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Utilization of Zoom, Google Hangouts, WebEx, MicrosoftTeams, and Join.Me continues to rise as new COVID-19 cases soar across the country in January of 2021 and more people work remotely. Though the end of the pandemic is in sight with several vaccines rolling out, remote work and video conference meetings are here to stay. After the quick ramp-up in utilization in 2020, there are now several proven best practices that you can implement to host productive, inclusive virtual meetings.
Whether you’re hosting your first or 30th team online meeting, here are the practices we recommend:
Introduce new group members
The same etiquette that applies to real-world meetings applies online. Yet, it’s much easier online to overlook introducing the vendor, the sales executive, or the new employee logged in to the meeting. Introduce anyone new to the group, allow them to speak to their purpose in attending, and create a welcoming atmosphere. The simple act of welcoming someone new to the group creates excitement and engagement, especially if you talk up their value. You may even consider making special guests a routine part of your online schedule. Promoting their attendance in advance can allow team members to think of questions or topics they would like to address.
Engage the group with light banter to start the discussion
Online, it’s much easier for those inclined to be less engaged to hide than in-person. Mitigate this effect while raising everyone’s energy level with a topic that is sure to captivate. The 8% rule stipulates that any Zoom meeting should have at least 8% of its time dedicated to non-meeting discussions, including icebreakers and small talk. Sports, pop culture, music, television shows, movies, pets, travel, food, and non-political news items are sure ways to get people engaged in a common interest. During this discussion, be sure to ask the least talkative members of your group about their perspectives. You can also open meetings by asking employees to share views on a recent event, their weekends, or anything else on their minds to promote engagement. The point is to establish early momentum.
Define roles and expectations
Often, the culprit for lack of engagement is uncertainty about whether you, the manager, want everyone to engage. Often, people don’t want to overstep their bounds. Consider the degree to which you want and expect everyone to contribute. Would you like some participants to listen while others speak? Do you want everyone to have their video cameras and microphones on? Prevent awkwardness, anxiety, and uncertainty by emailing the meeting agenda, detailing the topics and who will be speaking. You may want to make it a panel-style discussion, which implies that members not on the panel should be passive listeners until the Q&A. If your group is new to virtual meetings, circulate the agenda and set the expectations in writing before the first event.
Determine a structure for involvement
Virtual meeting software usually has built-in intelligent features to prevent people from talking over one another. Take the time to learn about these features, such as Zoom’s “raise hand” option, indicating when members have a question, an answer, or want to be called on. Chat functions enable people to ask questions during the meeting in a sidebar without interrupting speakers. It may be appropriate for the meeting facilitator to ask contributors to jump in and engage in a free-flowing dialogue.
The facilitator has a lot of impact here, so use the position wisely by talking about the software features and expectations for how participants should contribute. Make sure that everyone’s microphone and video camera are on and not muted before getting into the heart of the discussion. Ask if everyone can hear and see you and make sure you have heard everyone’s voice before the meeting begins. In Zoom, the unmute button is in the Manage Participants tab. You may also want to request that participants turn off emails, notifications, and phones to keep everyone focused.
Make the meeting stimulating with sharing and collaboration tools
Here’s one way online meetings have proven to be just as effective, if not more effective, than in-person meetings. It’s easier to share a screen and collaborate online than in person, even with a projector (which may be hard for people with poor eyesight to read). Zoom and other virtual meeting tools include screen sharing, virtual whiteboards, and other tools that foster collaborative work. Consider offering training sessions or other resources to familiarize your staff with the tools you plan to use.
If you’re facilitating a meeting for the first time yourself, feel free to be honest with your team about that, and consider having someone you trust to assist you. After implementing these suggestions, ask for feedback from your team on improving the experience further as virtual meetings become a regular occurrence.
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