Best Practices for Online Meetings
The shift to remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increase in online meetings, making it more critical than ever to have effective meeting practices in place. Although the pandemic has largely moved back in our minds, this new normal is also the new mindset: we want flexibility in our jobs, and first and foremost, we want the ability to meet anywhere.
Online meetings have become much more common--in many instances, even meetings where all team members are in the building can be held online. It became a part of the workplace culture, and it's not going away anytime soon.
And why not? Smartphones, laptops, tablets, and other mobile devices, coupled with great, inexpensive video conferencing platforms, allow us to connect from anywhere. Our home office setups are becoming more comfortable and productive than our cubicles ever were.
Organizations that resist that technology risk being left behind in favor of those that embrace the convenience technology affords. Those companies that insist on in-person meetings are already considered dinosaurs, unable to adapt to the times. When those workers leave for more tech-savvy outfits, they take their talent with them.
Online meetings aren't all that much different than in-person ones when you get past the being-in-the-same-room thing. But while that can be a rather significant obstacle if you let it, it also doesn't have to be. As people become increasingly comfortable working remotely, online meetings will continue to be a vital part of workplaces, and managers who resist them risk alienating their teams, clients, and stakeholders in and out of their organizations.
"The interesting thing about virtual meetings is that they're not about technology, they're about people and how they work together."
What Could Go Wrong During Your Meeting?
An excellent online meeting is organized, quickly moving, and informative. It stays on topic and is completed as soon as it can. A bad one is disorganized, chaotic, and drags on much longer than it should. Here are some common reasons why your online meeting could go off the rails:
Being unprepared: Failing to review the agenda or materials beforehand can make it difficult to contribute effectively to the meeting.
Interrupting or speaking over each other: It can be easy to interrupt others online, but it's important to let others speak without interruption.
Multitasking: Doing other work or multitasking during the meeting can be disruptive and disrespectful.
Poor audio or video quality: Technical difficulties can make it hard to hear or see what's happening, making it challenging to participate in the meeting.
Not using the chat function: Meetings held online often have a chat function to help facilitate communication, but not using it can limit participation and hinder discussion.
Not paying attention: Without the visual cues of in-person meetings, it can be easy to get distracted and tune out.
Not following up: Online meetings can be less formal than in-person meetings, but it's still essential to follow up with action items and the next steps.
Establishing Best Practices for Your Online Meetings
The good news is most of these pitfalls are easily avoidable. In the same way, in-office meetings can be reined in; the psychology of an online meeting works the same way. If the person leading the discussion is adequately prepared, the meeting can go off without a hitch and get everyone back to doing what they'd rather be doing: working, not being in a meeting.
So here are the ways you can keep your meetings running at peak efficiency.
Co-create your team's rules of engagement or virtual meeting norms. Having clear rules in place for how meetings should be conducted can help ensure that everyone is on the same page and can make the meeting more productive. This can include things like how attendees should prepare for the meeting, how communication should occur during the meeting, and what the expected outcomes of the meeting are.
Greet and introduce co-attendees and set the tone for participation. At the beginning of the meeting, take a moment to introduce everyone and create a sense of community and connection. This can help to build trust and encourage participation from all attendees.
Use real-time polls, chat box features, and Q&As to gather information and keep attendees engaged. These tools can be a great way to gather feedback and ideas from attendees, as well as to keep them engaged in the meeting. They can also be used to facilitate breakout discussions or group activities.
Encourage participation from all attendees. A good online meeting facilitator will direct the conversation through the agenda and across all the participants, including those who may be less likely to speak up. Real-time polls and chat box features can help gather information and engage attendees.
Use video conferencing software that is easy to use and reliable. Some popular options include Zoom, Skype, and Google Meet. Ensure all attendees are familiar with the software and know how to use the basic features such as mute, unmute, and video on/off.
Technology Best Practices
Technology can play a significant role in making online meetings more productive. Using technology to facilitate communication, collaboration, and engagement during virtual meetings can help make your online meetings more productive and effective. Here are some ways to leverage technology to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of virtual meetings:
Practice the technology. It's essential to be familiar with the technology you use for virtual meetings, so take some time to practice and get to know the features and tools. This can help you avoid any technical difficulties during the meeting and make sure that you can use all the features of the software. Having a business VoIP system you're familiar with, for example, can help you with video conferencing capabilities, making meetings run more smoothly.
Adopt a "video-on" policy. Having team members turn on their videos during virtual meetings can help to create a sense of connection and engagement. It also allows you to see facial expressions and body language, which can help with communication.
Utilize screen sharing. Screen sharing can be a great way to share documents, presentations, or other materials during meetings. This can help keep the discussion on track and ensure everyone is on the same page.
Use breakout rooms. Breakout rooms can be a great way to facilitate group discussions or activities during the meeting. This can be a great way to get different perspectives and ideas and to keep attendees engaged.
Use chat or instant messaging during the meeting. Chat or instant messaging can be a great way to facilitate communication during the meeting, especially when attendees are in different time zones or locations.
Use recording and transcription features. Some video conferencing software offers this feature, which can be helpful for attendees who missed the meeting or for those who want to review the discussion later.
Following these best practices for online meetings can help ensure that your virtual meetings are productive, engaging, and effective. Remember to be flexible and willing to adapt your approach as needed to suit the needs of your team. Simplicity VoIP can help you with the technology tools and strategies you need to keep your meetings on point, making them more valuable to your employees and less irritant. Simplicity's COLLAB solution is part of their hosted phone system, is accessible, and easy to use.