Every year, we hear more about remote work and virtual meetings.
A lot of businesses have been moving in a remote-friendly direction, and that process has been drastically sped up due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Even companies that had never planned to operate remotely have been forced to transition very quickly.
Let’s just say it can be… an adjustment.
Before you dive into the world of having more effective meetings online, there are a few things to know that’ll help you and your team have a successful first-go:
- What exactly is a virtual meeting?
- What are the advantages and disadvantages?
- What should you know before hosting a virtual meeting?
- What can you do during a virtual meeting to make it successful?
- What should you do after a virtual meeting?
Let’s get started.
What exactly is a virtual meeting, anyway?
Simply put, a virtual meeting is a meeting that happens online rather than face-to-face.
Meeting attendees can be spread across the world or in the same building—the main thing is that they’re connecting in a virtual environment.
What kinds of virtual meetings are there?
Depending on your needs as a business, you’ve got a few virtual meeting options.
A teleconference is when remote participants dial in to a common conference call. It’s an audio-only meeting.
These work best for small group meetings where each person will have a chance to be heard on the call.
The benefit of teleconferencing is that there’s generally less tech involved compared to other types of virtual meetings. However, you miss out on being able to see people’s reactions and body language.
Video conferencing software like RingCentral Video gives you both audio and video options, so participants can hear and see each other. It’s a face-to-face meeting without actually being face-to-face.
The major benefit here is that you can pick up on both audio cues as well as visual cues, like your team’s body language. Being able to see everyone also makes things seem a lot more personal:
Think of web conferencing as being “hands on” in the virtual sense. You can host presentations, collaborate on a project, and conduct training. The main idea is to allow the team to work together on something at the same time.
You might hear web conferencing used interchangeably with webinars, but they’re not the same thing.
The word “webinar” is a combination of the words “web” and “seminar.” It’s a type of web conferencing that’s set up to educate participants, like a seminar.
It tends to be a one-way communication method (with the exception of a possible Q&A period at the end), while web conferencing is multi-way communication.
What are the advantages of virtual meetings?
Virtual meetings open the door for a lot of options that may not usually be possible because of geographical limitations.
Team members across the globe
With remote work, you’re no longer limited to only working with people who are local. You can build up your dream team with the best talent across the country and maybe even the world. All that’s needed is an internet connection.
No travel costs
Sometimes, you may want to fly a team member in to work on a project. Or maybe you need to work more collaboratively with an external consultant.
Virtual meetings and remote collaboration help limit how many times that’s necessary, saving you a good sum of money.
Access to more customers
Depending on what kind of business you have, you can gain customers and clients outside of your area. Having communication access to people around the world opens up a lot more opportunities to gain customers and in turn, revenue.
Another advantage that comes with remote meetings is the flexibility around time. Without the commute time or needing to be physically present for a meeting, it becomes much easier to find a time that works for everyone.
For example, maybe one of your managers needs to pick his daughter up from soccer practice at 2:00 p.m. Normally, his day would have to end at 1:00 p.m. because he’d need to leave to pick her up and he’d be looking after her from then onwards. With the option of remote meetings, he could join in at 3:00 p.m. once he’s gotten home and his daughter is doing her homework.
Having the flexibility to work with people’s lives instead of against them helps to create a more positive work experience for everyone involved.
There are some situations that you just can’t predict as a business owner. For most people, epidemics fall under this category.
With the COVID-19 pandemic currently impacting the world, saying that things have changed is an understatement. Everything is different. Grocery shopping, school, seeing friends and family, weekends—everything.
And that includes the workplace. With the government ordering most offices to close, a lot of businesses have no option but to shut down.
Having the option to move your company online through virtual meetings and remote work provides some stability and security in a time where everything is uncertain.
For a business, it can be the difference between staying afloat and going under.
And what are the disadvantages of virtual meetings?
While remote meetings have major advantages, there are a few (relatively small) hoops you have to jump through.
Getting set up
To start, there’s some tech set up involved. It’s very manageable, but there’ll likely be a bit of fumbling at the beginning, especially if people haven’t participated in remote meetings before.
With everyone joining the meeting from their homes, you’re dealing with individual operating systems, individual audio and video capabilities, and individual Wi-Fi connections.
