Virtual meetings saved us during the pandemic as they allowed business to keep going; however, they still have several downsides. Defining online meetings etiquette and following the rules by all participants will result in more effective cooperation at workplaces.
Switching to remote work during the pandemic increased the number of online meetings or completely replaced stationary ones. A 2020 report by scientists from Harvard Business School shows that although the average length of meetings has decreased by 20% since the pandemic, the number of meetings per person has increased by 13% and the number of participants per meeting has increased by 14%.
Atlassian has revealed that in 2020 employees spent 400% more time on Zoom than in 2019. And Microsoft reported that the time of meetings organised at Microsoft Teams in 2021 increased by 148% compared to 2020.
Forms of company meetings:
- live – all participants are physically present in one place;
- virtual – everyone participates in the event virtually;
- hybrid – some people participate in person, others online.
This article focuses on virtual meetings that are easy to organise, low cost and broad reach. We will also briefly tell you about the rules of hybrid meetings.
Online meeting possibilities:
- location independence;
- number of participants not limited by the size of the room;
- screen sharing and file collaboration;
- meeting recording and transcription;
- creating subgroups for smaller discussions;
- possibility of quick connection in case of an emergency;
- using even more digital technology to enrich the meeting.
Pros and cons of online meetings
- quick and easy planning
- broad reach and influence
- easy participation
- many technological improvements
- less personal connection
- more possible distractions
- not ideal for more extended events
- technology can fail
Steven Rogelberg, professor at UNC Charlotte, says: “Running meetings right can result in many positive and energising outcomes, including better decision-making and increased innovation, cohesion, agility and resilience – [which are] essential outcomes as teams and organizations struggle with the working challenges of the pandemic”.
11 rules for online meetings
Although virtual meetings do not seem as professional as live ones, they should take such a form in the current circumstances where there is little or no other choice. So they deserve a similar etiquette. To guarantee it, the organiser must prepare for them in advance.
Here are some tips so that both the organiser and the participants can get the most out of it:
1. Prepare an agenda
Before scheduling a meeting, create an agenda and send it to the people you invite. Here are some points you should consider including:
- agenda header identifying invitees, date, time and location;
- key goal – defining what’s the purpose and what you want to achieve;
- input data, such as assigning meeting responsibilities;
- a meeting work plan or content of a schedule that organises what needs to be discussed;
- time allocation for each point;
- follow-up, for example, by sending protocols to participants.
2. Choose a neutral background
Whether you’re at home or in an official office, make sure your background is professional. Order and minimalism are recommended so that nothing distracts the meeting participants.
- use a neutral background color, such as a gray wall or a window curtain;
- you can also use a virtual background available on most meeting tools;
- check the final look – sit at your desk and verify what others will see when you will connect.
3. Dress appropriately
If you only have a voice call, it is no problem that you will be in more casual clothes. However, for video calls, be prepared as for a face-to-face meeting. Showering and washing your hair won’t hurt as well.
As for the dress code, avoid patterns and stripes, although more vivid colors can positively liven up your image. If you wear jewelry, simple is the best, with no earrings swaying in front of the screen or making noise. Check your appearance one last time before logging in.
4. Start with the video on
Conducting a conversation with a few black screens is quite impersonal and lacing non-verbal contact. Video is an effective way to keep people more engaged in a virtual meeting. Turn on your camera and take a look at it to show others that you are focused.
If you’re having connectivity or bandwidth issues, let everyone know that you’ll turn off your video after saying hello. Yeah, you do look incredible, but try to resist looking at you image in the corner of the screen.
5. Start the conversation well
Before moving on to the topic of the meeting:
- introduce yourself and let others do the same, whether they know each other or not;
- you can also introduce the invitees yourself and add why they were gathered – this is a way to let participants know who is on each side and what their roles and responsibilities are;
- briefly explain the purpose of the meeting;
- speak slowly, clearly and concisely and ask others to do the same;
- if you need to review any notes during the conversation, write them down in a computer file and display on a split screen, additional screen or separate monitor; you can also stick handwritten notes on the edge of your monitor to peek at them when necessary.
