Online meetings present unique challenges. It can be difficult to tell who is speaking from one moment to the next. Technological and timing issues can create frustration. And it's far easier for participants to get distracted in a virtual meeting.
However, meeting online is increasingly necessary. Perhaps your team is geographically dispersed or maybe an emergency closes your office. In such scenarios, follow these simple tips to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of your online meetings.
1. Double-check your technology
Before the meeting starts, be sure that all participants are using company-approved technology — and that it works. Even online meeting services can require a download, which can eat up precious minutes. Keeping the entire team waiting for the first 5 to 10 minutes of a meeting while someone downloads the appropriate software is not conducive to productivity or team morale.
Checking out software in advance can also reveal whether anyone is having microphone or camera troubles. Services like Microsoft Teams and Skype let you test your audio and video before a meeting begins, so everyone can ensure that they'll be able to hear and see what's going on.
2. Stick to an agenda
Just as with an in-person meeting, you'll want to have a clear agenda laid out before your online meeting begins. Even a few bullet points in an email can be a good guide and help keep the meeting on track. Include the names and contact information of any planned speakers, to make it easier for attendees to direct follow-up questions to the right participants.
Also keep in mind that just because your team members are working from outside the office doesn’t mean they don’t have other tasks to return to. Have a clear start and end time for online meetings, and don't let them run over. Just as you wouldn't dominate a conference room in your office building, be aware of attendees’ time restraints and use a reservation system with your meeting app to help avoid conflicts across teams.
3. Use video
It’s difficult to keep people focused in meetings, and that focus can sometimes be even worse in online meetings.
Consider using video to help keep people focused and cut down on distractions.
Video also has the added bonus of increasing human connections and provide visibility to nonverbal communication
4. Put someone in charge
Who will run the meeting? Who will be responsible for technical support? Who will distribute agendas and follow-up materials? Depending on the size of the event, a manager or key stakeholder might be in charge; for larger meetings with multiple speakers, a host or facilitator might handle that role. Regardless, assigning one person to lead the meeting can help keep things flowing smoothly and get participants and presenters back on track if attention wanders.
With online meetings, it's also easy for people to speak over one another, especially if video isn’t involved or if bandwidth issue cause audio or video lag. A moderator can help prevent this issue, particularly if the meeting includes a Q&A session. Most meeting software also includes a chat or Q&A function that enables attendees to submit written questions, which the moderator can manage or respond to post-call.
5. Minimize distractions
Meetings that involve remote attendees have a high potential for distractions. Attendees can browse the web or work on other tasks; pets or children might run into the room or get into trouble in another part of the house. Outside noises can cause disruptions, especially for participants who might be joining from a public location.
To help mitigate these challenges, encourage your remote team to use a dedicated, quiet workspace for meetings (or any other focused tasks throughout the work day). At a minimum, provide best practice guidelines before meetings, such as muting audio when the participant isn’t speaking.
6. Take notes —and share them
Most meeting software provides the ability to record the meeting. Because technological bugs can happen, be sure someone also takes detailed notes and edits and organizes them after the meeting. Distribute a link to the recording and a copy of these notes in a follow-up email. This way, even if someone has a technological issue or misses some or all of the meeting, they can still stay up to date — or refer back to these resources days or weeks later.
In many ways, treat an online meeting the same as you would an in-person gathering. Careful preparation, detailed follow-up and consideration for attendees’ time are important tasks, whether your team meets in a conference room or on Skype.