There is nothing new about video calls and virtual meetings. What is new (and trending upwards) is the frequency with which they are now happening. They provide the perfect antidote to a world in which travel is restricted and in which even those who work in the same office are reluctant (for very good reasons) to congregate in a conference room.
Of course, it’s a different way of working – there is simply no real substitute for meeting in person, especially when it comes to building relationships. Nonetheless, the evidence shows that virtual meetings – if well-managed – can be constructive and efficient when it comes to getting results.
So here are thirteen things to look out for both as a meeting host and as a participant:
1- Know your technology and the options provided by the platform you are using, such as how to quickly share your screen, set up sub-groups, mute/unmute audio and video. Test in advance if it’s new or unfamiliar.
2- Use video to add the human touch, ensuring faces can be seen. Think about the angle of your camera (eye-level is best) and good lighting at your home office desk means your face won’t be cast into shadow.
3- Provide an audio dial-in option as well for those who may struggle with the internet connection or equipment they have at home.
4- Set up and agree some rules for how the call will be managed – you can even do this in advance, making sure everyone has an agenda and understands the purpose and objective of the call.
5- Have some guidelines about how interaction will take place so participants know what to expect and how they will be called upon to make their contributions or ask questions.
6- Think about having a facilitator, perhaps a volunteer from the group who can keep an eye on time, on the agenda and keep everyone on track – it’s much harder to manage a virtual meeting so splitting off this role can be very helpful.
7- Make sure the facilitator is conversant with the technology and equipped to use the features such as real time poll taking, writing onto a white board etc.
8- Assign someone to take notes, make regular summaries of the discussion, and record any action points and next steps that are agreed – again, it can be very hard to this as well as managing other aspects of the call.
9- Keep presentations short and to the point – a one-way information dump from someone who kills the mood with Powerpoint will get in the way of interaction and an exchange of views.
10- Virtual meetings need a lot more concentration and focus from everyone so keep sessions as short as possible and plan bathroom breaks and coffee breaks just as you would in the office.
11- Unless the number of participants in the call is really high, it is a nice touch to check-in with each person at the outset – even a simple icebreaker round with a straightforward question such as “How are you today” could be enough to keep the human contact and relationship level afloat.
12- During the meeting, call on people by name to make their contributions. With many of the standard non-verbal signals missing or more difficult to detect in a virtual meeting room, this is a much better way to make sure everyone is comfortable about speaking up.
13- Plan a closing round. Two simple questions “What worked well today in our meeting” and “What could we do differently next time” provides valuable feedback and allows you to see how each person is feeling coming out of the virtual meeting room.