15 Rules for More Effective video conferencingNatalia Persin
Of all the technology to be developed in recent years, none brings to mind the new reality of remote work quite like video conferencing. Remote digital meetings have been possible for many years now, but the newest software allows dozens of people to join in a single meeting from anywhere with an internet connection.
Many people are still adjusting to remote conferences. Even if it seems like a no-brainer, some errors in video conferencing etiquette are still common. Some teams and companies may also be using digital meeting platforms in a less than ideal way.
Anyone who has to hold meetings in a digital workspace should read through this guide to get some tips on how to make the most of new technology and build stronger communication on their teams through better video conferencing.
A Brief History of Telework
Remote work in the way we think of it now has been a rising trend since at least the 1970s when the networks we rely on for most digital communication were just reaching the average consumer. Some major corporations hired work-from-home customer service agents as early as the 1980s.
The U.S. Government showed support for increased telework in the 1990s but it wasn’t until the next decade that popular video conferencing platforms like Skype were invented. Webcams and other technology required for digital conferences became standard on personal laptops around the same time.
Telework in 2020 and Beyond
By all indications, remote work has exploded in popularity in recent years and shows no signs of stopping. Even if video conferencing hasn’t become commonplace at your job yet, you can bet it probably will if it’s at all feasible.
Most creative teams are at least partially remote. Whether that will change in the 2020s or continue its growing popularity, it appears certain that remote meetings are here to stay to some degree.
Video conferencing Etiquette & Company Culture
To a large degree, the style and expectations of behavior during digital meetings will depend on the company culture. For many who started in traditional offices and have moved to remote work recently, telemeetings might be more formal. Many startups who work on smaller teams might be more forgiving about things like dress and background.
For example, some remote creatives have taken the opportunity to travel or move far away from the physical office. At a fully digital startup, you might have people calling in from a cafe or a beach somewhere. Older companies and larger teams are more likely to expect a more professional dress code and a clean, blank background during meetings.
15 Best Rules for Better video conferencing
- Know Your Platform
There are many different services used for remote conferences. Zoom and Microsoft Teams are two of the most popular ones, but there are others. Regardless of what software you’re using, make sure you understand how to use it and give it a trial run before you have to use it for a meeting.
Management should take care to get everyone on the same page regarding the software. If the team is small, a dedicated training session might be held. However, it could also be enough to write up a best practices and user guide that can be distributed to the whole team and used as a reference as needed.
- Schedule Correctly
The last thing anyone wants is to waste time waiting for people to show up to a meeting. There are plenty of tools you can use to make sure everyone knows when a meeting is scheduled and shows up to the meeting on time. For instance, most platforms for remote conferences feature options to send meeting links to all participants and add an event to everyone’s calendar automatically.
Communication is a big part of scheduling. One dangerous aspect of holding digital meetings is that organizers can overestimate the amount of time individual team members have for a meeting. Planning a meeting should be a team effort and thankfully there are tools for that as well, such as polls that can be sent out so everyone can indicate what time works best for them.
- Try Recurring Meetings
You can avoid all the pain of organizing and planning meetings if you set them at regular intervals. Naturally, this won’t work for sudden changes or quick catch-ups, but they’re great for things like performance reviews, project updates, and other things that you already know will need to happen repeatedly.
It will also help the whole team if everyone knows there’s a Monday morning team meeting to discuss goals every week. People who might want to call a meeting can always wait for the weekly meeting unless the matter is very urgent. Better video conferencing comes from knowing when you need to call a meeting and when you don’t.
- Assign Meeting Roles
Someone should be designated the notetaker and minute keeper at the beginning of remote conferences. The notetaker can write down the main points of the meeting and send minutes out to all participants afterward for their records. This will help keep everyone on the same page.
The minute keeper can keep an eye on the clock and make sure everyone who needs to speak has time to by informing speakers when they’re close to or over their allotted time. This might sound nitpicky, but everyone will be happy if the meeting is streamlined with these two members present. To avoid constructing a new power dynamic and keep remote workers included, you can rotate who performs each task at each meeting.
- Set the Agenda
Regular meetings and general updates will benefit from this tip just as much as meetings about particular issues. When setting the meeting, the organizers should indicate what problems need to be addressed. The double benefit of doing so is that someone might be able to solve the problem without holding an entire meeting about it.
A specific agenda should be outlined for specific meetings. Set specific problems that need to be addressed and define a set amount of time for each one. The reason so many meetings run over or lead nowhere is because there’s no agenda and no one watching the clock.
- Determine Goals
In addition to outlining exactly which problems need to be discussed in a meeting, you should also know to what degree they should be solved during that meeting. In the best-case scenario, all problems will be solved completely, but that’s not always possible.
If an update is what’s needed, then the goal is a simple update. However, if there’s a deadline or a looming crisis, then it won’t be enough to discuss things and leave it at that. In that scenario, you’ll want to set a goal of coming up with specific actions that individuals or teams will take responsibility for accomplishing.
- Use the Right Form
Does your meeting need to be a meeting, or could it be a brief presentation with a Q&A at the end instead? Could it also be a full-on conference? Determining the best format for a digital conference should be based on the necessity of having everyone actively involved.
