How To Conduct Virtual Meetings
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- Jun 11, 2020 9:37 pm GMT
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At the beginning of this year, virtual meetings were considered a luxury. Midway through the year, they have become a necessity. And, with cities restricting movement even after the pandemic lockdown, they are here to stay. Prominent tech companies like Facebook and Twitter have already allowed employees to work from home indefinitely. Other industries are catching on. Within the utility industry, the pandemic has proved that they can operate with fewer onsite employees and in virtual mode.
But the jury is still out on the productivity of virtual meetings. According to recent research, 42% of employees considered virtual meetings “unproductive” and said they were distracted during such meetings. Their concerns are understandable given that in-person meetings have several advantages over virtual meetings. Physical presence ensures that attention and concentration of meeting participants can be monitored and directed through conversation and gestures. On the other hand, mediation through a screen unshackles attention and allows participants to drift away mentally and, in some cases, physically from the meeting.
The good news is that it is still possible to have productive virtual meetings. There are a number of tactics and measures that managers and meeting conveners can adopt to ensure participation and engagement.
Here are a few:
Most remote conferencing software allows users to switch videos and sound on and off. The choice of making yourself invisible is tempting enough for participants to take the option and multitask the meeting with other activities. Attendees can switch off the sound and video and move away from the meetings. There is little that meeting organizers can do to ensure their accountability even as the remaining meeting members debate and discuss important points. Muting the sound when you are not speaking is an acceptable, even desirable, move since it helps maintain order. But it is important to ensure that video is always switched on to ensure that attendees are physically present during the meeting. It will be difficult for attendees to mute sound and appear engaged, when they are actually conversing with someone by their side. Besides, video screens are a great way to check out their bookshelves.
Even with the video on, a meeting participant’s attention can wander. It might be helpful to ask questions or begin with a round of introductions that includes a question or insightful commentary from each participant.
This will make meeting participants aware of and become familiar with each other. The current state of affairs is a novel one; Encourage participants to share snippets from their lives that will help others identify them beyond the screen. At a recent virtual meeting, a group of us were asked to share the name of a book that we are reading or planned to read during the lockdown. This was an icebreaker of sorts because, apart from the usual suspects (the plague etc.), quite a few people named classics and contemporary works of fiction that alluded to their interests in life. Naming books helped establish a connection and a persona, however fuzzy it was, for each participant. It also brings elements of a distributed water cooler conversation into the meeting.
Get Your Technologic Right
Even though they have been around for more than two decades, virtual meetings have only recently become popular as the preferred method to conduct meetings. The market for virtual meeting solutions has mushroomed with advances in technology, mainly broadband and VoIP. The novelty of technology, however, has not worn off yet. Zoom, the most popular virtual meeting platform today, is often hacked. Other platforms, like Microsoft Teams and Cisco WebEx, are better in terms of security but may not have Zoom’s breadth of functionality or ubiquity. Consider the pros and cons of each solution before deciding to settle for one. For example, WebEx has a complicated setup process while Zoom’s installation is fairly easy. On the other hand, WebEx allows large file transfers, a functionality that is absent in Zoom. If you do not intend to transfer documentation or files during a meeting and value convenience, then WebEx is the way to go in this case. With Microsoft Teams in the fray, your company policy (and compatibility with existing software suite) may also make a difference to overall costs.
Figuring out the benefits and drawbacks for each platform will help you with installing it and foresee potential problems that you might encounter while conducting the meeting. It will also prevent disturbances, such as Zoombombing, from occurring during your meeting.