As everyone is practicing social distancing and self-isolation because of the on-going COVID-19 pandemic, businesses are moving online. So do meetings.
In this article, we will give you the basics of video conferencing etiquettes and how to conduct effective and efficient online meetings for work.
Before the meeting
1. Be ready
Those handling the responsibilities of hosting and facilitating the meetings should be most well-prepared and ready beforehand.
As a rule of thumb:
Hosts & facilitators: should be there 5-10 minutes before the meetings. (Read on to find out more about the role of a facilitator in an online meeting.)
Participants: 3-5 minutes, to be sure that the connection works and is ready on time.
Part of being well-prepared is to take care of the audio-visuality for the meetings on your side.
Don’t take it lightly, but sound plays an important role in remote-working and online-meeting contexts. A fair headset with microphone gets you focused much better.
Even if your pair of headphones is not a brand new one, play around and test everything out with your headphones and microphones to make sure the sound works perfectly for you in the meeting.
Those who are new to Zoom or online-meeting kind of communication will have to tend to this step even more carefully as it familiarizes you with ways to work around any possible sound problems that might happen during the meeting.
Tips: Try to choose a quiet location to have your virtual meetings. In case you have no other choice but a noisy place, you should mute your microphone, unless it’s your turn to speak, in order to keep others focused on the meeting.
To replicate the feeling of a face-to-face meeting where everyone can really see each other and become more interactive, it’s best to join a meeting with the turning on of your webcam.
This could be helpful particularly when the computer audio crash happens on your side and someone can use their body language to cue “I can’t hear you” over the video.
“I can’t hear you” cue card like this can come to the rescue and save you a lot of energy in the attempt to figure out how to let your friend knows you can’t hear them.
4. Camera position
The next thing is to make sure that your camera is framing you from the shoulder or chest up. Better go for Medium Close-Up as shown below.
Medium Close-Up is the best framing for video conferencing. Avoid that all others can see is your close-up forehead, the top of your hair, or the length of your neck down to your chest.
It’s also important to note that lighting should almost always come from the front or, in worse-case scenarios, the sides of yours.
Avoid sitting with backlights—such as the sun or a floor lamp, that will hurt the eyes of your meeting mates.
During the meeting
5. Be a keen observer
Try your best to have the best view of all your meeting participants in the virtual meetings as if you would an offline meeting.
As in our case, with Zoom as the main video conferencing platform, there is the Gallery View that allows you to see each and every one of our team members and how they interact altogether. It creates a sense of teamwork and connection with everyone.
6. Be clear about whom you’re talking to
When making your point in a virtual meeting of more than 2 people, make sure to call the names of those you are talking to. Calling people by their names every single time you are discussing an issue with them allows the right people to pay attention and receive the right messages from you.
Also, make it a norm that, whenever the person you’re talking to have no further feedback or so, they should let you know verbally with “I have nothing to say”.
During the meeting
“Safety” agreements that involve personal privacy—like the consent to record the video conferences for any reason e.g. for those who can’t join the meeting right now to catch up later—should be requested early on.
Better yet, this should be done mutually in trust and respect for each other before the meeting starts.
Trust is important for day-to-day businesses. And it holds even truer when businesses move online.
The lack of physical appearance makes it hard to glean from your fellows’ non-verbal messages the way you do in face-to-face meetings while making it easy to misunderstand them and get yourself misunderstood.
8. Be ready for the unexpected
Make sure that you have a contingency plan—the one that you will opt for when all the first options go down for any reason.
This is a must-have for meetings or conferences of 5 participants or more. Imagine you’re in an important video conference with your important business partners and suddenly everything goes black.
It’s ideal to set up the second-choice communication platform(s) separately from the main one(s) that could have required access through your company network.
In our case at Axon Active, besides email for official information dissemination, we use:
Skype for fast daily conversation involving our works and back up channel(s)
Zoom for formal meetings—internally and with our clients: It is our main video-conferencing channel due to its requiring minimal bandwidth with maximal video stability and quality.
