Work is shifting to work from home and meetings are taking place as video calls. Here’s a guide for maximizing video meetings.
- COVID-19 has forced us to use video meetings while we work from home
- It can be difficult to stay focused during video meetings so it is important to create ground rules ahead of time
- If done correctly, video meetings can be great tools for everyone to "meet up”, collaborate, update, share ideas, or solve problems together
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to work from home and take all of our work communications online. This is especially true for meetings which are now being held virtually through platforms like Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Skype, and others. By now, you have probably already experienced this “new” type of meeting at least once or twice. But how effective is it?
At some point, you may have found yourself not truly paying attention to what is going on in the meeting. This is because the absence of face-to-face interactions makes it difficult focus on attendees of the meeting. Add in all the distractions that come with working from home and you end up feeling like you’ve wasted an hour and don't remember what you just discussed during the meeting.
If you find your video meetings becoming less effective or find yourself getting too distracted, here are a few tips to help you stay focused and maximize video meetings to stay productive while you continue working from home.
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But first... Setting up ground rules
Before doing scheduling a meeting, you need to set up some ground rules or standard operating procedures to ensure you aren't wasting time. First and foremost, consider whether what it is you need to discuss needs a meeting or if it can just be said through an email instead. A lot of the times, the hour-long meetings we have can be condensed into a short email, which can save you a lot of time and even give everyone a written record of what you wanted to say.
If you really feel the need to hold the meeting, ask yourself these questions before setting up a schedule:
- What is the goal of the meeting? What is the end-game?
- Who really needs to attend (and who doesn’t)
- Is a group meeting necessary or will we achieve better results through a one-on-one call?
- How long is needed, based on how many people will attend?
It is also a good idea to ask the people who will attend how much time they have for that day. This makes them feel like you value their time and they will appreciate you for it.
Set up ground rules and standard procedures beforehand, especially if you will be conducting regular meetings. Some ideas for these rules can be:
- Setting a standard time and day of the week (Every Monday, 10 AM – 10:30 AM)
- Having an order of who will present first, second, third, etc.
- Using chat boxes for comments and questions rather than speaking while someone else is presenting
- Requiring everyone to use earphones and a mic for better audio quality
Use the points below as rules for video meetings as well. Just make sure everyone knows and is on the same page.
Keep meetings short
Regular, face-to-face meetings are hard enough to focus on for long periods of time as it is. Even more when you’re just staring at a screen and the “fun” that can come from personal interactions is gone. A good length of time for video meetings is around 30 – 45 minutes.
Research conducted by Meeting King shows that 91% of people pay attention when the meeting is 0-15 minutes long, compared to 73% when the meeting is 30-45 minutes long. This drops even further to 64% when the meeting is longer than 45 minutes. If you really need to have a long meeting, have breaks in between so everyone stays engaged.
Opt-out of using video when you can
While having everyone's camera on during meetings can help us gauge people’s feelings, observe reactions, or simply see a familiar face, having video on all the time can sometimes make it difficult for us to focus on what is being said during meetings.
The pressure can put on you to sit straight, look normal or presentable on screen can make you more focused on constantly checking how you look on the video rather than what is actually being discussed. Every so often, ask if you can turn off your camera and just listen. Use the chat box if you have to quickly leave your computer so people will know when you’re away from keyboard.
Mute when not speaking
When more than one person is speaking, most platforms automatically mute majority of the people speaking. This is also true for background noise like the TV, your dog barking, kids playing and running around, and more.
When it isn’t your turn to speak, keep your mic on mute so there is no interference with the audio. There’s nothing more frustrating than having to repeat yourself ten-thousand times because of poor audio quality. Not to mention that it wastes a lot of time. When you want to say something, give a signal that you need to speak. This brings us to the next point.
Signal when you want to talk
Having a quick, regular conversation is difficult via video for one main reason – internet connection (especially here in the Philippines). Because we all have different internet speeds, delays are inevitable and you get those moments where people end up talking over each other or repeating “sorry, you go ahead” over and over.
This is why when having meetings on video, it’s extremely important to take turns and signal when you have something to say. Some apps have a way for you to indicate that you want to talk. Microsoft Teams, for example, has a “raise your hand” feature which notifies the group that you have something to say.
Before conducting meetings, come up with a system for this, like using the chat box to ask questions instead of speaking, or physically raising your hand when you want to speak. When it is your turn, wait for a few seconds to speak in case there is a sound delay.
Address people specifically
This is especially true if there are a lot of people in the conference call. It’s easy to feel detached through video call and we don't have the same visual cues like with regular meetings You can’t just turn to the person and speak to them like you would do during a face-to-face meeting. No one will know who you are looking at in a video, so address people specifically. Call them out by their name to ask them what they think.
If you’re the meeting leader and in a big group, try to address every single person at least once. This will also help keep everyone engaged and feel included, not like they are just in the background.
Go to a quiet room if possible
Apart from reducing unnecessary noise, going to a quiet room will help you focus on the meeting at hand. Having the TV on in the background, for example, will make it hard for you to focus. If you have a separate room, go there for the time being.
However, this might not be possible for everyone. You may be living in a studio apartment or have too many people around the house to avoid. If this is the case, let everyone know you’re having a meeting and request them to stay as silent as possible even just for a while. Don’t forget to mute your mic when you're not speaking to reduce the noise further.
Adjust your electric fan
Yes, it can be heard, and yes this tropical heat is crazy. But the whooshing of the fan can be quite distracting. Try to point the fan away from your mic. If you’re using a headset with a microphone, point your fan down. If you’re relying on your computer’s mic, adjust the fan higher up.
Use earphones or a head set
We might be working from home for a long time, so it might be a good idea to invest in a good set of headset or even just headphones with a mic. Sometimes, the earphones that come with your phones will work fine.
Earphones will help you stay focused and eliminate some noise around you – especially if you have noise cancelling ones. Having one with a mic will make your audio quality better so everyone can hear you clearly.
Earphones also help with feedback. If your speakers are on and you’re using your laptop mic, your audio will echo, making it hard to hear whatever it is your saying.
Share your screen to share your point
People are visual creatures. Instead of trying to verbally explain or describe something, show everyone. Share your screen to show the data your talking about or your design ideas. Having something to look at on screen rather than blank squares (or even everyone’s faces) can help people better understand what it is you’re trying to say.
Meetings are tricky and video meetings are a whole other beast, but if you are properly prepared and set up ground rules ahead of time, they can be great tools to have everyone “meet up”, collaborate, and share ideas.