With the current crisis, professionals around the world have needed to become familiar with how to manage remote meetings in a hurry. If you’re one of those professionals, you know that online meetings offer challenges (and advantages) that aren’t present in face-to-face conversations.
Remote meetings require a unique set of tools, etiquette, planning, and execution. In this article, we’re going to teach you how to run remote meetings, and how to ensure that you achieve the desired results for your effort.
What are online meetings?
An online meeting is exactly what it sounds like: it’s a formal or informal business meeting designed between colleagues in an online environment. Remote meetings can be either small, two-person conversations, or large online gatherings with colleagues around the world.
Remote meetings are different from regular meetings because they take place virtually rather than in-person. That’s pretty obvious. But, that simple difference creates a whole slew of unique challenges for online meeting organizers, such as:
- Making it harder for attendees to read body language and emotion behind words.
- Technical barriers, audio issues, and lack of visuals.
- A reliance on screen sharing as a way to illustrate talking points.
- Juggling different time zones and working hours.
- Home office distractions and technical limitations.
- The need for tools and storage platforms to centralize notes and to-dos.
Remote meetings require all of the same structure and etiquette as an in-person meeting, but with added technical and distance barriers that need to be overcomed.
Luckily, technology has more than caught up with the growth of online meetings, meaning there are numerous tools that you can use to make the process easier. Before we look at some of those tools, let’s go over the requirements for setting up an online meeting.
How are online meetings set up?
The steps to setting up an online meeting will vary depending on the length of the call, the number of attendees, the number of speakers, and the types of visuals you need to show.
It can be as simple as starting a Skype conversation with one or more people, or as complicated as scheduling a video conference call with numerous dispersed speakers. They can be as intimate as a one-on-one video interview, or as public as a company-wide conference.
In any event, you need to ensure that you have the right tools in place to handle your requirements. You should also take into consideration:
- Appropriate meeting times.
- Attendee availability.
- How you’re going to record and distribute meeting notes.
- That everyone has the proper technology to handle a remote meeting.
Two common types of tools used for remote team communication are conferencing technology and meeting management tools.
Conferencing technology for online meetings typically involves either a basic video calling platform or one that integrates video and voice-over IP (VoIP).
Basic video conferencing platforms are perfect for smaller team meetings and can either be set up in advance or initiated on the fly.
Popular platforms include:
- Google Hangouts
- WhatsApp Messenger
Video conferencing plus VoIP platforms offer a more enterprise-appropriate solution to remote meetings. These are platforms that allow meeting organizers to schedule calls in advance, send out mass email invitations with unique access links and call-in numbers, and enable users to choose how they want to join the call. This type of platform is ideal for larger remote meetings or town halls that host attendees from various locations.
Popular platforms include:
- Microsoft Teams
Considerations when choosing a conference tool
The platform you choose to run your remote meetings will be determined by a variety of factors unique to your team and organization. You may find that having multiple conference platforms is a viable solution as well to cover your needs for small and large meetings.
Here are some key variables to consider when exploring your options:
- The size of your team.
- Locations and time zones.
- Screen sharing and visuals.
- The ability to schedule in advance.
- Up-time and reliability of the platform.
Meeting management tools
How you manage your meeting is equally as important as what platform you use to host it. Keeping the meeting organized, recording ideas and to-dos, storing information centrally, and ensuring remote access to the material are all critical to productive online meetings.
Meeting management tools might involve cloud-based storage of notes, a digital whiteboard or mind map to capture notes in real-time, Kanban boards to illustrate project progress or even a simple Word document.
What’s important is that you have a tool in place that focuses the discussion, captures new ideas and information, stores that information for later, and provides clear marching orders to the team.
Some commonly used remote meeting management tools include:
- Google Docs
- Mind maps
- Virtual whiteboards
- Kanban boards
- Project management tools
Tools like Slack are also great for ongoing, informal communication after the remote meeting is completed. For recruiters, platforms that offer collaborative hiring features are also invaluable ways to keep track of meeting outcomes and move tasks forward.
