Many people have suddenly found themselves in the world of working remotely. In measures to protect employees, countless companies have implemented travel restrictions and remote work arrangements indefinitely.
With the need to maintain social distance, in-person internal meetings with teams, as well as external with current clients and prospective customers may be postponed for the foreseeable future, necessitating effective and professional virtual meetings. While there can be positive aspects about working from home, the sudden transition to being in separate locations from the rest of your team may potentially affect your productivity.
Effective communication is critical in countering this, and conducting effective virtual meetings can help ensure coordination and progress on various internal and external initiatives. By putting some structure and guidelines in place, you will be able to run more effective virtual meetings, and establish a cohesive and fluent communication level amongst your team and clients. Following are a few practices that may help you conduct successful virtual meetings.
Test the technology ahead of time.
Set the right the tone of the meeting from the get-go. Nothing kills momentum or creates awkward silences more than a 10-minute delay when people still need to download the software, cannot get the video to work, etc. Prior to a virtual meeting, all participants should test the technology, and ensure they are comfortable with the basic features. It is always a good idea to test your audio and video beforehand.
Implement security measures.
To ensure only the proper participants are in your meeting, use your technology’s built-in security features such as adding a password to your meeting, not allowing others to join the meeting before you, the Host does, and ‘lock’ your meeting once all of the anticipated participants have arrived. Using a ‘waiting room’ feature enables your participants to be ready and available for the meeting to begin but does not allow them into the actual meeting room until you arrive.
While in the meeting, turn off the ability for a user to screen-share or share a file through the chat window. If necessary, the Host, can assign these abilities to a participant as needed. If a participant becomes a distraction and is not actively engaging, remove them from the meeting. Finally, always make sure your application is up to date by checking for updates. These updates usually include security features that help protect you and the participants.
Ensure video best practices.
Holding virtual meetings from your home is uncharted territory for many people, where it is easy to overlook possible distractions for other participants. Make certain that you are somewhere with a neutral background, and that your camera is on a steady surface to prevent shaking. Using a virtual background is another alternative, where you can customize your background by uploading a photo. The background should be company approved and aligned with your company’s branding to ensure professionalism and consistency. Always avoid dim lighting. Lighting should come from in front of you or from the side. When speaking or presenting, look at your webcam and not the screen. When you are not talking, mute your microphone so there are no unnecessary noises such as typing.
Optimize time by being prepared.
Prior to the virtual meeting, create and send out a report on key agenda items to be covered to all participants to set clear objectives. This lets people think about the content ahead of time, and formulate ideas and questions, allowing them to take full advantage of the meeting by being engaged, and increasing its overall effectiveness and efficiency. Next steps should clearly outline accountabilities and timelines to complete tasks.
Turn the video on.
While everyone is separated by distance, using video is the best thing you can do to make everyone feel they are in the same room, and ‘personalizes’ the meeting. Rather than just voices on the line, video enables people to feel more engaged as they can see each other’s emotions and reactions. Eye to eye contact always enhances interaction, and helps to build or solidify a strong rapport. If you need to step aside to take care of something not pertaining to the meeting, turn your camera off momentarily to lessen the distraction.
During this time where people may feel isolated, a topmost priority is encouraging interpersonal relationships and togetherness. Open your virtual meetings by greeting everyone, and ensuring their wellbeing. Adding a personal feel to the meeting is essential.
Minimize presentation length when possible.
Conversations and discussions should try to be prioritized during virtual meetings to maximize face-to-face engagement. However, when someone needs to present, use a screen sharing function to guide the conversation so that participants can all be on the same page.
Assign a facilitator and encourage collaboration.
While it can sometimes be challenging to manage a discussion in person, managing a virtual discussion can add additional layers of complexities. Having a designated facilitator can help guide the conversation according to the agenda so that participants can focus more on absorbing the content. Facilitators also can ensure that all voices and opinions are heard, and help foster collaboration.
To keep people engaged asked participants to share their thoughts. Assigning different tasks in team meetings, such as tracking action items, owners and deadlines, minutes of the meeting, etc., also helps to ensure active participation and productivity. Doing a mid-meeting touchpoint is important as well, to see if there are any questions and whether everyone is ready to proceed with the agenda.
Before ending the virtual meeting, do a quick recap of the content including all follow-up items. Once you reach a consensus of follow-up items, discuss timelines for follow-ups and actionable next steps. Virtual meetings are an iterative process. When possible, also collect feedback from your team so that those learnings are incorporated in future meetings.
In conducting successful virtual meetings, the two fundamental principles of these practices are to be respectful of each other’s time, and to be present. While our teams are separated by distance, we can use this as an opportunity to build stronger communication skills and connections.
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