Personal meetings with the team are, of course, great. And they are, of course, more productive than virtual ones. But do not think that online meetings are useless nonsense. Let's say if you work with a team scattered across different parts of the country, you definitely have to constantly interact via calls and video conferences in order not to lose touch and synchronize. When there is no other choice but to call colleagues on Zoom or Skype (and in the new reality there is often really no other option), the only thing left is to adapt.
So that this adaptation in the context of virtual communication with colleagues goes smoothly for you, I have collected 17 important rules for conducting online meetings. They will not help turn virtual meetings into “live” ones (this is not magic, but it’s a pity), but they will allow you to get closer to them in terms of productivity. I divided the rules into three groups to make it more convenient: some are important to follow before calling, some during, and some after. In many ways, they echo the rules for holding workshops in reality, adjusted for the virtuality of the context.
1. Choose the best communication platform
To hold a meeting offline, you don’t need any tools - sit down at the table and talk. But online meetings rely on software that works either through telephone systems or through the Internet - nothing will work without it. Naturally, for the best online communication experience, you need to choose the right software. I will not touch on systems that work via telephone - they have a lot of their own specifics, and the vast majority of teams still call up via the Internet.
I have tried Skype, Discord, Hangouts, Slack, Telegram, Zoom and Teams. Each service has its own advantages and disadvantages - I advise you to try each (if possible), and choose the one that suits you and your team. I like to call via Zoom (during the pandemic, it became, in fact, synonymous with online communication, instead of Skype), but with the release of voice chats in Telegram, I try to communicate there more and more. I love Telegram.
But you need to keep in mind that any, even the coolest service for online calls, will at some point fail with poor communication quality. It's unavoidable.
2. Check equipment and connection quality
Personally, it annoys me when the first valuable minutes of almost any call go to “can you hear me?”, “Can you see me?”, “Does everything work for everyone?”, “Why is your picture freezing”, etc. So a half-hour call easily turns into an hour call. Therefore, regardless of the importance of the online meeting, I try to pre-check the operation of the camera with a microphone, and the speed of the Internet, and close unnecessary programs so that, God forbid, nothing freezes (it happens to me), and, of course, turn off alerts.
In addition, I also want to say a few words about the headset. Be sure to use headphones, because the speakerphone and the sound is worse, and it can interfere with others. It's also cool if you have an external separate microphone so that the voice quality is even better.
3. Find the right place
Location plays an important role during any meeting. Online meeting is no exception. It seems that you can call from anywhere, at any time, but this is not true - online calls require more preparation. It's in the office you can just go to the meeting room and discuss important matters. Remotely, especially when working from home, it is not easy to find a place where it will be quiet and no one will disturb and distract. But it needs to be done.
Make sure that there is nothing distracting behind your back: no children running around the room; no pets; no doors to the toilet or bathroom; no windows or other bright light sources - in general, nothing that can spoil the picture.
4. Dress appropriately
Even if you are at home. If you want to be treated like a professional, don't call in a dressing gown, stretched T-shirts, bare shoulders, etc. Even if it's stylish, not everyone will appreciate it.
Well, you should not call up in shorts, please.
5. Create an agenda and send it to everyone in advance.
As I said, online meeting time is very valuable, so don't waste it on preparing for a conversation. It is better to think over the agenda of the discussion in advance and share it with all participants. So everyone will be able to prepare, think, formulate thoughts and ideas, so as not to waste time on this already during the conversation.
Well, in general, following the agenda is very important, both in “live” meetings and in virtual ones. It is even more important for the latter, because with a known agenda, people who lost their connection will be able to quickly and easily return to the discussion.
6. Invite only the right people
It is very difficult to conduct online meetings with a large number of participants, because many of them simply will not be able or will not have time to say anything and will feel disappointed - time is running out, but they are not doing anything useful. Ideally, each participant in the call should be responsible for a specific agenda item, or at least know why he should be there. Therefore, you need to invite only the right people to an online meeting - certainly not everyone in a row.
7. Create Rules for Members
When there are many people involved in a conversation, it is easy to run into problems:
- more distractions
more background noise
higher chance of a bad connection, etc.