Once those issues are ironed out in the first meeting or two, it’s smooth sailing from there.
Keeping participants engaged
Another disadvantage is that it can be more of a challenge than usual to keep participants focused and engaged during the meeting.
Even if everyone can see one another, each person is in a different room and behind a screen. It’s much easier to slip into passive listening compared to an in-person meeting when there are a lot of participants. Video meetings, however, are still much more engaging for participants than audio-only meetings.
Now that you know more about virtual meetings, it’s time to lay the foundations to make sure you have a successful one.
Before you jump right into hosting virtual meetings, what should you know?
You’ll want to make a few preparations to make sure your first one goes smoothly.
Pick the right tools
The right tools look different for every business. It all depends on your specific needs.
Thankfully, there are loads of tools out there to help with effective collaboration and making things faster and easier.
Here are a few things to consider.
How many people will there be in the remote meetings?
Three people? 25? 80?
Some tools are better suited for one-on-one virtual meetings and might crack under the load of 20+ joining. Other tools have the capability to host a 200-person meeting but might come with more bells and whistles than you need, along with a higher price tag.
Once you have an approximate number of meeting participants in mind, you can start thinking about what kind of features you’ll need.
What are your functionality “must-haves” to make your remote meetings effective?
Most of the time, you’ll want to be able to see everyone in the meeting. At a minimum, make sure to choose a software that has good audio and video capabilities.
Will everyone need to watch a presentation in real time? Or will you need to walk everyone through a step-by-step demo? For things like that, you’ll need a tool that offers screen sharing.
If collaboration is a big part of your team meetings, you’ll want to make sure everyone can access relevant documents. Google Docs would work well in these situations, allowing everyone to work together in the same document at the same time.
With so many different functionality needs, it’s best to go with an all-in-one software. It saves you the headache of trying to use multiple tools in combination with each other—as well as the multiple bills.
Something like RingCentral would be handy here. It offers HD video conferencing and screen sharing, as well as team messaging to keep all your communication tidy in one place. The annotation feature is a helpful addition too because it allows the team to point at something on the screen as if they would in an in-person meeting.
With all-around tools like RingCentral, you have the option to manage tasks right in the same software. (Or if you’re already using a task management tool like Asana or Trello, you can easily integrate it.)
Feel free to mix-and-match to find the combination of tools for your needs.
Figure out scheduling
Working with everyone’s schedule to set a meeting time can be tricky, especially if you have people spread across multiple time zones.
The first step is to make sure everyone is using an office calendar with team access so that it’s easy to see when people are available.
If you have team members in different time zones, try to find time frames that work for everyone.
For example, if you have employees working out of both New York and Vancouver, try something like 1:00 p.m. New York time—which would be 10:00 a.m. Vancouver time. That way, the virtual meetings are still comfortable within each local working day.
Depending on how distributed your team is, figuring out time zones can get very confusing very quickly. Tools like World Clock Meeting Planner and Every Time Zone can help make things much easier.
Different time zones can also make it much harder to schedule last-minute meetings, so be sure to schedule them as far in advance as you can.
Set an agenda—and stick to it
As you probably know, setting a meeting agenda is a must. This goes for virtual meetings too.
Whether your meeting is offline or online, having a meeting agenda helps make it more efficient and more successful.
Your meeting agenda should include the key talking points, what everyone is responsible for preparing, and links to any relevant documents.
Send the meeting agenda to everyone beforehand. That way, people will (hopefully!) take a look at it in advance and come to the meeting prepared with ideas or comments.
By doing this, you eliminate a lot of “thinking” time in the meeting that could be used instead for sharing ideas and collaborating.
As a rule of thumb, try to keep meetings to 30 minutes or under. Anything more than that and people are more likely to lose focus.
Create a comfortable environment
Team culture and the atmosphere at work are really important within a company.
The more comfortable people are, the more likely they are to share ideas with others. This makes for much more effective teamwork.
There are plenty of opportunities to foster a collaborative culture and make people more comfortable with one another in office settings.
Micro-interactions in the physical workplace are happening all the time—waiting for the coffee machine, walking by each other in the hall, leaving the office at the same time. Each little moment helps people feel closer to one another.
These moments don’t come up naturally in the virtual world, so it’s important to create them.
