Online meetings became the new normal months ago but based on personal, or perhaps professional, opinion, some of you are still struggling to make them work. There’s a lot to remember – when to mute and unmute yourself, choosing a background and decent lighting, and even deciding how to exit a meeting. Since we’re headed into 2021 with many still working from home, this guide will help you improve your game.
If you’re task-driven, working from home without the distraction of phones ringing and coworkers randomly swinging by your desk to chat may be your idea of heaven. If, on the other hand, you enjoy working as a team, you may miss the camaraderie of onsite work. To balance this, some offices have created a “virtual water cooler.” It can be as structured as a specific time and place or as informal as a virtual happy hour. The idea is to connect your team and make them comfortable with one another. A study from the University of Texas at Arlington discovered that individuals who shared a funny or embarrassing story about themselves with their coworkers produced 26% more ideas in brainstorming sessions than workers who didn’t.
While some may be eager to kick things off and power through the agenda, if you’re trying to maintain a team rather than a group of standalone employees, make time for casual conversation. Have everyone sign in a few minutes early to allow your team to catch up and interact informally before you switch to business-mode. This encourages engagement, strengthens culture, and deepens your relationship with your team.
If you’re the boss or tasked with running the meeting, start by asking how many people need to attend. Meetings that could have been an email are the bane of the workplace, and including unnecessary attendees bogs down the agenda and leads to team disengagement.
Next, choose the right platform. Not all software is created equal, so check out this breakdown on TechRadar comparing options like Zoom, GoToMeeting, Microsoft Teams, ClickMeeting, and Skype. Ask questions like, “Do I need to the team’s faces as we work through this HR issue?” If so, Zoom maybe your best option. If you need your team to share screens to edit this document collaboratively, Google Docs is a solid option. If you need to watch this presentation together in real-time, choose a platform that allows screen sharing.
Disorganization is a shortcut to frustration and disengagement, so it’s important to clarify details like the dress code, time – especially if you’re working across time zones – and the agenda for your meeting. Email attendees any key talking points, a timeline for the meeting, who will attend, each team member’s responsibilities for the meeting, and a list of relevant documents, files, or research they need to have on-hand. “You want to make sure that everyone enters [into the meeting] with clear guidelines of expectations and knowing what [everyone is] going to be doing and how to manage the virtual space,” says Bryant Galindo, the co-founder, and CEO of CollabsHQ. You’ll also want to include details like whether or not everyone speaks freely or will the team lead unmute mics when it’s that person’s turn to speak? Do all team members need to be on camera at all times or just the current speaker?
As the meeting ends, each team member needs a clear objective or action step. Closing the meeting is less about, “We’re done,” and more, “Get started.” Task each team member with their deliverables and next steps, the due date, who is responsible for follow up, and assign the date for the next meeting.
Finally, as a host, it’s important to get team feedback from your team on how they felt the meeting went. You choose one on one conversation or an anonymous feedback survey via sites like Google Docs or SurveyLegend. Online meetings are a staple and making them streamlined, inclusive, and effective is the key to ongoing engagement and success.
Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.