For many of us, videoconferences and virtual meetings were something we participated in occasionally or even rarely. That is no longer the case. With more and more people working from home, videoconferencing has become a weekly or daily event.
There have been quite a few companies vying to meet that demand. The host of providers have different advantages and disadvantages depending on what you need to get out of the product. Some are free, and some aren’t. Some severely limit how many people can participate in virtual meetings, while others are more generous.
There have also been many articles, videos, and just plain old anecdotes of humorous, and often embarrassing, situations that have occurred during some of these meetings. At this point, I’m sure we’ve all had coworkers take a meeting in an unusual place to avoid family or had some unexpected noises come through our earbuds.
With many people using these products for the first time, or at least more frequently, there’s been a learning curve when it comes to which product to use. That same learning curve applies to how best to participate in these meetings and what you should and shouldn’t be doing. And why wouldn’t we have a lot to learn? Virtually overnight, many of us had to transform from office workers to full-time remote workers.
We need some help!
With that in mind, I’m going to take your hand and walk you through some of the best options for videoconferencing. I’ll also tell you about some best practices for virtual meetings to get you up to speed quickly.
Based in California, BlueJeans provides more security and encryption than many of the free videoconferencing options, like, for example, Zoom. There are no download requirements and anyone can join any meeting through an internet browser. BlueJeans also offers an anonymous commenting function. Although this can be helpful to let meeting attendees speak their mind, it can also lead to other problems. BlueJeans is not free and comes with a price tag ranging from $9.99 to $13.99.
Cisco WebEx Meetings
Cisco WebEx Meetings is primarily geared towards enterprise customers. However, they have recently expanded the functionality of their free plan. Now, there is no longer a time limit on meetings and there can be up to 100 people participating. They also provide for screen sharing and HD video. To use the service, you’ll have to sign up for a WebEx Meetings account.
Apple’s FaceTime is a built-in option for those that use the company’s products. Being tied to just one brand, it is often overlooked, but it does offer some nice features. As with most Apple products, the encryption is robust. It also doesn’t require any downloads and it’s free for Apple users. On the other hand, it only allows up to 32 people on any one meeting, and a link isn’t available to join the call.
As opposed to its less powerful sibling, Google Hangouts, Google Meet is designed for businesses and large-scale meetings. Formerly only available with a Google G Suite plan, the company has now released a free version. The free version provides for up to 100 people to participate in the meeting, and, as of now, there is no time limit. However, you can expect a time limit in the future. It also offers text messaging, screen sharing, and live captions.
You’ll need a Gmail or Google account to access this videoconferencing option, but the meeting can be joined through a link, code, or phone call. It works with many different browsers, but, since it’s a Google product, it works best with Chrome. You should also keep in mind Google’s onerous data collection policies, as they’ll almost certainly be collecting data here, too.
Meant for more than just videoconferencing, Microsoft Teams is a powerful remote work collaboration tool. It’s gaining in popularity, and March saw the number of daily active users increase by 37%, to 44 million users around the world. Additionally, public schools in New York have switched from Zoom to Microsoft Teams recently. It allows for up to 250 people to participate in a meeting and for 10,000 people to view a presentation. Users can chat and share their screens and files. It also integrates with Skype.
Skype has been an option for virtual meetings for over 15 years. Purchased by Microsoft in 2011, it’s a free option that is easy to use and familiar to most people. Having an account is preferred, but there are options that don’t require an account to be set up. The same goes for downloading software. Screen sharing is available, but meetings are limited to 50 people.
Over the last year, Zoom has become a popular option for virtual meetings. It’s free, and anyone can join meetings via a shared link. There is also no requirement to download any software. However, Zoom has been plagued with privacy and security issues. In fact, a new term, ‘zoombombing,” has been invented to describe when a Zoom meeting gets hijacked by a hacker. Although Zoom claimed that they were encrypted, they have now acknowledged that they’re not. There is also a 40-minute limit to meetings. For these reasons, Zoom might be best for virtual coffees, happy hour get-togethers, or other meetings that don’t require a high level of security. Also, you should be aware that Zoom allows the meeting organizer to see if meeting participants are still active on the meeting page.
Once you determine the best videoconferencing option for you or your business, it’s almost time to get your meeting started. However, you’ll want to make sure you know the best practices for virtual meetings first.
Do test your equipment before the meeting. Make sure your headphones and camera are working correctly. It’s also a good idea to test your internet connection, both to make sure it’s working and that the speed is up to snuff.
