Why does it matter?
While people understandably lament the lack of face-to-face contact and human interaction, it’s impossible to argue against the convenience, speed and low cost of being able to bring together a group of decision-makers without requiring them to travel.
Issue guidelines to people about what is expected. The same rules apply in a virtual meeting as they do in a face-to-face meeting, with courtesy, respect and all other behaviours equally expected of participants. But just as with live in-room meetings avoid absolutes.
Establish quiet spaces to hold virtual meetings. If most participants work in an open-plan environment, the ideal place to hold virtual meetings might be in a closed office, rather than distracting the whole floor with the minutiae of one meeting.
Encourage punctuality. As with physical meetings keeping to a set agenda and managing time will improve productivity and outcomes. Research has shown that about 45 minutes is the ideal length for any meeting. This becomes even more important for virtual meetings as they can be more tiring because attendees may only have audio to go by (rather than being able to also see each other).
Encourage people to consider their backgrounds and settings when visible on camera. This applies particularly to those who are working from home. There is nothing more distracting than your domestic life intruding in the background (just ask political analyst Robert Kelly about his disastrous BBC appearance).
Expect too much of the technology. While the tech is now more user friendly it’s not perfect. You can’t just say ‘come in Brussels’ and have the technology understand that and show your Brussels attendees.
Let people schedule virtual meetings without trying them out. If they were holding a big in-person meeting of course they’d check if the projector was working first. So why should a virtual meeting be any different? People should check the technology (such as the computer, cameras, phones) they plan to use on the day and load up the PowerPoint slides they’re going to show, ideally getting another colleague to check what it looks and sounds like from another office.
Limit yourself to one vendor. While this makes sense for something like telephone systems (which are physically installed in the building) it doesn’t necessarily make sense for services that are supplied remotely. You may find that a single-vendor solution suits the users that are office based but doesn’t work well for those on the road. Therefore you may not be saving money if your main salesperson can’t bring together a project team for a meeting.
Share your whole desktop. There is nothing less professional than attendees at a virtual meeting being able to see email notifications with personal subject lines such as ‘you left the kitchen in a mess this morning’ or ‘can you leave early to pick up the kids?’ I’ve personally attended a virtual meeting where the presenter’s internet browsing history was visible to everyone and it did not make him look professional at all.
Jonathan Dungan is a marketing executive at 247meeting.com