The Coronavirus crisis has led to unprecedented nation-wide lockdowns in many countries. This has not only affected the personal lives of individuals, it has also changed the face of business. Companies in every industry, and of every size and type are now scrambling to find ways to keep their operations going on and their profits going up. To this end, leaders are trying alternative ways to coordinate their staff and keep them working as a team.
One of these ways is through virtual meetings.
As the name suggests, a virtual meeting is not held in person but ‘virtually’. It allows geographically dispersed people to share information, discuss challenges and brainstorm ideas in real time. Anyone can join a virtual meeting, regardless of where they’re located, as long as they have the right software installed on their device (e.g. a laptop or Smartphone) and the right ‘credentials’ to enter the meeting.
However, like regular meetings, virtual meetings can also be unproductive and worse, a complete waste of time. To prevent this from happening, it’s very important for the meeting organiser to ensure that:
- Attendees stick to the agenda: No rambling, storytelling or going off on tangents!
- Outcomes match expectations: If a decision has to be reached, make sure it happens
- A few attendees don’t dominate the discussion: Especially if this negatively affects the meeting’s outcome
- The meeting starts and ends on time
- Minutes are documented and shared with all attendees immediately after the meeting
In fact, most of the problems of virtual meetings can be avoided if certain best practices are followed.
If you plan to organise a virtual meeting anytime soon, here are 8 tips to help you (and your attendees) make the best of it.
- Test the technology beforehand
Make sure everyone has downloaded the software, familiarised themselves with its features, and tested their microphones and cameras. If they do all of this after the meeting has started, it will lead to delays, cause frustration and **** the meeting’s momentum before it has a chance to really take off.
- Set objectives
Create an agenda with clear objectives and share it with all attendees before the meeting starts. This will ensure that everyone knows what is expected of them so they can prepare accordingly.
- Set ground rules
Along with an agenda and objectives, it is also important to let everyone know what is and is not acceptable during the meeting. For example, going on mute is okay but interrupting another speaker is not. You can either send these rules prior to the meeting or talk about them in the first 5 minutes. Let everyone know that these rules are non-negotiable.
- Use video
When everyone is working from home, it can be especially difficult to maintain team harmony, not only because we can’t ‘see’ each other, but also because we miss out on important ******, non-verbal and other behavioural cues that make human-to-human communications so powerful. Since working from home is now a necessity instead of an option, try the next best thing to face-to-face communications – video.
Instead of traditional dial-in conferences, use video technology (e.g. Zoom or Skype) to keep participants engaged and conversations personalised. To recreate the intimacy of in-person meetings, ask individuals to sit close to their webcam so faces are clearly visible.
- Provide audio dial-in options
All your attendees may not have strong Internet connections. This could affect their ability to join a video call. To ensure that these people don’t miss out on the meeting, give them the option to participate via audio. Do let them know that they should join via video if they can and only use the audio option if video does not work.
- Control presentation lengths
During a virtual meeting, it is very common to have one person rambling on and on while everyone else ‘tunes out’. This defeats the purpose of the meeting – to collaborate, to build team unity and to brainstorm.
Limit the amount of time a person is allowed to speak, especially if they are making a presentation. In this case, use screen sharing so everyone is on the same page. Once the presentation is done, bring everyone back on screen so they can all ‘see’ each other.
- Involve everyone
Often, attendees interpret virtual meetings as a license to multi-task. When they do this, their attention tends to waver. Another problem is that attendees may all talk over one another, leading to confusion and even resentment.
To avoid these issues, the meeting organiser or facilitator must guide the conversation, calling on people when required. You can virtually ‘go around the table’ to ask for inputs, suggestions or feedback before a decision is made. This is especially important if the facilitator knows that some of the participants are introverts and unlikely to contribute to the meeting unless they are expressly asked for inputs. If your software includes a ‘raise a hand’ feature, use it to drive discussions without excluding anyone.
Also, it’s perfectly okay to use an icebreaker if it helps make everyone comfortable. Start the meeting with a joke, check in with a certain participant who has a sick relative or ask everyone what they’re doing to stay fit during the lockdown.
- Don’t limit your discussion to ‘easy’ issues
A virtual meeting does not mean that you cannot discuss tough issues. It’s natural to think that difficult subjects – say, the death of a senior manager or impending layoffs due to the crisis – are better tackled in in-person meetings. But with the current crisis showing no signs of abating anytime soon, waiting for a face-to-face meeting may not be the right strategy for now.
Don’t shy away from controversial topics. Encourage participants to ask questions and share their concerns. You will be amazed at how much you can achieve from a virtual meeting once you and your team become more comfortable with this new normal.
We’re currently living in strange times. We have to work but the way we work has changed. As we get used to terms like social distancing, quarantine and self-isolation, we have to find newer ways to still stay connected with our colleagues. Virtual meetings are a great way to do this – but only if we follow certain ground rules and make a few adjustments.
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Prime Infotech offers a number of world-class virtual meeting solutions. We are the preferred partner of GoToWebinar, the world’s preferred virtual meeting solution. For more information about GoToWebinar or for help in setting it up for your team, contact Prime Infotech today.
Lion Amir Virani