Don’t forget about lighting. You should have adequate lighting with the source of the light in front of your camera. Never have your lighting behind you because it will cast shadows and no one will be able to see your face.
Do consider your location before the meeting. Keep in mind what others will see behind you. Something generic will work best in order to avoid people being distracted when you are speaking. After all, you want people listening to what you’re saying instead of trying to figure out what’s going on over your shoulder.
Don’t have any background noise. That’ll just make it difficult for others to hear what is being said. If it’s unavoidable, mute your microphone, and only unmute it when you are speaking. This will definitely be appreciated by others.
Do have an agenda. Meeting organizers and managers have to step up and create an agenda for the meeting. This was always important when the meetings were in the office, but it’s even more critical when having a virtual meeting. It’s easy to be distracted, so having an agenda will keep everybody on task and engaged.
Don’t be unprepared. Just like you would for a face-to-face meeting, prepare for your virtual meeting. Have any notes you need nearby. If you need to take notes during the meeting, make sure hand-written notes are done off-camera. If you type your notes on your computer, remember that others might be able to hear you typing.
Do dress appropriately. Although we all dress a little more casually when we’re working from home, you still want to look professional. Fix your hair, and put on a professional-looking top. Oh, yeah, pants can’t hurt, too.
Don’t get distracted. Everybody is busy, but that’s no excuse to be distracted during the meeting. Close unnecessary apps, tabs, and programs that you don’t need, and silence your phone, turn off notifications, etc. It should go without saying, but, just in case, this is definitely not the time to respond to emails or text messages.
Do remember nonverbal cues and signals. Make eye contact, smile every now and then, and stay focused. It’s hard enough to make a connection with your colleagues in a videoconference, and nonverbal communication can help with that.
Don’t bring your pets or children to the meeting. If it’s a casual conversation or meeting, it might be ok to do this. However, even in those situations, you should check with your coworkers. Of course, it’s cute and adorable, but it can totally derail a presentation or even a simple conversation. Not everyone wants to see your crazy cat’s antics or listen to your toddler.
Do remember that you can mute your mic and camera. This is especially useful in large meetings and presentations. By doing so, you’ll eliminate all background noise and allow everybody else to focus on the person speaking. It’ll also be helpful in smaller meetings if you are watching your kids.
Don’t have too many meetings. In the office, it was often not uncommon to have back-to-back meetings. Some may want to replicate that when it comes to videoconferencing, but avoid the temptation to do so. Due to the preparation required, virtual meetings can be stressful to prepare for. At the same time, some people find it exhausting to simply be on camera for extended periods of time.
Don’t get offended if someone has their camera off. As I explained above, there are a variety of factors that might compel someone to have their camera off. If that’s how they feel most comfortable at the moment, respect that and move on.
Do consider alternatives to videoconferencing. Virtual meetings don’t have to be the be-all-end-all. Don’t be afraid to try an old-fashioned phone call. This will allow you to take a break from your computer and even get up and take a walk, provided, of course, that you don’t need to be on your computer during the meeting. Another option is to send an email covering everything that would have been discussed in a meeting. This will give people the time to construct a more thoughtful response.
Don’t have meetings every day. Whether in the office or not, this isn’t a good idea either way. Simply thinking about productivity, managers should give people a break from meetings every now and then. It might not reduce the number of meetings you need to have, but everyone will appreciate having a day that they don’t need to smile or fix their hair.
Have some fun
Take some of the stress out of online meetings by making some of them a little more fun. It’ll help people feel more comfortable on camera, and bring smiles to their faces.
- Have virtual coffee meetings that allow employees to talk about nonwork-related topics. It’ll allow them to bond and connect in a similar way as they do in a traditional office.
- Like a virtual coffee, an online happy hour is a good way to have everyone simply enjoy each other’s company with a tasty beverage. However, those attending should treat this with care. Don’t be that person that has one too many and behaves in a non-professional way.
- Goat-2-Meeting is one of the companies that has found a clever way to capitalize on the surge in people working remotely. G2M allows you to invite a goat or llama to your videoconference. For a minimal fee, this farm and sanctuary will bring an animal to your virtual meeting, show everyone around the farm, or just hang out.
On one hand, embrace the technology and get the most out of it individually, as a team, and as a business. However, don’t overdo it. Remember, it’s not easy for everyone, and some will struggle. Follow the dos and don’ts above and it will be more efficient for you and your colleagues. Make it simple, easy, and sometimes fun, and you and everyone you’re connecting with will be more productive.
Do you have some tips for virtual meetings or some best practices that your company uses? I’d love to hear about them, so reach out and let me know.