The second in a four-part series on online meetings – the tech, the etiquette, the challenges
When the UK first went into lockdown during March 2020, a huge emphasis was placed on the importance of online meetings. The business community as a whole had to quickly become comfortable with appearing in front of a camera. Not only that, but we also had to become accustomed to the fact that normal life would inevitably intrude into even the best-planned video conference.
Irate children, Amazon delivery drivers, internet disruption and noisy pets do not care if you are halfway through delivering your polished presentation to the boss or a new client. It’s a fact that we all live very normal lives and our daily home routines are now becoming blended with our working day.
It’s particularly fascinating the way online meeting technology has quickly had to catch up with the more nuanced aspects of the online video call. For many of us in our space we would only have online meetings when watching the demo of a new software application or when involved in training. Pre-lockdown most online meetings were simply screen shares with dial-in audio – very few people joined with cameras on.
However, we were suddenly plunged into a deluge of endless online meetings in March and quickly learned that the management of those meetings was just as important as the technology itself.
In this article, rather than focusing on the technology, we’re going to look at the best ways to run an online meeting regardless of the technology being used.
Know what to expect
Every business has its online meeting platform of choice. It currently appears to boil down to two main choices – Zoom or Microsoft Teams.
Most people will generally be familiar with one product and the other to a lesser extent. For this reason, be sure to always let the attendees know what to expect when they try and connect to the meeting. A good example of this is sending out invites to join a Microsoft Teams meeting. If the attendees don’t use Microsoft Teams on a day-to-day basis, they may be prompted with a choice of downloading Microsoft Teams or using the web app version to connect. For ease, we’d generally advise attendees to use the web app version to connect as there are fewer steps involved in the joining process that way. However, there are some limitations with the web app and you will need to judge whether the experience will hinder the meeting.
With Zoom, it can be important to ensure attendees are using the latest version of the app so ensure everyone has downloaded the most up to date version of Zoom before joining.
Preparing for a meeting
As we bounce from meeting to meeting, often flipping between different solutions (in one day one could be propelled from Zoom to Teams to GoToMeeting to Loop-up!) it is often easy to forget the need to prepare for meetings.
1. Meeting hygiene
Often the basic meeting etiquettes are forgotten. Why are we meeting, who needs to be present and why, and what are the resulting actions/decisions?
Online meetings are sometimes seen as ‘easy’ to set up and relaxed but this can waste a huge amount of time and frustrate the attendees. Just like any face-to-face meeting it is important to have an agenda followed by meeting minutes with clear actions.
Remote meetings, especially when there are a lot of them, don’t have the same civility as face-to-face meetings and this can lead to a situation where people present in the meeting do things they wouldn’t do if they were in the same room.
For example, working on other things, checking emails, taking phone calls have all become common occurrences.
If you are chairing a meeting you need to encourage people to be mentally present. Always encourage:
- Cameras turned on
- Email apps closed or put in ‘offline’ mode
- Bring people who look bored/disinterested into the conversation
Technical problems (such as not having the correct plugins installed) often cause delays to the meeting starting.
If you have a meeting using technology that you have not used regularly it is best practice to try to join the meeting early. This will ensure any software updates are made prior to the meeting and you have a reminder of the application interface.
When working from home many people have the radio or TV on in the background. This can make it very distracting for others in the meeting. Prior to joining the meeting make sure you mute all background noise.
Everyone understands the additional pressure of working from home and the difficulties that brings. Try to ensure meetings are interrupted as little as possible by planning the household around the meeting time.
Recording a meeting
Sometimes it’s really useful to record an online meeting – particularly if you’ve been asked to take the minutes for a meeting. But do always ensure that attendees are fine with you recording a meeting before hitting the record button so just ask before you kick-off.
For meetings with a large number of attendees, it’s important to ask everyone to mute their microphones unless they wish to speak or have been asked to speak. It can be really difficult to focus on the speaker when another attendee is boiling the kettle in the background! Meeting organisers can mute the microphone of any participant if they forget to do it.
Sometimes in a larger meeting, it may be necessary to leave – this is particularly common when meetings overrun and you have another call or appointment to attend. Good practice is to just drop the group a quick message in the chat functionality to explain that you are leaving the meeting, and if appropriate why.
Struggling with the connection
If you’re ever struggling with the wi-fi connection, it’s better to switch off your video feed. Both Teams and Zooms will adequately support an audio-only connection with minimal bandwidth. There’s nothing worse than trying to keep up with a speaker when their video connection keeps dropping out.
Remember that you are able to share your screen in all the main online meeting applications. Don’t forget that ‘a picture paints a thousand words’ – if it’s useful to show what you’re trying to explain, then show it! But be careful about what you share. Sometimes you can share only certain windows instead of your entire desktop. Also remember that email pop-ups may let those seeing your screen see who you are conversing with and doing business with.
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