The pandemic has changed meeting culture forever. Zoom has become a verb and a household name. While online meetings were always part of business life, the pandemic and its aftermath made them an essential part of doing business for the foreseeable future. With distributed workforces now standard, doing online meetings “right” is more important than ever.
After hosting and attending thousands of meetings in my many stints at companies large and small, I’ve become an expert on what it takes to have a productive meeting. Here are some key dos and don’ts and some tips and tricks for making online and hybrid meetings more effective.
1. Don't be late
Arriving late to meetings is inconsiderate and disrespectful of other people’s time. For online or hybrid meetings, though, even if you're technically on time, you might be late. By the time you log in, adjust your audio and video settings, and are admitted in by the organizer, the meeting may already be well underway.
[ Related read: Hybrid work: 3 new rules for enabling your workforce. ]
The online meeting dance typically takes at least a few seconds and can take as long as a few minutes. If you are dealing with a new or unfamiliar online meeting platform, expect more delays. So assume you will be late in the best of circumstances and log into your online or hybrid meeting at least one minute early.
2. Check your tech
Getting your audio and video just right can be a challenge, especially with the proliferation of online meeting platforms. (How many times have you attended an online meeting with the first ten minutes occupied by at least one attendee mouthing, “Can you hear me now?”)
Don’t complicate your setup with external mics, speakers, and cameras. Unless you are a podcaster or webinar warrior, built-in cameras and audio are all you need. If you’re not satisfied with your built-in hardware, go ahead and customize your setup, but make sure to test it with each of the popular platforms, and don’t fiddle with it once you’ve got it working.
If you are leading a meeting in person with some remote attendees, build in at least five minutes of setup time. Whatever platform you’re using, give yourself enough time to work out any tech glitches.
3. Turn your camera on
Body language plays a critical role in communication. However, we generally see only the head and shoulders of remote attendees, which limits the subtle messages that come with body language. Keeping your camera on helps to build trust because when your face is visible, others can see that you are listening and engaged. (And don’t worry about your appearance – your colleagues want to see your face regardless of how you think you look!)
4. Avoid distractions
During the pandemic, video helped us keep our sanity by allowing us to share everything that was happening around us, including interruptions from children, pets, and other every day at-home distractions. Now it’s time to get back to business and close that door, at least for more formal meetings. Whenever possible, try to keep the activities happening around you outside of the camera’s view or behind closed doors.
5. Mute while listening
Unless you are actively engaged in conversation, mute your microphone when others are speaking. Even light background noise can interfere with the audio and interrupt the speaker. Another benefit of the mute button: It can help participants avoid unintended interruptions or talking over others. I often use the mute status button as a gauge to time my comments and find that it’s a decent substitute when “reading the room” isn’t possible.
6. Be present
Online meetings have made multitasking during meetings even more common, especially when cameras are off (see #3, Turn your camera on). Along with logging in on time, meeting participants also have a responsibility to make meetings work effectively by paying attention and being present. At my meetings, I have a “no open laptops or phones” rule, for example.
If you find your mind wandering or feel the need to multitask during a meeting, perhaps you are overscheduled, or you don’t belong in the meeting, but either way, you’re not being respectful to your host. If you feel that the meeting is not organized or lacks purpose, talk to the organizer and/or opt-out of the meeting altogether.
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