Carve out a few minutes at the start of your remote meeting to have a casual conversation as people enter the meeting room and get ready, just like you would for an in-person meeting. Ask people how their day was or if they’ve seen that show on Netflix everyone’s been talking about. Simple things!
This helps to create a more comfortable environment for anyone who’s meeting people for the first time in the virtual meeting, but also for people that have already met each other face-to-face. Even if you’ve talked to them in person before, being in the new virtual environment can make people draw back if they’re not sure what the rules are.
If virtual meetings are going to become a regular part of your company’s workflow, there are lots of extra ways to recreate the “water cooler experience” online, like “just for fun” chat channels and virtual happy hours.
Now that the prep work is done, you’re ready to kick things off.
What should you do during a meeting?
When it comes to transitioning a team to remote meetings, it’s important to establish meeting guidelines and the rules of engagement in the virtual workplace.
Virtual meeting etiquette
A lot of the etiquette overlaps with in-person meetings, but there are additional “do”s that go a long way in virtual meetings.
- Read the meeting agenda and come prepared.
- Introduce everyone at the start of the meeting if they haven’t all already met.
- Where possible, make sure you’re in a quiet area that is free from distraction.
- Turn off your phone notifications (no vibrate mode, either!).
- Don’t look at your phone.
- Don’t work on other tasks or check your email.
- Don’t interrupt others (this is especially disruptive in virtual meetings).
- If you aren’t speaking, put yourself on mute (there’s wiggle room on this one, but it’s best practice, especially with larger groups).
It comes down to respect and courtesy, just like with in-person meetings.
Now that you have the ground rules established, you want to make sure everyone stays focused throughout the meeting.
Keeping everyone engaged
It can be a bit difficult to keep your team focused in a meeting where everyone is in a different room and behind a screen.
There are a few things you can do to help with that.
Spend a few minutes catching up
Like we mentioned before, it’s always a good idea to set aside the first few minutes of a meeting for people to have a friendly, casual conversation.
Not only does it help make people more comfortable, it also acts as a warm-up for them to participate in the meeting.
By talking directly to others in the meeting at the start, people are more likely to feel present and engaged in the conversation that follows.
Give everyone a task
If someone isn’t 100% sure what they’re supposed to be doing in a meeting, it’s easy for them to drift off.
By giving everyone a job, they have a clear purpose that will keep them focused and engaged.
Common jobs in a meeting are to take meeting notes, to gather any questions that come up, and to watch the time to make sure the meeting is kept on track.
Having a specific job also helps team members feel like they’re more actively involved in the meeting, rather than passively just there.
As your remote meeting comes to a close, save a few minutes at the end to wrap things up.
Everyone should come out of a meeting 100% clear on these things:
- What deliverables are needed
- Who is responsible for each deliverable
- When each deliverable is due
- When the next meeting will be
By spending time to clarify these points, everyone will be sure of exactly what they need to do next. This will help people work more efficiently and will also cut down on any follow-up clarification meetings that could have been avoided.
Your meeting’s over. Now what?
Congratulations, you’ve successfully run your first virtual meeting!
Take a minute to take care of any admin work. This is the time to make sure meeting minutes and any relevant documents are filed away correctly while you have them all in front of you.
If anyone had technical issues during the meeting, make a note to follow up with them individually. A little bit of testing will sort things out so they can have a more seamless remote meeting experience next time.
Now you can take some time to reflect on how the meeting went. What worked really well? What could have gone better? Make note of everything that comes to mind.
Then, ask your team the same questions. You want to make sure that virtual meetings work for you and for everyone involved.
You can do this in a casual conversation with the team, individually, or as a group. Or you can send out a feedback survey (keep it anonymous) so people can be completely honest.
Collecting the team’s thoughts will help you make the remote meeting experience better for everyone involved and will likely give you ideas on how to keep the team more engaged.
Ready to run your next virtual meeting?
Like most things, practice makes perfect.
Transitioning from in-person meetings to virtual ones can be an adjustment for everyone and comes with it’s own unique challenges. A little patience will go a long way.
Once you have a few remote meetings under your belt, it’ll feel like the new normal.
Psst… if you’re ready to try virtual meetings now, get a demo of RingCentral Video and see how it works.