One effect of the pandemic has been a quantum increase in remote working. In some cases, lockdown and travel restrictions have forced a move to work from home. Adopting e-commerce as a business platform has meant interacting digitally with customers and suppliers.
In remote working the need to communicate remains, and is even more important to maintain team morale. Virtual meetings using applications like Zoom, NetMeeting, and Skype have become the norm.
For many, remote working and remote meetings are very new and they are wary of the technology and unsure of how they should interact with other meeting attendees. Sometimes the first few meetings are less productive than the face-to-face equivalent as people find their feet and create a new working culture.
Here are five tips to help you make your Virtual Meetings more productive.
Have a clear understanding of how the meeting is to proceed
Meeting basics do not change with remote meetings. Invitations need to have a clear statement of the subject and objectives of the meeting. Supporting material can be sent with the invitations and attendees asked to familiarize themselves with it.
Have an agenda, and defined comfort and refreshment breaks. Because they are not in a communal meeting and perhaps at home, attendees may tend to just wander off when they feel like it if no breaks are scheduled.
One point that is a subject of much discussion in business media is that long presentations are not practical in a virtual meeting. If they are required, then they must be short and designed to promote discussion. Use screen sharing to keep everyone at the same point.
Don’t let a few individuals dominate the meeting
It sometimes happens, in both virtual and face-to-face meetings that one or two individuals try to dominate a meeting. If that happens, other attendees will tune out, sit back and go off to check their e-mail.
In the first few meetings, a facilitator will help to manage proceedings and make sure that the meeting stays on track and that all voices are heard.
No Multitasking during a meeting
Attendees can use their smart devices to do other things while at a meeting. They check email, read and write on social media and even play games. They are, to all intents and purposes, not there.
It is a lot easier to do that at a virtual meeting. Attendees can appear to be present but are really doing something else, and no-one will notice.
The facilitator must explain that multi-tasking during a meeting is not allowed. If the meeting software allows it, perhaps the facilitator can be notified when someone changes focus from the meeting to another software application.
One problem in working from home is that of the unexpected visitor distracting an attendee. Pets, children and spouses have been known to gate-crash meetings. That must be discouraged.
Insist on Video
A lot of communication is non-verbal, and the effectiveness and productivity of a meeting are significantly reduced if attendees are available in voice only. If attendees can see each other’s facial expressions and body language, it goes a long way to making a better meeting.
Have an audio dial-in backup though. Some places might not have a sufficiently strong Internet connection capable of supporting video.
Finally, sit close to the webcam. This helps to avoid distractions in the background.
Make sure the Technology works
There is nothing more frustrating than a delay to the start of a meeting because of technical problems. It’s a real momentum killer.
Problems can arise because some doesn’t have the correct technology, or because their video isn’t working, or simply because they are not familiar with the meeting software.
For all attendees, particularly first-timers, it is essential to have a one-on-one with the facilitator to make sure all problems are resolved.
An organization should set a standard for the software to be used for virtual meetings. Remember though, that customers and suppliers may be using different software, so some pre-testing will be needed if it is a multi-application environment.
The usual mantra is that an ounce of preparation saves a pound of trouble. Be flexible and realise that procedures will need to change. Virtual meetings can be productive.