As the second wave of the coronavirus continues and more businesses are implementing long-term remote work policies, it seems clear that online meetings aren’t going anywhere soon. But if it was difficult to keep your team or organization engaged during meetings when all of the participants were in the same room, it is even more difficult to do so in online meetings where participants are scattered in different locations, and subject to additional distractions or technical problems.
While video calls have an advantage over telephone conference calls because participants’ facial expressions are visible, video calls still offer limited ability to see full body language. And in meetings where participants can turn off their cameras, it can be difficult to tell who is paying attention and engage the entire group.
Finally, with online meetings becoming ubiquitous, participants can easily fall victim to videoconference fatigue. To make your online meetings more productive, you may need to create guidelines, prepare more than you would for an in-person meeting, and work harder to keep participants engaged
Develop Guidelines for Online Meetings
Although everyone may be aware of the rules for in-person meetings when they occur in your office, they may be confused about whether those same rules apply to on-line meetings. If participants are joining the meeting from home, is it acceptable to “come as you are” in casual clothing, or to simply join without your camera on?
It can be extremely helpful to prepare and distribute written guidelines to your team to lay out your expectations for online meetings. For example, you may recommend that your team dress for video calls, even if they are working from home. Not only can this help keep the meeting professional and on-track, but it can also help your team transition from work to home and vice versa.
As a general rule, encourage participants to leave their cameras on so that you can interact with and see one another. But provide guidance about when participants should mute themselves or turn off their cameras if something in the vicinity will be distracting to others (such as a barking dog, a child coming to ask a question, or needing to move from one location to another).
In a real life meeting, you cannot see yourself, so you are not always distracted by what you look like or what you are doing – you are paying attention to the other people in the meeting.
Recreate that by asking participants to change the view settings so they are not looking at themselves on the screen constantly. This will allow participants to concentrate more fully on the meeting and on observing others for reactions, etc.
Finally, avoid multi-tasking during the meeting and ask others to avoid it as well.
Planning ahead can make online meetings run much more smoothly and help avoid videoconference fatigue. First, be respectful of participants’ time. Invite only those participants necessary to attend; don’t just invite everyone in the group if they aren’t needed.
Don’t assume your team is “always working” just because they are working from home. If you would not normally schedule meetings outside of regular work hours, don’t do it just because it’s a video call.
Online meetings can be more exhausting than in-person meetings, so make meetings as short as possible. If the meeting must be a long one, schedule definite breaks.
Create an agenda and circulate it to participants in advance of the meeting so they can be prepared. Give some context – why is this meeting important? What are you trying to accomplish? Make sure you include start and end times and stick to them.
Create an inviting, collegial atmosphere to encourage participation
It’s up to the meeting leader or facilitator to set the right tone for each meeting and to encourage participation. Feel free to start with some small talk and have some icebreaker questions ready as soon as the first person arrives at the meeting to get people talking with one another. Asking a fun or meaningful question can be a good way to start the meeting on a positive note. If participants do not know one another well, it may be a good idea to start with introductions or ask each person to provide their answer to a specific question.
Ask open-ended questions to engage participants, and make sure each participant has an opportunity to be heard. To increase engagement, consider adding some white board activities and break out rooms to the meeting to allow participants to collaborate. Or add in some Q&A or polls. Make use of chat features or call on individual participants if you don’t want people talking over one another.
Online meetings are just one way that lawyers can collaborate with one another. Another is online, collaborative platforms, such as ioRefer’s streamlined referral software, which will provide your firm with its own, internal, interactive directory, allowing attorneys to quickly find and connect with one another, whether in the office or on the go.