As the world transitions to more remote work from home, companies are feeling growing pains. Whether you’re new to the concept of working from home or not, we’ve all been a part of failed virtual meetings that wasted time due to technical and logistical difficulties.
Using remote meeting or virtual meetings set up with the help of conference calls or video chats, are hypothetically good substitutes for in-person meetings, but they tend to be riddled with issues. Someone keeps glitching out. Someone else has screaming kids and barking dogs in the background. And the delay between speaking participants rivals space transmissions, ultimately resulting in people talking over one another.
Remote meetings are necessary right now, but business leaders can't pretend that all of them are going to go off without a hitch. They typically don’t. It’s a chaotic mess. But there are some helpful methods that can iron (most of) these issues out and ease those remote work growing pains.
Choose the Appropriate Platform
First, you need to choose the right platform. There are hundreds of conferencing and collaboration options available to businesses, and not all of them make great options. For example, you could host a simple conference call using your phones, but this can be unreliable if the connection isn’t great. Zoom has become a popular video conferencing option, especially in the most recent boom in remote work. There’s also Happeo, a collaboration tool designed for remote teams to work together more efficiently. And, of course, the G Suite has several built-in options for communication, such as Google Hangouts.
But at the end of the day, there isn’t a single “right” option. You’ll need to choose a tool based on the needs of your organization and your specific team members. Give all your options a free trial, when possible, and evaluate them in terms of ease of use, connection reliability, and accessibility.
Designate a Meeting Leader
Next, designate a meeting leader who will be responsible for not only setting and enforcing the meeting’s agenda, but also leading the discussion. In free-for-all meetings, people are allowed to speak up whenever and however they want, and the functional “leader” may change frequently throughout the discussion. This might work fine in a live environment, where immediate feedback and body language can dictate the flow, but remote conferencing does have different demands due to the technology.
Things tend to flow much smoother when a specific person is put in control. He or she will be asking the questions, directing the conversation, and (when necessary) muting people to maintain productivity.
Set a Clear Agenda
It’s always been important to set a clear agenda for your meetings, but it’s even more important now that you’re meeting remotely. If you’re just meeting for the sake of having a meeting, people either won’t know what to say or will lead a conversation dictated by improvisation and rambling.
You can save time and cut the fluff by giving each meeting a specific purpose. What specific questions are you trying to answer? Which problems are you going to solve by the end of this discussion? Make sure each meeting attendant understands these functions before the meeting begins, and make sure everyone understands his or her role in reaching these goals.
Speaking of attendance, one of the easiest ways to cut down on chaos in a digital meeting is to reduce the number of people in attendance. Again, this is a great technique for those in person meetings but it’s even more important in a remote environment. Each person in your meeting is another variable to account for, another voice that could potentially disrupt the flow.
By minimizing those voices, you reduce chaos. Before inviting a new person, ask yourself: What is this person going to bring to the table? Why is this person, specifically, necessary to the discussion? If you want more people informed by the meeting, rather than actively participating in it, you can send a recording of the meeting after the fact.
Encourage the Use of Muting
There are mixed opinions on the efficacy of muting during conference calls. On the one hand, muting cuts down on background noise and reduces the possibility of an embarrassing slip of the lounge. On the other hand, excessive personal muting can stifle the otherwise valuable natural spontaneity of conversation. Still, if each meeting participant is vigilant about controlling his or her personal muting, meetings can generally run much smoother. Like everything in the professional world, Getting the most out of virtual meetings is something that takes time and practice. Your first team conference call is probably going to be a mess, and as you experiment with new tools and techniques, you’ll likely find dozens of strategies that don’t work (or make things actively worse).
It’s important to remain patient and optimistic, trying new approaches and evaluating them for productivity and effectiveness. In time, your teammates will move past the chaos to make the most of meetings — even when they’re not together.
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