By Nigel Oseland
When it comes to virtual meetings at work, I’ve always been in two minds. On the one hand face-to-face is more dynamic, more engaging and more responsive. We pick up on non-verbal communication – facial expressions and other body languages revealing engagement and understanding. We use body language to emphasise messages and refer to previous shared experiences – see my collaboration report for more detail. I often joke that I want to smell others in the room not just hear or see them.
On the other hand, once initial contact has been made face-to-face, trust gained and simply “putting a face to the name”, videoconferencing offers other advantages, such as saving on time and travel. At the start of the year I had two demanding clients who expected me to make 3 to 4 hours round trips for 1-hour meetings – not a great use of time and resource and unnecessary. And of course, on-line meetings prevent cross-infection! Furthermore, you can also see those on the call and can tell who is engaged or who is distracted or working on other things.
Videoconferencing through Zoom, Skype (when it works) and Teams helps with the above and is more preferable to the dreaded teleconference. Have you ever been on a teleconference with more than three people, or been the one on the call while others are gathered in a room? People talk over each other (no visual clues) and there is so much background noise it’s hard to hear what’s going on, and of course those in a room use body language and completely forget those on the phone. So, videoconferencing is clearly a step-up from teleconferencing and helps with non-verbal communication.
We have rapidly become more used to on-line meetings, but I’ve noticed some basic mistakes which are easily rectified. Below are my top tips on business virtual meeting etiquette.
Like all meetings an invite is required with joining instructions (the Zoom link and passcode etc) and an agenda with timings.
- A chairperson is also required. They will be responsible for sticking to time but also ensuring all are heard without talking over each other – in virtual meetings they can control the mics of all participants. Some may be new to on-line meetings so the chair should also explain how a virtual meeting works technically, for example muting mics, sharing screens and using the chat. The chair should also let participants know when their mic is in mute when trying to speak and when it should be on mute. Hand signal for “time up”, “can’t hear you” or “all good" may also be agreed, rather than everyone switch their mic on. The chair may assign someone to keep time and use “traffic light” cards to keep speakers on track. Like all meetings, follow an on-line one up with a list of key actions, so also assign a minute taker. To help this some collaboration tools allow you to record the meeting (with permission).
- Participate in an on-line meeting like you would a normal office meeting. Consider your attire - yes we can dress down when at home but remember some participants may be seeing you for the first time. Also consider your behaviours – if you were in a face-to-face meeting would you be dipping in and out of the room, would you be busy doing emails etc. Saying “I didn’t quite catch that can you repeat it” is a dead giveaway. The agenda should indicate whether you are required or not and if you attend then give the meeting your full attention.
- Consider the visual environment. Some of us have offices but others may be working from the kitchen table. You wouldn’t attend a physical meeting with your ironing or personal artefacts so clear the background. Some collaboration tools allow you to blur the background or even add a virtual one. Seat yourself and set up your computer so you can be easily seen – check that the lighting or sunlight is not “burning” you out. When speaking look at the camera rather than the screen as this gives you better “eye contact”. I find that if the meeting is a videoconference then the expectation is to have the video switched on. I might be wrong, but I assume that those not using video are engaged in other activities and not fully committed to the meeting. Also, as mentioned, a key advantage of videoconferencing is that it helps with non-verbal communication.
- The acoustic environment is key. When not speaking put the mic on mute so that others are not distracted by background sound e.g. coughing, sneezing, traffic, washing machines, kettles boiling or flushing toilets (I’ve heard them all). Check your microphone and sound before the meeting rather than hold it up at the start. Choose a quiet place without acoustic or visual distractions.
- Due to Coronavirus many of us have discovered the benefits of virtual meetings and I suspect that post-Coronavirus we will continue with them and use them more than before. Just follow my simple steps above to ensure these meetings are productive.
Many thanks to Berkhamsted Speakers Club for the image and insight.