Meeting virtually is not a new concept, but amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and offices going fully remote, most of our meetings are online. With teams spread across the globe, knowing how to communicate effectively in virtual meetings is more important now than ever.
People are using virtual meetings for everything nowadays, including hangouts with friends, virtual happy hours, and check-ins with family. At Forum One, we’ve been hosting a daily virtual coffee for all of our staff that want to attend. When it comes to these types of virtual get-togethers, it’s about having fun and connecting with one another. When it comes to virtual business meetings though, it’s important to be mindful of some communication best practices.
Before the meeting
Perhaps one of the biggest challenges in today’s society with everyone’s busy schedules spanning across multiple time zones is finding a time that works best for everyone. Using your calendar’s built-in features to see when people are free, like Google Calendar’s “Find a Time” feature, helps you see everyone’s calendar in one place. You should also be mindful of if everyone needs to be at the meeting or is it optional to some of the people you are inviting. On the topic of time, it’s best to set an agenda and include it in the calendar invite if possible so everyone can be on the same page about what the important discussion topics are and what needs to be accomplished in the meeting.
Before joining the meeting, take quick stock of who you are talking to and about what. If it is a more professional meeting, dress accordingly and make sure you don’t have anything inappropriate in your background. Check your audio and video before joining to make sure they are working. If you have time, join a few minutes early to make sure everything is set up properly so that you can begin on time. If you are speaking to a large group, ask someone to help moderate the chat feature and field technical questions so that you can focus on presenting to the group.
During the meeting
If time allows, spend the first few minutes checking in. Now more than ever, people need connection, which is especially difficult when we are all practicing social distancing. Prioritize acknowledging each person attending the meeting and checking in with one another. It’s important to position your camera where you are centered on your screen and you are able to look at the screen your camera is facing. Virtual meetings are meant to replace in-person ones and are all about engaging with one another and this is the equivalent of looking one another in the eye.
One of the more distracting things in a virtual meeting is seeing your own screen. If you drag whatever app you are using just in front of your camera, you will be sure to see everyone in the meeting, including yourself. Alternatively, you can hide your own screen and look at everyone else instead.
If you aren’t doing a presentation to a large group, and sometimes even if you are, encourage collaborative problem solving by engaging everyone in the meeting, be respectful of one another, and avoid speaking over one another. It’s helpful to mute yourself whenever you aren’t talking to avoid any distracting noises in the background. But don’t forget to unmute when you are ready to speak! This would be a good time to learn the hotkeys on your video conferencing service for muting and unmuting yourself.
Also, avoid multitasking when you are in a meeting. Nothing says “this meeting isn’t very important to me” more than someone obviously doing other things while in a virtual meeting. Imagine this being similar to someone checking their phone or talking to someone else while you are mid-conversation with them. Finally, be respectful of everyone’s time. Keep an eye on the clock and where you are on the agenda and notify everyone when you have reached the end of the planned time on the call.
After the meeting
Before logging off, it helps to ensure everyone is on the same page. Make sure to share any notes that were taken and important items that were discussed and follow up with one another if there are outstanding issues. If you need a follow-up meeting or need to schedule a recurring meeting, this is also a good time to put that on the calendar.
There are no hard rules for hosting or attending a virtual meeting, but being mindful of these best practices help to ensure a smooth and productive meeting for everyone involved.