Virtual meetings have existed for many years; a challenging but successful channel used by many businesses to work with diverse cultures around the world. In the face of the current COVID-19 pandemic, virtual meetings have become one of the pillars that is giving continuity to many businesses. All around the world, people are resorting to many different digital tools to still work as a team and get things done—which is why getting a clear understanding of how and why remote meetings work, and how to make them work for you, is so important.
Online meetings happen via a web browser application or software downloaded on a computer or mobile device. With online meeting software, users can connect with one another via virtual meetings, also known as web conferences or video conferences. In most cases you only need a computer or mobile device equipped with a microphone, online meeting software, an internet connection, someone to meet with who has the same components, an agenda, and BOOM—you have an online meeting. Of course, you can expand the functionality of your virtual meeting if you choose to adopt sophisticated collaboration offerings like web conferencing or video conferencing, both of which fall under the “online meeting” umbrella. Web conferencing enables users to share their screens, poll attendees, digitally whiteboard, and more during meetings. Video conferencing adds a real-time video component into the mix to help further foster team building and add face-to-face communication to virtual meetings. (Cisco, 2020) Finance Online shares that 58% of businesses utilize video conferencing for their everyday operations and, by 2021, over 80% of global internet traffic will be video.
Even though there are several tools, you must pick the right tools depending on your needs. What is a common need for any kind of team to have an online meeting is having both video and audio functionality at the very least. Research says that 55% of communication is body language, while another 38% is tone of voice—all of which is necessary to creating a communal atmosphere during a virtual meeting (Psychology Today, 2011). The number of people that will be in a meeting will also account for the medium that will used. The tools that are most effective for a one-on-one virtual chat are not necessarily the same tools as those that are most effective for running a meeting with 20 remote workers spread across different time zones. Make sure the meeting software you choose can accommodate a large number of attendees without going haywire. (Slack, 2020)
Having a meeting from the comfort of your home can be confusing in many terms. Do you dress up as though you are in the office? Where in your house is appropriate to have the meeting? Can you multi-task while doing this? As a recent article in the Harvard Business Review (HBR) acknowledges, making virtual meetings work will involve several adjustments – but once these are in place, it goes on. There is no reason why remote meetings should be an ineffective way to get things done. An article in Inc sources St. Leo University Office of Information Technology in this quick cheat sheet on online meeting etiquette;
The 8 Do’s of Video Conferencing Etiquette:
- Do be courteous to other participants.
- Do speak clearly. Do keep body movements minimal.
- Do move and gesture slowly and naturally.
- Do maintain eye contact by looking into the camera.
- Do dress appropriately.
- Do make the session animated.
- Do be yourself and have fun!
The 7 Don’ts of Video Conferencing Etiquette:
- Don’t make distracting sounds.
- Don’t shout.
- Don’t make distracting movements.
- Don’t interrupt other speakers.
- Don’t carry on side conversations.
- Don’t wear “noisy” jewelry.
- Don’t cover the microphone.
The World Economic Forum also shares these necessary tips:
- Ensure everyone understands how to use the technology.
- Absent the usual social cues, those running meetings must be careful to include everyone – and to limit speechifying.
- Encourage participants to give a quick tour of their surroundings to make sure all team members are in a quiet area free from unnecessary distractions.
- Icebreakers and introductions are important for fostering inclusivity and communication.
- Keep attendees – and meeting length – to an absolute minimum.
As a team lead, manager or leadership, you may need to take charge and moderate the meeting. It may seem that virtual meetings are easy and straightforward but given the absence of physical presence, there is a need to keep these in mind to ensure an impactful and successful meeting. You may start with stating some rules for the meeting. Whether it is a brainstorming, a project update, approval session or any kind of recurring meeting, set up the rules and circulate it to participants before the meeting, or set it up for a longer time period. Uncontrollable meetings neither help your team be productive, nor boost creativity. Usually, they lead to chaos, where everybody is speaking at the same time, or someone is starting to dominate in the conversation. Nancy Halpern, Principal at KNH Associates suggests to develop “the rules of the road” that limit each person’s speaking time to prevent anyone from dominating.
