7 Tips for Effective Virtual Meetings
What’s your biggest pet peeve when it comes to virtual meetings?
Holding a meeting by video or conference call can often feel like playing a game of “Uh Oh Bingo.” Mark off three squares if you’ve ever had someone drop off the call due to a bad Internet connection, get interrupted by a pet or housemate, or accidentally mute themselves in the middle of a presentation. (And of course, your Free Space is, “Sorry, can you repeat that?”)
Online collaboration tools make it possible for remote teams to function from anywhere in the world. However, faulty connections or simple technical errors can make virtual meetings frustrating—it feels like you’ve been talking for ninety minutes and haven’t truly gotten anything done!
Below, you’ll find our surefire tips for leading the most effective virtual meetings possible. If we didn’t address your pet peeves in this blog, shoot us an email at email@example.com, or call (904) 606-6011 to see how we can help. At GTS, we’re all about finding real, effective solutions for small businesses and their teams. We’re here to help!
Pet Peeve #1: The technology straight-up isn’t working.
We get it. Technology nightmares can turn a conference call into the video chat from hell. The best way to avoid mid-meeting technology issues is to test out the tech before game time. If your team has recently transitioned to working from home, take a few minutes to video conference with each team member individually, work out any permissions errors, and guarantee their camera and microphone are working.
Many tech issues are caused by simple permissions errors. Online collaboration tools like Skype or Zoom need permission to access computer cameras and microphones, especially if this is the first time your team is using the service. You can access these permissions in the “settings” section of your conferencing tool. If you’ve invested in headsets and USB video cameras, just make sure that your input and output devices are set to the devices your team members are actually using, and not just the defaults.
Pet Peeve #2: You’re getting a “Connection Issue” error.
Faulty Internet connections are the bane of any home worker’s existence. This is another way that tech testing comes in handy: you can guarantee your team member’s Internet connections are strong enough to handle a video conference.
If you’re getting low-quality images and audio, one of the easiest ways to fix this is to improve your Internet speed by physically moving closer to your router or, if you need to pull out the big guns, connecting your computer directly to the Internet with an Ethernet cable. (If your team laptops don’t have Ethernet ports, you can get a USB-to-Ethernet adapter from your favorite online retailer for dirt cheap.)
Pet Peeve #3: There’s an absolutely awful echo.
Echo and feedback can turn a conference call into a painful experience for everyone (literally). When it comes to computer audio issues, microphones aren’t always to blame. In fact, the culprit might be the computer’s surroundings. If you’re working from a flat surface, like your coffee table or dining room table, that surface might be catching sound waves and reverberations and bouncing them back at you. Flat, uncovered walls can do the same thing.
To that end, one of the best ways to avoid echo and reverb is to move to a part of your house that has plenty of soft things: pillows, couches, carpets, and wall hangings all dampen sound and prevent echo. If you have wood floors, something as simple as chucking a few throw pillows around the room can make a massive difference. If you’re still having issues, narrowing your microphone’s input zone can also help. A cheap, ten-dollar headset moves your microphone closer to your mouth and cuts down on both reverb and feedback.
Pet Peeve #4: There’s too much background noise.
Is Steve’s roommate playing video games in the background? As much as you’d like to, you can’t exactly tell him to leave. You can cut down on background noise by issuing a “push to talk” order. In other words, have team members mute themselves whenever they’re not talking. (Just make sure they remember to turn their audio back on whenever they need to speak.)
Many conferencing services offer small team tools like “ask a question” or “raise my hand,” which highlights an attendee’s video box or sends the team lead a notification that someone needs to ask a question. This is a great way to make sure people get the proper chance to speak without constantly interrupting each other.
Pet Peeve #5: It’s been an hour and we’ve only covered the first item on the agenda.
Because we’re not all sitting in the same room, virtual meetings can turn into logistical nightmares dominated by interruptions and “after you”s. The best way to avoid this is to start the meeting with everyone on the same page: before the meeting starts, prepare a list of critical topics that you need to cover, and make sure it’s shared with everyone on the team. During the meeting, elect one person to steer the conversation back on track any time it starts veering off to house pets and current events.
Harvard Business Review calls this “assigning a Yoda.” Your Yoda helps people stay on topic, cut off tangents, and express any concerns they may be keeping quiet in favor of keeping the meeting moving. A fun managerial trick here is to assign one of your quietest team members the Yoda role: this gives them the opportunity to speak up more often than they normally would. It also gives the team leader the opportunity to check in the group by asking for input from Yoda. (Plus, what team member of yours doesn’t want to be called ‘Yoda’?)
Pet Peeve #6: My coworkers are multi-tasking instead of paying attention.
There are only so many hours in the day, but when it comes to conference calls, the whole team needs to be engaged, or there’s not really a point in holding the meeting. The best way to avoid repeating yourself or endless repetitions of “Sorry, what was that?” (BINGO!) is to hold all your calls by video conference. Even if your whole team is in their PJs, it’s a good way to keep track of everyone and get ne’er-do-wells back on track if they start checking emails.
If you’re still having trouble with team members multi-tasking, you can also try this simple trick—just ask them not to. Applying a “no multi-tasking” to the whole team keeps everyone on track without singling anyone out. (You can also ask your Yoda to monitor the rest of the squad to make sure people are paying attention.)
Pet Peeve #7: We establish deliverables and due dates, but nobody sticks to them.
You’ve figured out your client’s problem, assigned everyone their tasks, and set due dates. But when you ask for updates on the next week’s call, people say they have no idea what you’re talking about. This is a major difficulty virtual teams face: when you’re not in the office together, able to pop over to someone’s desk for a reminder or update, it can be hard to stay on task.
There are a few good ways to avoid this. Number one: in addition to sending out an agenda BEFORE the call, send out a call summary with everyone’s action items and due dates AFTER. Additionally, if you’re not already using a project management platform to keep track of updates (OneNote is a great option for this – ask us for a demo), it’s a great idea to set one up while your team is working from home. If team members need a little more hands-on assistance keeping track of their due dates, have them send a daily summary of activities to their team lead. The team lead can help them re-prioritize or adjust their workload if they’re falling behind.
One other tip related to Zoom meetings: There have been many reports lately of video conference attendees getting “Zoom Bombed” by random people jumping into a meeting, saying hateful things, displaying inappropriate pictures, and even potentially hacking into your data. To minimize this risk, make sure to do three things:
- Set your Zoom meeting as private.
- Require a password for your Zoom meeting attendees.
- Don’t post connection info on public resources such as websites and social media.
If you’re having trouble with your virtual meetings, the team at Grand Technology Solutions is here to help. Transitions to remote work are tough for everyone, but especially for small teams that have never tried these newfangled technologies before. We’re happy to address your current remote work situation (from anywhere in the world!) and find ways to improve your team’s virtual efficiency. We’ll be your Yoda—Just give us a call at (904) 606-6011 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to get started.