As we collectively respond to COVID-19, many of our desks, classrooms, and conference tables are making way for virtual meeting spaces (Google Hangouts, Facetime calls, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, etc.) that are convenient, relatively easy-to-use and a great avenue for connecting with colleagues. That being said, not all video conferences are equally effective and efficient.
As a virtual-organization, we spend countless hours internally and with clients on video calls. Here are 5 suggestions from our team to ensure your experience is positive.
- Mute your phone! No really, MUTE. YOUR. PHONE. Even if your space is “quiet”, phone and computer microphones pick up tons of ambient noise–let alone the dog barking in the room over and the fire truck sirens whizzing by outside. Muting your phone can also help reduce audio feedback, which our eardrums appreciate! The same is true for typing! If you’re typing on your laptop during a meeting, banging really hard on the keys can end up being really loud. If you’re a key-banger (no shame!), consider hand-writing notes.
- Prep & Set the Stage. Folks understand that for most of us, working from home doesn’t allow working from a physical office. You may be in a bedroom, living room, closet, garage or if lucky enough, outside on a patio! No matter where, be sure to test your wifi signal, check that your computer is charged and test the visual background and lighting. Be sure to look at yourself on camera and clean up what’s behind you that could be distracting and/or not part of a professional work space. Have you spent countless hours tasting whiskeys from around the world to build the perfect home bar? Cool! But don’t have that behind you when video chatting with your 10th grade English class. Also be sure to test that folks can see you on the screen in full lighting, without any weird halos, shadows or distracting reflections. It can help to have a lamp in front of you, vs. behind or above you.
- Plan Ahead. As for IRL meetings (“In Real Life” as the kids say), all online meetings should have a clear agenda and objectives. When meeting virtually, it’s incredibly valuable for those items to be shared ahead of time, along with any handouts or materials that participants may need to reference or would like to print. Certain virtual meeting software programs are less friendly to viewing multiple items on the same screen at the same time, so be prepared for slower review of documents and potential logistics troubleshooting. We recommend having a named facilitator to guide the meeting and a different person as note-taker who can send a detailed wrap-up email afterwards with notes and next steps.
- Intentionally Welcome. Ever the first person to call into a meeting and worry if you’re in the right place at the right time? Meeting leaders can avoid this worry for participants by posting a “landing page” slide–something up on the screen when folks dial-in that says what the meeting is, when the meeting will start and a reminder of any materials that are needed. Since virtual meetings feel different than in-person interactions, try starting with a short “Do Now” activity or ice-breaker to get participants engaging with one another prior to starting formal meeting content.
- Practice. If you haven’t done many virtual meetings, it pays to spend some time practicing by yourself or better yet with a friend or close colleague. Through practicing, you can fine-tune key messages, test logistics and reflect upon your own style and online demeanor. One of our colleagues for example received feedback that they look “stressed” when taking notes on the computer, so they’ve switched to handwritten notes. We’re big fans of using Google docs for live collaboration, but that too requires practice to ensure folks have clear directions and high engagement.