Whether you love or hate meetings, they fill up a significant proportion of our working day. Once upon a time they would have been formal, physical and at a fixed time. On a good day they even included coffee and biscuits. Now they are increasingly informal, virtual and spontaneous.
But how come the sales gloss for virtual meeting rooms never matches the reality? They all promise ease of use and the ability to start a meeting in just a few taps, but the reality is that no-one ever knows how to use the equipment and meetings always start late! Why?
For physical meetings there are contributing human factors that might delay the start of a meeting such as waiting for the room to empty, the traffic on the M25, the insistence on scheduling back-to-back meetings, the meeting organiser turning up late, or the “shall we wait until (insert most senior attendee) gets here?” excuse. But virtual meetings nearly always start late for a host of totally different human and technology factors.
The benefits of virtual meetings are numerous: they can be arranged quickly, no travel is involved, you can join from your desk, share your desktop and most importantly you can see your colleagues’ faces! People respond more positively when they can see each other, and it’s much easier to communicate both verbally and through body language.
But increasingly team members are late or miss phone, video or online conferences. There’s really no excuse for starting late, but here are some reasons why they do (or are they simply lazy excuses?)
- “Sorry, I couldn’t find the dial in number”
- “Sorry, I joined the wrong bridge!”
- “Does anyone know which HDMI input it is?”
- “Does anyone know how to work this remote control?”
- “Can you turn the microphone and speakers off on your laptop because we are getting feedback?”
- “Are you sharing your screen? I will dial back in from my laptop – this mobile won’t show anything.”
There is also a third category of meetings that are becoming ever more popular – the half physical, half virtual meeting, where half the participants are in a VC room and the rest are at remote locations. These are usually the biggest nightmare because inevitably the first 15-20 minutes of every meeting is spent trying to link up with remote offices or home workers. Invariably it is pure wasted time, as each meeting room has slightly different equipment and usually relies on the one person in the meeting with the required amount of confidence and techie flair to sort it out. Of course, everyone else looks at their phones/laptops/emails during these awkward moments.
If that person isn’t there and there are issues, then that would mean trying to understand the laminated instructions, or even worse calling IT and hoping they can help. Often the technology in the room gets abandoned and replaced with a good old fashioned audio-only call. Or if you really want the meeting to start late, then resort to trying online conferencing, because this is when you find out that your laptop is locked down and you can’t download the necessary software or plugin required! Ever seen a huddle of people around a single laptop because it’s the only one that’s working?
Lots of companies have multiple technologies and systems for web/audio/video conference calls, and this can cause mass confusion, training issues, hidden costs and security implications. So how do you get it right? This is an important question to ask, as when you do, virtual meetings as part of business as usual are a really a powerful communication and collaboration tool.
Here’s my top five tips to help you get it right first time, every time:
Prepare the environment: what you save on travel time you need to spend preparing for the meeting. Get the right location and the right environment, choose somewhere quiet, make sure mobiles are turned to silent, that the dog is asleep and you’re not in your pyjamas!
Prepare the technology: the technology needed always requires a little time to get up and running. Sign in well in advance, download any necessary updates, check the network bandwidth will support video and test the audio devices, and then remember to check the camera angle. After all, there’s no point getting it right if people can only see your left shoulder.
Familiarisation: staff may need support and reassurance when faced with new technologies, so create user guides, plan in training sessions and schedule regular updates to keep them familiar. They may also have had negative experiences in the past, so make sure that well-trained support is available to them when needed.
Standardisation: if you have lots of different systems then close them down and standardise on one. If there is only one system in use then there is no excuse for people not being able to use it. Employees often end up forgetting how to use rarely employed technology it or forgetting passwords, so end up sharing login details which is a security risk. Use one – it will be cheaper than using multiple services, help you track usage and help make it part of business as usual – so everyone gets familiar with the same service.
Have a back-up plan: if you’re arranging a virtual meeting to communicate with partners and clients and they run different systems, test it out well in advance and have a back-up plan for last minute hitches on the day.
Get all of those right and the days of the video nasty are long gone… so long as you can control random pitch invasions from your family.