Our thoughts are currently with everyone affected by the COVID-19/Coronavirus epidemic around the world. While a lot has changed recently, business can still continue during this time. One way that is happening, is through virtual meetings, and we’ve put together this guide to help you understand how to shift to online business meetings as successfully as possible.
What are virtual meetings?
In many ways, virtual meetings are just like traditional, face-to-face meetings. But, because they take place online with the help of technology, they allow people, no matter where they are in the world, to share information and communicate in real time, even if they aren’t located in the same place. Remote meetings can be just as effective – or more effective – as traditional ones, but require some consideration of their unique pros and cons to make them run smoothly and efficiently.
What are the pros of virtual group meetings?
Online business meetings are a necessary part of life for people in areas currently practicing social distancing, and can be of use any time travel is ill-advised or impractical. But virtual meetings have many other advantages beyond helping us in times of crisis or change. They aren’t a second-best solution to meeting face-to-face, but a great way to improve productivity in today’s global work environment.
Remote meetings can offer significant cost savings over traditional meetings if travel would normally be under consideration. In fact, that savings can be so significant, that many businesses with employees in multiple locations have been moving towards virtual group meetings since even before the current crisis.
Similarly, virtual meetings are better for the environment, as they reduce travel and thus reduce carbon emissions. This environmental concern not only benefits the world we all share, but can help companies perform better on measurements of ESG (environmental, social, and corporate governance) behaviors.
In terms of getting work done, virtual meetings also have many benefits. For example, participants are generally able to share their screens and use shared virtual workspaces for brainstorming. Virtual meetings are also easy to record, making the proceedings shareable with those that missed the discussion. These recordings can also help ensure that meeting notes and summaries are completely accurate and reduce the need for anyone to be a dedicated notetaker during a discussion.
What are the cons of online business meetings?
Because many people are still new to virtual meetings, you may encounter some initial resistance as well as concerns about technology. But these are not steep learning curves. Meeting attendees don’t need any technical expertise or novel equipment to join in, and by the end of their first online meeting – if not sooner – they’ll be ready to participate effectively in other online gatherings.
And, while remote meetings do present some specific challenges in terms of participant engagement and etiquette, those issues are easily solvable with a little planning and the right technology.
Tips for a successful online meeting
If you’re the organizer of an online meeting, there are several issues you’ll want to consider to make sure your virtual gathering is as successful as possible.
First, make sure you set a clear agenda for your meeting and that it is shared with all your participants well in advance. This allows everyone to come to the virtual meeting as prepared as possible and will help keep people on track during the meeting.
Second, make sure your meeting has a moderator. This is someone who will referee who gets to speak when, usually through a combination of technology features and good, old-fashioned communication and courtesy. This person will also be responsible for making sure the agenda gets followed and keeping people on track. With our boundaries between work life and home life facing some erosion due to social distancing behaviors, this may be more challenging right now than usual.
Third, if the virtual meeting you are organizing represents the first time any of your participants has joined a business meeting online, make sure they understand the process for joining and have asked – and received answers to – any questions in advance of your meeting. Brief (under ten minutes) training sessions on how to log into and operate the features of the virtual meeting tool you are using may be necessary in some cases.
Finally, as the organizer of an online business meeting, consider implementing the same best practices you would in a face-to-face meeting. These include setting a time limit for the discussion and making sure action items are clear at the end of the meeting.
If you’re attending an online meeting as a participant, there are a few things you can do to make sure things go smoothly. In addition to reviewing the points above and making sure you know how to join the meeting, make sure you have tested your audio and video connection on your computer.
Additionally, pleaseIn general, it’s best to adhere to basic virtual business meeting etiquette. This includes minimizing distractions (e.g., kids, pets, television) in the environment from which you are participating, being dressed for a business setting, not eating during the online meeting, and being sure to keep your microphone muted when you are not contributing to the discussion. It can also be beneficial if you can wear headphones for your audio; this prevents an echo or feedback loop when speaking during the gathering.
That said—sometimes “business as usual” is not going to be possible. Whether you’re in global quarantine or just staying home with a run-of-the-mill sick child, sometimes distractions will happen. If you’re in a situation where you know that you might be interrupted or something unorthodox might happen, be upfront about it! When people understand that you’re in an unusual situation, they’re usually willing to cut you some slack. Just do your best to be considerate (closing doors, using headphones, turning off the audio and camera as necessary) to minimize the distractions for other participants. If you find yourself on a call with someone who’s clearly trying under difficult circumstances, earn yourself some good karma by being understanding.
Keeping your team engaged during a video meeting
There are many ways to keep your team engaged during online meetings. Some of these techniques relate to the technology available for conducting your online meeting and some relate to how you choose to run your virtual group meeting.
One great way to make sure people are engaged with your meeting is to allow everyone to briefly introduce themselves or say hello if the participants are already familiar to each other. This brief check-in helps to assure that everyone is ready to contribute to the discussion – and that everyone’s home technology is working and ready to do business.
Using a tool like Kaltura Meetings, that allows for video conferencing and screen sharing and provides a persistent shared workspace, can also help. This allows your virtual business meeting to be more than a video call and turns it into a hands on experience that can be revisited again and again. This is particularly helpful for long-term projects and meetings that recur on a regular basis.
Additionally, remember that it’s easy for participants to be distracted in the current climate. Long presentations that don’t ask for participant feedback can be particularly challenging right now. If a long presentation is necessary as part of your virtual business meeting’s agenda, consider asking the present to break it up into small chunks and soliciting comments after each section before launching into new material.
Making sure each participant is assigned material they need to prepare and present in advance of your online meeting can also help boost engagement. Participants who know they will be expected to present as part of a virtual meeting are more likely to pay attention throughout so that their own material takes into account the discussion that has led up to it.
What are the most important features of an online virtual meeting tool?
As many businesses rush to move meetings online, it can be easy to assume that any software that allowed online discussions with video between multiple participants will work. And they will, to an extent.
But to take full advantage of all the opportunities offered by the virtual meeting format, it is important to make sure your virtual meeting tool has the following features.
First, make sure that it allows for moderated discussion, especially if you are holding virtual meetings that include more than a handful of participants. This will then prevent people from speaking over the meeting leaders during presentations and require them to virtually raise their hands to add their contributions to the discussion.
Next, make sure that your virtual meeting tool allows screen-sharing. This is essential for teaching new skills and walking people through presentations.
Third, look for a virtual meeting tool that also has collaborative work spaces such as virtual white boards that persist even after the meeting is over. For brainstorming meetings and group projects, this feature is essential. It also helps improve participant engagement and information retention as it helps to engage with multiple learning and communication styles.
Similarly, you’ll want an online business meeting solution that allows for shared meeting notes and that has a chat space. Allowing participants to raise issues or provide supplementary information via a text chat in the meeting space can reduce interruptions while making sure everyone has the information they need in a timely way. This will also reduce the need for virtual business meeting participants to have to glance over at their email during the discussion.
Additionally, make sure your virtual meeting solution offers a way to record, review, and archive the proceedings. This will also you to share content with those who were not present and creates a comprehensive record of what was discussed. Solutions that also offer automatic transcription of meetings, as well as integration with your existing systems, can help ensure that your meeting content is accessible to all your employees.
While the world is full of surprises, our ability to connect and create hasn’t changed. Virtual meetings allow us to continue to do what we do best… no matter where we are, today or tomorrow.
Looking for a way to meet with your team virtually?