With much of the world’s workforce working from home, many companies are scrambling to create strategies to effectively conduct teleconferences and virtual meetings. There are many difficulties that arise during virtual meetings and conference calls, that can impede the productivity of the meeting and hinder clear communication between the team. Some of these issues include:
- Distractions readily available (i.e. Team members working on emails or other tasks during a call)
- Awkward silences or team members talking over one another
- Distracting background noises
- Technical issues
EMW has been working remote for years and continuously adapts their strategy and approach to virtual team meetings. With this experience, we have developed the following tips to mitigate the issues listed above and can help your team succeed as well.
1. The leader is the facilitator
This is also true in traditional meetings, but is especially vital when conducting virtual meetings. An excellent meeting facilitator will ensure that everyone gets a chance to share their opinion and will actively find opportunities to engage specific members of the team while keeping a keen understanding of team dynamics. This will help limit distractions as each team member will have the opportunity to add value to the conversation.
Additionally, a good facilitator coordinates communcation between the team members to create a steady flow in the meeting pace. This helps mitigate awkward silences and prevents colleagues from talking over one another. Examples of this are referring to team members by name and avoiding open ended questions. If a facilitator is looking for ideas from the group; instead of asking “Any ideas?” facilitators can create more engagement and organization in the conversation by saying, “Let’s go around and share our ideas on xyz, starting with ____.” This provides both the order and engagement needed to fuel a good brainstorm session.
Finally, a strong meeting facilitator will carry out proper follow-up as soon as a meeting is finished. This includes distributing the notes to the appropriate team members and identifying and assigning next steps. The goal of proper meeting follow-up is to communicate reminders of key meeting accomplishments to prevent unnecessary swirl in future team sessions.
While preparation is also a golden rule of conducting traditional meetings, there are specific items that each team member must prepare for before participating in a conference call. Initially, team members should be well-trained in the communication tools used for meetings. Sometimes this may require out-of-meeting prep with certain individuals prior to conducting a virtual meeting. This initial investment of time will help reduce time-consuming technical hitches at the beginning of meetings.
While training is vital, it is also important that your team is using the right communication tool for your meeting. Here are some of the video conferencing tools EMW employees have experience with:
- Microsoft Teams – This is the preferred tool of EMW. Apart from the various organizational benefits, Microsoft Teams provides an excellent video conferencing service that features clear audio and video quality. An extra bonus is the integrated OneNote feature that allows our team to attach meeting agendas and notes to specific calls.
- Skype – This is a great tool for one-on-one video calls, but appears to have difficulties dealing with larger conference calls. The chat and video feature is great for teams working virtually, but is replicated and improved upon by Microsoft Teams.
- Zoom – Zoom has experienced a leap in popularity virtually overnight by becoming the chosen video conferencing solution for most educational institutions for virtual classes. Zoom is an extremely fast video conferencing service and includes additional features such as instant messaging and webinar. The advantage to using Zoom is that it has managed to eliminate pesky miniscule lag times in audio and video, making a face-to-face conversation more possible in a virtual setting.
- Houseparty – More of a social media tool than a business platform, Houseparty is a great video communications platform for casual virtual events such as a virtual happy hour. With group games available such as trivia, quickdraw and heads up, this tool provides a more relaxed virtual environment while also delivering on performance and video and audio quality.
Another vital piece of proper meeting preparation is creating a detailed agenda. This keeps the conversation on topic and promotes team engagement. Some tips to creating a helpful agenda for teleconferences are assigning specific topics to team members in the agenda and calling out areas in the agenda that require eliciting ideas from the group.
3. Setting Meeting Expectations
Just as it is important all team members understand the expectations of your organization, it is equally important that your organization sets a clear list of expectations when conducting virtual meetings. Some examples of expectations that EMW sets when conducting virtual meetings are the following:
- Work from a location with reliable internet.
- Remain engaged throughout the meeting. Meetings are not a time to catch up on emails or work on unrelated tasks.
- Work from a quiet location with no background noise.
- Mute microphones when not talking.
These expectations have been effective for EMW, however, each organization should tailor their expectations to align with their organization’s objectives and company culture.
Although teleconferences can pose certain challenges for virtual colleagues, EMW has used the tips and tricks mentioned above to successfully hold productive teleconferences since 1998. With work from home mandates for a majority of US businesses, virtual communications are imperative to continue to progress towards your organization’s goals. By sharing our strategies, EMW hopes that your business can use some of our insight to develop an approach that works best for your organization.