It may not be necessary but it is encouraged that you and everyone else in the meeting dress the part. According to a study performed by psychological scientists at Northridge, Columbia and California State University, our clothing has an impact on our thoughts and our ability to think in an abstract manner. It affects not only how others perceive us, but how we perceive ourselves.
Likewise, according to a study published in the Human Resource Development Quarterly, “Respondents felt most authoritative, trustworthy, and competent when wearing formal business attire but friendliest when wearing casual or business casual attire. Significant two-way interactions were found between dress preference and mode of dress worn on self-perceptions of productivity, trustworthiness, creativity, and friendliness.” So whether you are on an audio-only call or a video call, you should dress as you would if you were attending an official meeting in person.
Do not multitask. Because of the lax environment you may find yourself in, one of the things you may be tempted to do is multitask. Multitasking is a great skill to have, but it is not to be demonstrated especially in an online meeting. Should you be distracted, you may cause others to repeat themselves several times. You may be tempted to check your email or attend to other work, but multi-tasking is perilous because you don’t want to be caught unprepared if asked a sudden question. Also, if other team members are to catch wind of the fact that this attitude is being condoned, they will be tempted to do same. So, it helps to keep meetings short and to the point. This way you can get back to doing other things quickly. Also make sure that the agenda for the meeting is clearly outlined to ascertain whether it is absolutely necessary to have the meeting.
Slack offers this advice: Give everyone a job. Not having a clear purpose for each attendee is the quickest way to kill team engagement. You want to make sure that everyone is mindful and present by assigning roles that will force them to contribute, stay alert and make them feel like they are a part of the action. A few hours before the meeting, assign tasks and roles to everyone. For example, a team member can be in charge of taking minutes during the meeting while another member acts as a time keeper; a check to keep presentations or debates brief and straight to the point. Slack also lists these as the best jobs to keep remote workers engaged during meetings:
- Interactive – The job should require each person to contribute in real time and interact with the meeting and other team members.
- Straightforward – If the job is too complex, your team may spend more time trying to figure out what to do than actually participating in the meeting.
- Frequent – Ideally, each team member’s job is something they need to do over the duration of the meeting so that they are engaged from start to finish, rather than being assigned a “one and done” task.
Always end your meeting with a summary of the discussions that took place, what actionable plans were set in place and what the next steps would be. Remember to assign responsibilities to everyone based on these steps. Feedback is always important so, by all means, take the time to ask everyone how they found the meeting and what suggestions they can make to better subsequent meetings.
As we look forward to regrouping once again in our offices, sharing closely physical spaces and coming together when it is safe, let us enjoy being productive apart. Next time you have a video conference, practise these tips and certainly, you will have a better meeting! All the best in the coming weeks and keep forging on, on the journey of transformation.
“In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” – Albert Einstein. I encourage you to take charge in these times and let your light shine.
Are you ready for TRANSFORMATION?
Dzigbordi K. Dosoo: The H.E.L.P. Coach
Dzigbordi K. Dosoo is a Personal Impact, Professional Growth and Influence Expert specializing in Humanness, Entrepreneurship, Leadership and Power – H.E.L.P.
A career spanning over two decades, she has established herself as a Certified High Performance Coach, Speaker, Author, Wellness Expert and award-winning Entrepreneur with a clientele ranging from C-Suite Executives, Senior Management, Practitioners and Sales Leaders spanning 3 continents.
She is the Founder of Dzigbordi K. Dosoo (DKD) Holdings; a premier lifestyle business group with brand subsidiaries that include Dzigbordi Consulting Group& Allure Africa.
Dzigbordi has been featured on CNN for her entrepreneurial expertise. She is one of the most decorated female entrepreneurs in Ghana having being named “CIMG Marketing Woman of the Year” in 2009; “Top 10 most respected CEOs in Ghana, 2012; Global Heart of Leadership Award and, Women Rising “100 Most Influential Ghanaian Women”, 2017.
She can be reached on [email protected] and @dzigbordikwaku across all social media platforms.