Since participants can mute themselves and listen along, letting them do so when feasible will make for better video conferencing. If you are going to have many people speak, make sure you know who the speakers will be and inform the rest of the participants that they can stay muted.
It might be the same person who organizes the meeting or it could be an impartial person who can be responsible for muting and unmuting, keeping things on task, or settling disagreements in whatever way they see fit, but in any case, there should be a moderator present to keep things running smoothly.
Not only will this streamline the meeting, but it will also give participants a clear person to direct their questions to. The moderator should be answering questions in the chat so no one misses out on new information because they were confused. If this person is separate from the speaker, they can keep things moving in the chatbox while the speaker keeps the meeting going for a more productive meeting overall.
- Set Ground Rules
The moderator or the meeting organizer should inform all participants about how the meeting will progress, what will be covered, how questions will be handled, whether there will be breaks, etc. Not only will this keep everyone on the same page but it will also help participants stay invested in the meeting.
Digital meetings can be exasperating because the audio element can be completely dominated by one person. Something about sharing physical space with others prevents talking over one another, but the digital sphere might not. With a set agenda and ground rules, this problem can be avoided.
- Use Presentation Materials
The speaker can share his or her screen to show slides, images, and other materials that would usually be shown on a screen in a physical meeting. This is a great way to give people something to look at besides talking heads. Just make sure to change up the presentation frequently.
Speakers should also be careful not to simply read information off the slides. Remote working participants will start to tune out pretty fast if they can just read and don’t have any reason to listen to the speaker.
- Pace Yourself
If you’re going to distribute information and get feedback with a meeting, then make sure you do so at a lively pace that keeps everyone focused but doesn’t move so fast that they miss crucial information. This is easier in a presentation than it is in a group meeting with lots of people.
A set agenda, a moderator, and a timekeeper are best for keeping a group meeting moving forward at a good pace. There should also be a mechanism in place for participants to notify speakers or the group at large when they’ve missed something or need something repeated. Some software has a simple hand-raising function to accomplish this.
- Send Out Preparatory Materials
If there’s going to be new information covered in a meeting, it might be wisest to send it out 24 hours ahead of the scheduled meeting time. If there’s a lot to digest, consider sending it out even earlier.
video conferencing doesn’t give the same opportunity to give people brand new information and let them process it on their terms because presentations and charts have to be left up and taken down at the whim of the group.
- Share Contact Information
At most businesses, people will have a corporate email that will be used to invite them to meetings. Since these aren’t always intuitive, it might be smart to share contact information for follow-up questions and further communication. This is especially important for the speaker and any prominent team members who can give further information to people who need it.
Keeping a participants list is also a good way to keep a record of all people in attendance. While this doesn’t have to be done exactly as they did it at school, it can be used to determine why someone is out of the loop, for example.
- Assign Tasks
Problem-solving is all about action. In meetings that are meant to problem solve rather than to simply inform, it’s vital to make sure actions are taken. The best way to do so is to assign tasks out as soon as they are decided upon.
For instance, if a question is presented and a participant has a good idea for solving that problem, you might be able to suggest that they spearhead their solution. This will motivate people to think of better ideas and also get them more invested in making sure their ideas are implemented successfully.
- Summarize Before Adjourning
Noting everything that was accomplished, assigned, and discussed in a meeting will help make sure everything is carried out the way it was planned and ensure there will be no need to repeat aspects of the meeting. If possible, include these summary notes in the minutes and send them out to all participants.
Although not every meeting will call for a detailed keeping of minutes, a general summary will always be helpful. Plus, it will help people keep track of their responsibilities.
Universal Etiquette for video conferencing
Besides the 15 tips just mentioned, a few general etiquette rules should be followed by participants, presenters, and organizers alike for better video conferencing. Setting these out beforehand will save time that might otherwise be wasted getting everyone together for the meeting.
- Clear Workspaces
Everyone in remote conferences should make sure their workspace is tidy. Not only is this more aesthetically pleasing, but it will also remove distractions that could draw other people’s attention from the meeting.
- Professional Dress
While you might not need to be in a full suit, it’s highly unlikely the company culture will be so relaxed as to permit sweatpants and t-shirts during a meeting. It can be a bit unusual to work from home in a button-down shirt, but it will keep things feeling business-oriented. As a plus, it will help your work-life balance because you can change into something more comfortable at the end of the day.
- Cameras & Microphones
Possibly the worst of all the video conferencing faux pas is when someone forgets their microphone or camera is on. Letting on how exasperated you are on a hot mic or standing up with the camera on to reveal that you were wearing pajama pants underneath your business top are just two ways you can embarrass yourself on a digital conference if you aren’t careful.
- Take Turns Speaking
There can sometimes be a delay when someone has a slower internet connection or there are many people on the conference call. Make sure to wait for people to finish speaking before you jump in. Once people start speaking over each other on a video conference, it can be difficult to get things cleared up again. Plus, participants will be frustrated by the lack of clarity.
video conferencing isn’t going anywhere but many people are still trying to figure it out. It doesn’t always come down to simple etiquette. Some teams are using this convenient tool in the wrong way and it’s preventing them from seeing the best results.
Hopefully, the rules in this guide will help your team implement better teleconferencing strategies that are more effective at solving problems without taking up too much time. With enough planning and structure, digital meetings can be even more effective than their traditional counterparts.