Now that we’ve covered the tools you’ll need for remote meetings, let’s dive into some tips for online meetings for both organizers and attendees.
Tips for productive online meetings: the organizer
Organizing and executing a remote meeting involves more moving parts and considerations than your classic in-person meeting. The organizer will need to account for technical requirements, coordinating speakers, an agenda, and the platform they’ll use to manage the call.
With that in mind, here are some general tips for organizing online meetings:
- Keep them structured. Create an agenda in advance of the meeting with input from attendees, if necessary. Present the agenda before the session, and at the start of the call. Allocate timeframes for each section, and leave room for a Q&A or discussion.
- Plan ice breakers for remote meetings. Ice breakers are a great way to get people comfortable with the remote meeting environment, especially if they don’t know each other. Do a round of introductions, and ask everyone to share something interesting about themselves
- Appoint a lead or moderator. Choose someone on your team to steer the meeting. They will need to present the agenda, stick to the allocated time frame, and drive the discussion forward.
- Send invitations and access links in advance. If you’re planning a more formal online meeting, create access links using your chosen conference platform, and send calendar invitations to your team. Ensure that all attendees can access the platform before the call.
- Assign roles. If your remote meeting involves multiple speakers and topics, it’s a good idea to assign jobs before the call starts. Who will be taking notes? Who is in charge of the follow-up? Who are the presenters? Hash these details out beforehand to ensure a smooth meeting.
- Use a meeting management tool to track the outcomes. Use a meeting management tool to take notes and establish to-dos and meeting outcomes.
- Ensure your platform works properly before the call. Make sure you do a systems test before the call with one or two people to ensure that everything works well. This is especially important for calls with lots of people.
- Stick to a time limit. Just because everyone is at home doesn’t mean they’re available to go beyond the allocated time. Treat remote meetings like in-person ones, and respect a hard stop time.
- Invite the right people. Don’t invite everyone on your team if they don’t have to be there. Be particular about who you ask to a meeting, and who not to. If someone isn’t participating during a call, it’s likely because they don’t need to be there in the future.
- Share notes and to-dos after the meeting. Ensure that your remote meeting wasn’t a waste of time by clearly establishing the next steps and sharing outcomes with the team.
- Keep a central knowledge database. Keep track of mission-critical information with a central database. Use this to keep track of ongoing meetings, projects, and earned company knowledge.
Of course, the burden isn’t only on the organizer of the remote meeting. Attendees also need to ensure that they’re well equipped, present and practice the proper etiquette to ensure a successful online meeting.
Tips for effective online meetings: the attendees
An online meeting is only as effective as its attendees. To ensure you’re using your time wisely, and contributing properly to the meeting, attendees should follow these tips:
- Don’t multitask. Give your undivided attention to the conversation. It’s common courtesy.
- Mute when you’re not talking. Nobody wants to hear your cat meowing in the background. Unmuted people are distracting and can derail a remote meeting.
- Turn your camera on. A face-to-face conversation is critical in establishing rapport and good teamwork.
- Make sure you have the right gear. Invest in a quality webcam and microphone so that you’re putting your best foot forward.
- Set up your workspace before the call. Make sure you’re in a quiet, distraction-free environment that allows you to concentrate on the call.
- Speak clearly and slowly. Video conferencing has a tendency to drop out at times. Speaking clearly and deliberately helps everyone on the call hear and understand you better.
- Be thorough and descriptive. Likewise, remote calls are limited to audio and screen sharing. Be overly descriptive of what you’re talking about to ensure everyone understands.
- Share your screen to illustrate your points. If necessary, share your desktop to explain your points. This saves time and generates a better understanding of your topic.
- Complete your to-dos in a timely manner. This ensures that your overall productivity maintains intact, even if you are working remotely.
For better or worse, remote meetings are a reality that many companies will have to integrate into their workflows for the foreseeable future. Like with any workflow, online meetings are made more effective and beneficial when you have the proper tools and processes in place to handle your needs.
The best way to find out what works for you? Try a myriad of different remote conferencing and meeting management tools available today to find what works best for your team and your budget.