As institutions worldwide embrace virtual meetings as a cost-effective medium of interaction for conferences, training and webinars, it is necessary to draw a line between effective communication and bottom-line savings. Although virtual meetings are unlikely to replace face-to-face interactions entirely (at least not anytime soon), their convenience and recent prevalence are hard to ignore.
While the need for virtual meetings typically arises out of convenience, 2020 forced people to meet online out of necessity. For many professionals suddenly stuck at home, online meetings were the only way to access remote jobs and stay in touch with their colleagues.
However, that is not to say online meetings are the ultimate tech-facilitated communication tool. Virtual meetings have their fair share of issues, from unintended microphone mishaps to missed team invites and non-participative group members. Save for the few technical challenges beyond our control, e.g., poor connectivity, you can solve many online meeting challenges using the right tools and tips.
Tools and Tips for Conducting Successful Virtual Meetings
1.Use The Appropriate Online Meeting Software
The beauty of conducting virtual meetings is that even the least resource-endowed institutions can participate. All that they need is a stable internet connection, smart devices, good audio and integrated or standalone webcams. Online meetings can range from basic group phone calls to complex work sessions shared across multiple screens.
Choosing a convenient platform that allows all team members to participate is the first step to conducting a successful virtual meeting. Some of the most popular online meeting platforms available currently include:
- Video Chat Platforms: FaceTime, Zoom, Google Hangouts, AdobeConnect, and Amazon Chime
- Chat Software: Skype, Slack, Signal, and Yammer
- Collaboration Tools: Teamwork, TeamViewer, Evernote, Microsoft Teams for business, Milanote, Smartsheet, and Clickup
Although free tools have plenty of value to offer, you will be better off using paid alternatives. Remember, the tools you choose will significantly influence your communication quality and, by extension, the productivity of your meetings. Unfortunately, many teams learn this the hard way. For instance, many remote employees who eagerly held video conferences on Zoom’s free edition quickly discovered its limitations: unencrypted communication, limited call duration, and a restrictive number of participants.
2. Have Everyone Test the Software before Joining
Despite most adults spending a sizable chunk of their time online, technical issues still plague virtual meetings. Having all the team members sign up, install and familiarize themselves with the software beforehand can eliminate the common technical hiccups.
3. Create an Agenda
All meetings – whether online or offline – need an agenda. Create an agenda days before a scheduled meeting, listing the specific items to discuss and any expected deliverables. To avoid having an unstructured meeting and potentially wasting everyone’s time, ensure your agenda is time-bound.
In addition to the time-bound agenda, encourage each participant – especially the timekeeper and the team facilitator – to use a timer. Consider using timers like RescueTime, FocusTime, and Google Chrome’s Visual Timer.
4. Share the Agenda and Link Invite
After preparing a meeting’s agenda, share it with all team members, and ensure you include an event invite. Sharing the agenda and event invites several days in advance helps each participant to prepare adequately ahead of time.
In case you work with a geographically dispersed team or work from home employees, take some time to consider their schedules and time zones before sharing event invites. Coordinating a meeting is hard enough, but synchronizing different work schedules and time zones is even harder. To help everyone stay on the same page, make it mandatory for your entire team to use an online schedule maker. Some of the best team-based online schedule makers include:
- Dropbox Paper
- Toggl Plan
- Appointment Plus
5. Share Wrap-Up Notes
Capturing ideas is a vital part of any meeting. After all, what is a meeting without a productive exchange of ideas? Assuming you sailed through your meeting, it is now time to consolidate all the ideas collected on your sticky note tool and share them with the rest of the team.
Sticky note software like IdeaFlip, Note app, and Mural.ly are essentially mind-map tools that help you capture ideas for easy retrieval in the future. Wrap-up notes not only act as a point of reference but also provide everyone with action items after a meeting.
Meetings are a certainty for most, if not all, businesses. However, taking business trips frequently can be costly, time-consuming, and out of reach for many small businesses and contract workers. With the right technology, focus, and etiquette, online meetings provide a great way for geographically dispersed team members to meet and exchange ideas cost-effectively.