According to one study, about a third of all meetings are conducted virtually. Thanks to more flexible work environments, where teams may be spread across the globe, it’s not always easy to get everyone in the same room for a meeting. Rather than have everyone travel to a central location, bringing everyone together for a virtual meeting is a more cost-effective and efficient option.
Today’s virtual meetings are not the conference calls of yesterday, though. Rather than having everyone call in to a single line — or worse, gather around speaker phones in conference rooms — today’s virtual meetings can almost feel like everyone is the same room. Thanks to technology that allows for video, shared presentations and documents, and real-time collaboration, virtual meetings are more productive than ever before. That being said, when you keep these tips in mind, your meetings can be even better.
1. Test Technology in Advance
Nothing’s worse than getting everyone into the same room and ready to go, only to find that the video feed doesn’t work or that you need to install a driver on the machine to make multimedia function work. Ask all participants to test their technology before the meeting so they can work out any glitches to ensure everything goes smoothly and without cutting into meeting time.
2. Manage the Time
Just as you would in an in-person meeting, avoid wasting time. Stick to the start and end times as scheduled, and if you are an attendee, log in a few moments early to ensure you are on time. Because there may be a delay of a few seconds when participants speak, develop a signaling system so people do not talk over each other. This might disrupt the flow of conversation somewhat, but it helps keep the meeting on track.
3. Stay Focused
Nothing is more annoying than a meeting that claims to be about one topic, but covers everything but that topic. Stick to the agenda, and table any discussions that aren’t related to agenda items. When creating the agenda, don’t try to cover too much, but stick to one or two key topics. However, remind attendees ahead of time to avoid certain things that can be distracting on a video screen; for example, large or shiny jewelry, lots of moment, and background noise can all be distracting and detract from focus.
4. Follow Etiquette
It’s often a joke among those who attend many virtual meetings that the gatherings are an ideal time to get caught up on email, play games, eat lunch, or basically do anything else, since no one can actually see you. However, on video, that’s not the case, and virtual meeting attendees need to treat the meeting as they would any other. That means making eye contact (look at the camera), not looking at your phone or papers when others are speaking, not eating or drinking, or doing other distracting things. Be polite, and pretend you are actually in the same room as everyone else.
5. Provide Materials in Advance
Preparation is key to any successful meeting, virtual meetings included. Ideally, you should provide any necessary materials at least 24 hours in advance. This includes agendas, advance reading, and anything else that attendees will need for discussions.
6. Use Shared Technology
Using a shared technology such as WebEx or the Cisco Spark app can improve collaboration and keep all of the meeting attendees on the same page. With such a collaboration tool, you can share screens, work together on files, and avoid some of the common annoyances of other meetings, such as having to locate files, download them, and send them via email to co-workers. In addition, these tools allow employees to attend meetings from anywhere using any device, making them convenient for those who are on the road and may not have access to a full meeting room setup.
7. Encourage Interaction and Participation
Finally, a successful virtual meeting is one in which everyone is heard and has an opportunity to make comments or ask questions. At the beginning of the meeting, introduce everyone who is present, allow a few moments of small talk, and establish the relationship between the participants to help put everyone at ease. If someone is holding back or seems uncomfortable, ask them directly for feedback and draw them in. Again, the idea is to treat the meeting as you would an in-person one and make people feel comfortable.
With virtual meetings becoming more common, it’s important to learn how to manage them and ensure they are useful to all involved. While you might prefer no meetings at all, making the virtual ones as painless as possible is still an option.