6. Get everyone involved
If you’ve ever been a leader, you know how difficult staying focused and keeping people engaged can be. The easiest way to virtually involve participants is to assign tasks to everyone and encourage them to ask questions. In addition, the meeting can be made more interactive by:
- using the presentation function of your screen to enrich the statement with a visual context;
- use of real-time surveys;
- gamification, i.e., the use of game elements and its design techniques to motivate to action;
- asking participants to solve problems in groups,
- asking participants to express their opinion on the discussed matter if they don’t do it themselves.
7. Avoid distractions
To eliminate unnecessary elements that may disturb you or other participants:
- if possible, find a separate room inaccessible to other people and free from noise;
- take notes with as little visual disturbance as possible;
- turn off all phone or computer notifications;
- close all tabs that are not essential for you during the meeting;
- decide whether chat should be turned on or not.
Sending chat messages during an online meeting can be considered distracting. But on the other hand, it is a good way to share some thoughts or materials without interrupting the speaker. What is not good etiquette are private conversations on external messengers, which exclude other participants and distract the writers.
8. Get the best audiovisual setting
If you are running a lot of video conferences as a speaker, consider investing in an external high-resolution camera. However, for regular work meetings, the camera built into the laptop should be enough.
Depending on your surroundings, you can use a computer microphone and loudspeaker or connect external headphones. However, it is worth investing in headphones or asking your employer to provide them. Headphones, especially those with a noise-cancelling function, will allow you to muffle outside sounds so that you can hear your interlocutors better. Also, their built-in microphone is usually of better quality than the one on a laptop. Hence, you will be better heard when you speak. If you are using wireless headphones, make sure they are charged before the meeting.
9. Respect participants and their time
To show respect to other people, organiser should follow the agenda and meeting time. Also, you can remind all participants to:
- mute their microphone when they aren’t speaking so that secondary sounds do not disturb the speaker;
- look at the camera from time to time;
- do not perform any other background activities unrelated to the meeting;
- be present from the beginning to the end of the meeting;
- respect the time allocated for the meeting;
- if you, as an organiser, and another participant have said something simultaneously, suggest that they repeat their line first.
10. Consider exceptional situations
If something urgent happens, such as an unexpected guest or a delivery, write a chat message when you leave and when you return. This prevents the awkwardness of being called during a meeting and not responding. Do not panic if your cat, child, or other person enters the screen – it can happen to anyone. Just apologise briefly and continue.
11. Schedule time for additional questions
Set time for questions from participants in the meeting schedule. Give them the opportunity to comment. As organiser, you can announce at the beginning when the time for questions is scheduled. It can be, for example, at the end of the meeting or after every individual point.
If there are any questions or concerns that have not been addressed, add them to the next meeting schedule for or clarify it later with the person asking.
Online meeting participants – additional rules
To be well prepared for an online meeting:
- ask about the agenda, documents and tasks that you can do in advance;
- read the agenda of the meeting;
- take notes if you want to add something to the conversation;
- before the meeting, get up, stretch and get something to drink;
- consider going for a short walk – getting some air and changing your environment will help you stay engaged;
- work in a quiet and bright room;
- don’t wait until the last minute to log in – do it even five minutes in advance and start a light conversation with others;
- if you are late, send a message to the meeting organiser to let them know if they should wait for you.
Hybrid meetings etiquette – additional rules
There is an additional virtual etiquette that you should follow for hybrid meetings. Some of the rules are:
- if you are in the office while others are logging in remotely, make sure everyone notices you;
- if there is no high-quality image of all people in a room, you can log in from your computer just like remote participants; but remember about muting your microphone and and loudspeaker to eliminate audio duplication;
- if there is only one camera, try to stay within its field of view; a complete picture will give remote workers a better simulation of being together;
- include remote interlocutors in the chat before the meeting; direct questions especially to those you did not hear;
- do not start a side conversation that the remote participants can not hear – it can make them feel excluded.
As we found out, the etiquette of online meetings in 2021 is related not only to the participants’ appearance or the room organisation. Equally important is appropriate substantive preparation and the ability to focus. Also, the issue frequently mentioned by participants is whether the meeting is really necessary and effective.
Numerous studies show that virtual meetings are more physically and mentally exhausting for employees than live ones. That is why it is worth organising them wisely and following the rules described by us above. Good luck!