Depending on the different tastes of different developer teams, we also use the 3rd-level backup with 4G internet, in case we lose PC connection: WhatsApp—a cross-platform messaging app by Facebook (Wikipedia), Telegram Messenger—a cloud-based instant messaging app (Wikipedia), and Zalo—one of the most popular instant messaging apps in Vietnam—where our offshore ODC and OTC are operating.
Not only do we have it installed in advance, but we also test each one out for readiness ahead of time, so that in case one channel suffers glitches, as we know from Murphy’s law (Wikipedia), we can always have some other options alive and kicking to switch to, to continue our workflow without a moment of hesitation.
9. Be ahead of the game with a facilitator
An online meeting facilitator is particularly helpful for video conferences of more than 5 people.
The facilitator, then, will be in charge of:
Making “safety” agreements early on with the participated parties
Making the meeting agenda known to all participants—either through an official email, or through more casual, instantaneous tools like Trello (by Atlassian) and Jamboard (by Google)
Keeping an eye on the meeting’s timebox
Keeping tabs on audio-visual quality of the meeting—including asking someone to mute their microphone in case the noise coming from their surrounding is interfering with the meeting. In Zoom, even the host/facilitator can set someone on “mute” mode in case of background noise.
Inviting the quiets to have a say for their opinions/feedback along the way
Making sure there’s a break time in-between the meeting (Read on for more information about break time)
Taking care of the contingency or backup communication channel(s) well ahead of the meeting so that when things go unexpectedly, the meeting can go on fuss-free without letting the shut-down take its toll on the workflow.
10. Be polite
Because the flowing of a video conference depends heavily on the technologies available in your own home, which are not necessarily so in others’, it would be a bit more challenging to interrupt someone for unavoidable reasons, such as when the meeting timebox is running out.
For such a situation, literally raise your hand—or use that “Raise hand” icon if you are using Zoom like us.
Or, show people an “ELMO” card in the camera.
Or, note all your questions down a piece of paper or parking lot in an online board, on a digital board, in a chat app, etc. and get one by one answered after the speaker’s finished.
Carrying healthy offline socializing habits over into virtual meetings will break the ice, create a sense of comfort for everyone in the team—including you, and allow everyone to feel connected—especially amidst the social-distancing and isolation time like now. You can easily do this at the beginning of a meeting or after a small break.
11. Be cool
It is our experience that online meetings are more energy-consuming for people to stay focused.
A 5 or 10-minute break for every 1-hour meeting or so should be done so that everyone can go for a refreshment or take the toilet visit. If you are a Basic Zoom user (free license), try to adapt this with a 40-minute meeting then (refer to Zoom’s Types of Users for more information).
Also, before leaving the meeting, make sure that everyone agrees and respects the time they should be back. Put up an online timer on your screen so that you won’t be late for the next meeting session.
12. Be engaged
Avoid the situation when a “soloist” goes on and on with their presentation and a long string of PowerPoint slides for many hours straight.
The point is to get everyone actively engaged with the meeting’s topics and with one another every step of the way: encourage people to get involved and provide input, ask for their opinions, invite for new ideas to be shared, …
Keep in mind! Break time, in this case, still needs to be administered, for the best possible online-meeting experience.
13. Online tools for the Agile World
In an Agile work environment, using post-its and other tools is a must. Working online, we’re robbed of the opportunity to do so together as a team.
Fortunately, there are a number of online tools out there you can virtually work on together for an enhanced sense of shared understanding and work visualization, making work progress as effectively as you do offline.
Below are some of our recommendations.
Jamboard by Google: A small whiteboard app that comes for free, and an easy start for those unfamiliar with using online tools. Go and check out Jamboard at https://jamboard.google.com/.
Google Docs: Another good option for any companies using Google Business on daily basis know this already. Check out the amazing functions it has to offer at https://docs.google.com/.
The Office App by Microsoft: A wealth of ready-to-use apps under one roof for Microsoft software corporate licensees out there at https://www.office.com/.
Like any tool, all of them come in a variety of pros and cons, depending on your job requirements, with different plans available to go for. Although these apps are good on their own, better take simple precautions of never publishing any of your (or worse, your clients’) corporate confidential information on these tools! If you use private licenses, check with your client for which one they support and are fine with.