Meetings without rules and restrictions do not help to be more productive, but only lead to chaos - everyone interrupts each other, the conversation turns into a mess. Therefore, I advise you to think over the rules and share them with all participants before the meeting. At a minimum, it is worth limiting the time for each participant to speak so that the conversation does not stretch indefinitely.
During a call
8. Set a mandatory condition - video
There is a point of view that there is often no special need for video, and, they say, the quality of calls without video is better (with the modern Internet, this is not true), but I think that this is all nonsense. Video calls are awesome. Just imagine that you are sitting with a colleague in a meeting room, and then a curtain is lowered between you - it will not be very comfortable to talk, right? It’s the same with online - it’s better to see the interlocutors.
Although, in fairness, when we record a podcast, we do it without video. I'm calling through the iPad, which is screen-to-ceiling (otherwise it doesn't work), so there's no point in the video.
And if you prefer to call up by voice so that you can do something else in parallel (I remind you that multitasking does not exist), then you should think about whether you need to waste time on calling at all. Still, online meetings require more attention and concentration than live ones.
9. Try not to turn off the sound
On the one hand, when everyone has a microphone turned on, there is a risk of turning the conversation into a mess of background sounds. On the other hand, turning off the sound allows you to do other things in parallel with the call, and this has a very bad effect on the productivity of the conversation.
10. Introduce everyone so that the participants identify each other
No matter how many people take part in an online meeting, it is important to introduce everyone. Firstly, no service allows you to show all participants on the screen at the same time (where there is no video, photos are displayed). Secondly, it's cool when everyone immediately understands who will participate in the conversation and what they will be responsible for. And thirdly, if during the “acquaintance” everyone says a couple of words (at least responds to “Sasha, are you here?”), It will be easier for others to recognize him during the conversation.
11. Have a little chat
A few minutes of free conversation before the agenda starts helps to relax, adapt and feel connected with the interlocutors. At the beginning of the recording of large episodes of our podcast, we always just chat with guests for 5-10 minutes, so that the dialogue later turns out to be more comfortable.
12. Be polite
Talking rude is bad. But it is not only about this, but also about the behavior on the call. It’s terribly annoying when during a meeting people have side conversations, do some of their own business, etc. I remember in one company where I worked, managers always came to meetings with laptops and worked.
Try not to disturb anyone and do not get distracted. Remember that others also spend their time on this event.
13. Choose a leader
At an online meeting, there must be a leader who will lead the conversation according to a prepared plan. If you give everything at the mercy of the team, the call will turn into a bazaar.
14. Give everyone a chance to speak
At any meeting, there are people who remain in the shadows. At online meetings, until the last moment, you may not even know that these people are still in touch. Ask all participants to speak on a particular topic - this way the conversation will be more complete, interesting and useful. If you are the moderator of the meeting, your task is to allocate a few minutes for each participant.
As I said, engaging participants in a conversation makes it more valuable to them. Otherwise, they will perceive the call as a waste of time.
15. Ask questions to specific people
Asking everyone at once is like addressing the void. It is likely that no one will give a good answer. Therefore, if you want to ask something, ask it from a specific participant.
16. Don't try to brainstorm
I understand that someone will consider this thesis very controversial. But I haven't participated in any successful remote brainstorming sessions. Not because it is impossible to make it productive, but because it is very, very difficult. During "live" brainstorming, inspiration and energy are in the air, you literally hear how people's brains work. Unfortunately, there is nothing of the sort.
Considering that people alone can come up with twice as many ideas as groups during brainstorming, you can try to storm alone and then share ideas during a call.
17. Send everyone a summary of the call
As in after regular meetings, after online meetings, it is imperative to write a summary - fix the main points of the meeting, points and ideas - and then share it with all participants.
If this happens within the team, you can make such resumes more exciting - with gifs, funny photos, etc. This will make it easier to perceive and remember.
As you can already understand, one of the main tasks of the participants in an online meeting is to be involved. The tips and rules that I shared above will help with this. But remember that in order to have a productive remote meeting, you need to be able to conduct regular ones.