our list includes GotoMeeting, Pexip, Ring Central, Grasshopper, Gotowebinar.
All of them provide a free trial period, so maximize by taking time to review each one before deciding which one to use. Some providers offer features that others don’t have or come with an extra cost on top of their base offerings. Web polling, online whiteboards are just some of the other features that have some additional charges.
Identify the Technical Requirements to Run the Technology
You’ve chosen the right platform; however, come meeting day, you discover that participants get kicked out of the call multiple times because of insufficient bandwidth, audio not working, and other technical difficulties. Not good.
Make sure you identify the bandwidth requirement and the equipment participants need during the call. Identify the proper login information and the password before the meeting. It also pays to provide step-by-step instruction, especially beneficial for tech-challenged participants. Directives like muting or unmuting options, as well as screen sharing, would be handy. This way, there would be less time troubleshooting and more time getting to the meat.
If a meeting is a recurring one, try to use the same login information each time. This strategy saves both host and attendees time and effort searching for login information. Explore virtual waiting rooms that allow participants to log in anytime but remain in queue until the host admits them to the meeting room. This is useful when hosts run a back-to-back meeting.
So you’ve covered the agenda, so your next move needs to be designing a workflow. You need to identify the purpose of the meeting, the roles each attendee plays, meeting norms and rules, materials to be used, and other areas. Identify different people to assume roles on a rotating basis. This could be pioneered by a Facilitator (host), Technical support (one that handles or troubleshoots technical issues), Co-facilitator (one who assists participants without disrupting the facilitator), Timekeeper (one who keeps time), Secretary (one who takes the minutes of the meeting)
There is nothing more unproductive than a person whose thoughts are elsewhere. At the beginning of the call, request that they close other tabs on their laptops and windows on their computers. Request to keep their phones silent to remove distractions that might hinder the flow of thought of your participants.
Ask for Opinions and Input From Others
One of the biggest challenges encountered in virtual meetings is engagement. People hesitate to contribute for some reason; however, people become more invested in projects that acknowledge their thoughts and ideas. As the facilitator, your job is to collect feedback from all the participants by having a round-robbin technique to get their opinions. If people know that they will be called, they engage more and keep their attention longer. Strengthen your listening skills and focus on the person speaking every single time. If there is a vague part, clarify it, and acknowledge contributions from everyone in the group.
Wrap Up the Meeting and Repeat Action Items
Before the meeting ends, ask your secretary to read what was discussed during meetings and essential assignments with the deadlines. That way, everyone knows what is expected of them, and everyone will feel accomplished as part of a ‘contributing’ team.
Keep in mind that there is no perfect technology. Videoconferencing tools/software have their drawbacks, which can be frustrating and ineffective. However, they are also fundamentally powerful tools to accomplish important tasks. Given the right technology provider, sufficient preparation, and reliable internet, your online meeting can live up to its name and be seen as effective, economical, and robust tools for collaboration success.