5 tips for better online meetings
If your team is normally office-based, switching to online meetings and video conferences can be a confusing experience which leads to a number of common mistakes. These five top etiquette tips for online meetings can help you ensure everyone on the invite is comfortable in a virtual meeting – and makes the best use of time.
1. Check that everyone has the bandwidth
Your workplace internet connection may be super-fast, but not every home in Australia has access to the NBN or a high-speed connection. Those who do may still experience wildly different upload and download speeds, depending on their connection type and internet provider.
Plan your online meetings around the slowest connection on the team - not the fastest. So that might mean you'll need to stick with audio instead of video.
And be patient with each other if the connections lag.
2. Take it in turns to talk – and allow everyone to contribute meaningfully
If everyone’s connection speed supports it, a video conference can be more effective because being able to see each other makes it easier to judge when someone has finished speaking – reducing the risk of interruptions and overtalking.
Encourage everyone to 'pass the baton', with a pause between speakers. They can do this by directing a question at a particular person, or the chair of the meeting can designate who speaks next.
If your team is using video conferencing for the first time, resist the temptation to compare pets or be distracted by chats about someone else’s home décor. Seeing into everyone’s home may be a novelty, but this is still a workplace – even if it’s a virtual one.
3. Before the meeting
Some workplaces have a strict policy of sharing an agenda before a meeting to identifying who will be present, and when and how they'll contribute. You might not need such a formal agenda structure, but it's still worth sharing an outline so everyone can prepare.
And on that note, circulate any documents well in advance so attendees can access, download and open them before the meeting begins, particularly if large files are involved. If you’ve ever tried to hurriedly download and open a massive PowerPoint deck during a meeting, you’ll know how stressful it can be – and how much time is wasted.
Also, open any apps you’ll be using – including the online meeting app – before the meeting with plenty of time to install any updates it may force you to action. Making the team wait while you spend ten minutes reinstalling Skype isn’t a good look.
4. To mute or not to mute?
One of the most important features of an online meeting app is almost certainly the mute button.
Mute your mic if you’re not intending to speak for a while. If your dog starts barking or you spill your coffee and inadvertently react loudly, the other attendees won’t be interrupted or offended.
Keyboard noises can be surprisingly loud and distracting on a conference call, so hit mute if you’re typing notes. Be aware that constant typing can also create the impression you’re not paying full attention, which is also why answering emails during a meeting isn’t recommended.
Something else to consider is that while sharing your screen makes it easier to explain a design or collaborate on a document, be careful not to leave your other browser tabs open, which might be distracting.
5. Share notes and transcripts
Many online meeting and conferencing apps allow you to record the audio for later reference. Depending on your chosen platform it may also be possible to automatically transcribe the audio too.
Even if you do record and transcribe your meetings, there are still good reasons why attendees should make their own notes:
- An hour-long conference means an hour-long audio file, which isn’t easy to revisit to search for a specific point.
- A transcript may take a few hours or more to be ready, by which time some of the agreed actions from the meeting may already be in motion.
- Taking notes in the moment ensures attention.
“You have left the meeting”
One final piece of advice is to remember that not every conversation needs to be a meeting.
Sometimes, a simple phone call and a follow-up email will do, even if you need to dial in a third person. Meetings are easy to organise when everyone is in the same building but can quickly become a time-wasting nuisance online.
However, when meetings do need to happen, it’s important you plan them with all attendees' requirements in mind.