As we become a more global economy, more people work remotely and traditional workplace dynamics change. Yet, one thing remains consistent about work: meetings.
The average amount of time employees spend in weekly meetings has reached 11.7 hours, with 9% of respondents spending more than 20 hours of their workweek in meetings. (And those numbers are from before the coronavirus pandemic!)
Perhaps unsurprisingly, as a result of our greater degree of connectivity, we are shifting to more virtual meetings. But, what exactly are virtual meetings?
That’s a good question. We’ve seen them. We’ve experienced them. However, it’s essential that we define them to better understand how we can use virtual or online meetings to grow our business and improve processes.
In a nutshell, virtual meetings allow people, regardless of their physical location, to convene for the sake of doing business, sharing information, or simply connecting. (You know, the same reasons we meet up in real life, only via webcasting platforms.) Virtual meetings may take different forms, and primarily use video and audio. In this blog, we will define teleconferences and virtual meetings, describe their benefits, and offer some best practices to maximize their impact and value.
Virtual Meetings Connect People Regardless of Location
The appeal of virtual meetings is clear. Meeting invitees can meet face to face (or ear to ear, in some cases) regardless of if they’re working at a makeshift desk at their kitchen table, are at a stopover for a flight, or are simply located in a different office environment than the meeting originator. Hosting a virtual meeting – which can take the form of a teleconference, video conference or web conference – provides all the benefits of in-person meetings without needing to be in one physical location.
Hosting a virtual meeting provides all the benefits of in-person meetings without needing to be in one physical location.
Flexible Solutions Mean Better Connections
Enter technology. Thanks to multimedia, employees of an organization, individuals who are part of a committee, members of an association or any of a number of other groups of people can convene for a shared purpose, efficiently, conveniently and productively. The biggest benefits of hosting virtual meetings include time savings, cost savings, and boosted productivity.
You can bring together the masses (hundreds of people) – or just one department’s members – for regular team meetings or for any number of reasons: sales presentations, employee training, or town-hall meetings. Or you can simply host a more intimate one-on-one with someone who’s in a different location.
Virtual Meeting Options
Audio teleconferences, in particular, have been a standout on the virtual meeting popularity charts for years. Participants typically dial into a central number with a meeting number and password or may use a dedicated conference network. These are on the way out in favor of video and web conferencing, which have so much more versatility.
Video conferences are on the rise because they’re so dynamic and offer options for a successful component of a virtual meeting: interaction. These live online broadcasts allow you to see the whites of one another’s eyes, their expressions, and the occasional four-legged pal (or child) who wanders by. Moreover, on the technical side, attendees can utilize features like screen-sharing, fully interactive chat features so people don’t have to talk over each other to pose their questions, and recording options. These conferences also offer visibility that is essential to online training, webinars, and even job candidate interviews.
The third category of virtual meetings is web casting, or live online broadcasts, which is very similar to video conferencing but full video interaction is not always present. These offer flexibility as well; some tools offer instant messaging, streaming of audio or video, and text discussions. Web conferences can be handy for webcasts, webinars, or online training. Unlike most audio teleconferences, they require an Internet connection because their voice or video calls are made online. (Learn more about web casting in our series here.)
Virtual Conferencing is Here to Stay!
Online meetings and web conferences show no signs of slowing down. In fact, their appeal is increasing at warp speed, particularly with the COVID-19 pandemic requiring more remote working. The demand for video conferencing apps has surged, with enterprise-focused mobile app downloads reaching 62 million during the week of March 14-21, 2020, the highest number ever seen.
Now all this technology is well and good, but a meeting – regardless of the dazzling technology on which it’s hosted – won’t be fully optimized without proper preparation.
How to Make the Most of Your Virtual Meeting
A few tips before and during a meeting to make the most of it:
- Create an agenda and note specific objectives. Consider the old adage, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
- Assemble and share information BEFORE the virtual meeting so employees have something to review/respond to vs. having numerous people drone on with their reports outs. And even more importantly, set the expectation that attendees need to review the information and come prepared to talk about it. Rule #1: Be respectful.
- Turn the video on and keep it on so people can see each other, adding a human element and the ability to read body language. (This also prevents attendees from multi-tasking – checking emails, etc., during a meeting and not being fully present.) Rule #2: Be present.
- Include a short icebreaker at the beginning of the meeting to allow each person (in a smaller-scale meeting) to check in.
- Following the agenda, raise topics and ask for employees to weigh in and work on any issues or challenges collaboratively.
- Except during one-sided presentations, do not lean on mute. Just as meeting attendees need to see each other, they also benefit from hearing each other – even if it’s laughing at jokes or co-worker banter.
- To keep everyone engaged, consider “calling on” individuals in a meeting and asking for each to weigh in or speak to an agenda topic.
- Designate a “course keeper.” This person is charged with keeping employees on point with their conversations. Even more important: a designated course keeper can “keep people honest” by being the collective voice in situations during critical conversations, answering the question, “What isn’t someone saying right now?”
The Bottom Line
Whether you’re on a phone, your smartphone, or your laptop, remember that a virtual meeting taps the world of multimedia for a purpose: to inform, educate, and collaborate. Technology is amazing but it isn’t magic. Maximizing its benefits still requires meeting organizers and attendees alike to be mindful, prepared, and present. It’s really not too much to ask to promote a flexible work culture, improve communication, and enhance workforce productivity.