6+ tips for better virtual meetings

If you’re working remotely on a Mac, iPad, iPhone or another platform, you can make those endless video meetings more effective. Here's how.

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Zoom Video Communications

If you’re working remotely on a desktop Mac, your iPad, an iPhone or even on another platform, it’s possible you’re now trapped in a seemingly unyielding cycle of virtual meetings. So how can you make these meetings more effective and avoid wasting time?

1. Write and use an agenda

I’ve attended meeting with no fixed purpose. This usually means that when matters do crop up, participants are ill-prepared, which means they can become defensive or deliver incomplete responses. It also means others in the group are unable to prepare their own questions. Meeting agendas can help solve this.

Agendas should be:

  • Prepared in advance.
  • Shared among meeting participants.
  • Reviewed by particpants in advance so they can add items for discussion.
  • Managed by the person who calls the meeting and can filter contributions.

All this should take place before the meeting.

Doing so means all parties have the opportunity to fully prepare for and contribute to the meeting. It’s not rocket science, but even this little bit of structure can make for more productive meetings, virtual or otherwise.

You should also appoint a chair, someone who may not have much to provide this particular meeting, but whose job it will be to call out inappropriate or disrespectful behaviour, such as constant interruptions.

It’s also important to take note of which time zones participants are in, using something like the Clock app on iPhone or World Clock Meeting Planner.

2. Avoid repetition through automation

The security flaws with Zoom are well-documented, despite which it has become arguably the most-used video conferencing solution. FaceTime, Skype and Microsoft Teams are also seeing plenty of use.

The problem with video conferencing is that unless someone has been designated to take minutes during the call, it becomes very easy for meeting participants to forget or just misunderstand what decisions were made during the call.

That’s where call recording software comes into its own – and it’s also where automated transcription systems can save the day. Two solutions come to mind:

Depending on the video collaboration tools around which your enterprise has standardized, other solutions may be available.

These transcripts can also be used as the basis for meeting minutes.

3. Documentation is golden

Think about those times when you may have helped a colleague with a problem while they build out their remote working and collaboration setup. It’s possible you may already have handled similar conversations with multiple colleagues. Did you write the advice down?

If so, think about turning this advice into a document shared across your teams.

This approach works for every item of routine correspondence – almost everything can be turned into a searchable FAQ guide, which can then be held in a shared folder somewhere on your enterprise system.

You and your employees should then search within the document to find answers to routine queries, reducing the need to ask questions in meetings or demand help from colleagues who are likely also stretched during lockdown.

4. Meeting etiquette

You’re working at home and it’s likely some of your colleagues are also juggling work and child-care responsibilities. This makes it inevitable people may be interrupted during the meeting. The best approach is to avoid being judgmental about this, or about people’s interior design.

It’s also important to consider how the lack of non-verbal body language cues can influence a person’s understanding of what is being discussed.

The best way to express this is that if you don’t understand something that is said, you should ask for more explanation; if you don’t understand, others also may not.

Meeting holders should introduce everyone and let them say hello, and also put an agreed system in place by which people can contribute to the conversation, rather than interrupting each other.

5. Make it familiar

One way to encourage meeting participants to be more focused and relaxed might be to encourage them to spend time chatting with the same technology outside the meetings. Not only does this nurture relationships within teams, but it also helps everyone become more familiar with the systems you use.

If you are facilitating a meeting, try to encourage more introverted people to speak, and be watchful for times when someone is trying to speak but is being drowned out by louder participants. Give everyone time to talk.

6. Set some ground rules

You may need to set some ground rules, such as switching off Notifications on people’s devices and urging participants not to work on other projects during the call.

Given that not everyone’s home office is necessarily as neat and tidy as everyone else’s, why not encourage people to use standard virtual collaboration background during these sessions?

  • Before the meeting

All meeting participants should be given the chance to test the technology (and their broadband connection), and advised to create good lighting (a pair of adjustable LED desk lamps may help, or even a couple of HomeKit controlled Phillips Hue bulbs).

The webcam should be at eye level. Remind everyone to stare at the camera, not the meeting screen if they want to look like they are paying attention.

(Some people actually minimize the meeting window and pop it just below their FaceTime camera to help achieve this.)

  • After the meeting

Distribute the action points, transcripts and relevant documentation. Action points should include:

  • What needs to be done.
  • Who is responsible and what they are responsible for.
  • When the next meeting or check in date will be.

You should also request feedback from participants.

We often have ideas or make observations after meetings end (the French call this ‘l’esprit de l’escalier,’ but we usually call this "afterthough"), and securing these ideas could form part of the feedback your receive – particularly from those who you felt were a little withdrawn during the meeting itself.

You may also learn new ways to help make future meetings more successful.

Additional resources

If the way you work has recently changed then you may find some of the following reports useful. 

Please follow me on Twitter, or join me in the AppleHolic’s bar & grill and Apple Discussions groups on MeWe.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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