As we head into the future of work, we can't talk about reshaping the workforce without discussing the role technology will play in it. Not only will it roll in with a greater demand for artificially intelligent algorithms and the lifelong learning to help us adapt to it, but it'll also involve the evolution of traditional elements of work, such as meetings.
In response to the rapid rise of tech, many companies opt for virtual meetings in addition to and in place of in-person meetings as a way of keeping employees connected. To truly reap the benefits of such meetings, it's important to know the advantages and disadvantages of integrating web conferencing to the workspace, and knowing how to effectively host or participate in a virtual meeting.
Check out our advice below, including the top three software tools to make video calling a breeze.
What is a virtual meeting?
Virtual meetings are essentially video conferences between two or more people on a tech device connected to the internet. In order to host a successful virtual meeting on a basic level, you'll need:
- Connection to the internet
- A smartphone, laptop or tablet
- An audio input and webcam (either separate or through a device's built-in capacity)
You'll also need to make sure that participants have access to the above materials. Virtual meetings can be held entirely through video, or they can extend the reach of in-person meeting by giving remote participates the opportunity to join the conversation.
Preparing an effective virtual meeting
Before the virtual meeting:
Turn the video on: Before the meeting begins — and especially if you are running it — you want to test your video and audio to make sure they both work. If you have a webcam cover, make sure it's swiped so others can see you.
Find a comfortable, yet professional workspace: Wherever you decide to work, find a spot with little to no background noise, movement or distractions.
Have a plan: To manage everyone's time and to keep the meeting on track, create a rough outline that includes points of discussion, who will speak on what subject and an estimate of when those speakers will have the floor.
During the virtual meeting
Connect people: In order to make everyone feel seen and heard, you can begin the meeting with a quick check-in as an opportunity for everyone to share what they're working on. If this is a meeting with multiple departments and team members, have department heads sum up their team goals and progress as a whole.
Don't allow multitasking: To get the most out of a virtual meeting, it's important that everyone gives their undivided attention to the members speaking. You can make a quick rule at the start of the meeting to close tabs or ask questions via chat throughout so members feel encouraged to participate and are held accountable for being fully present.
Encourage everyone to speak: To extend on the above point, give everyone an opportunity to ask questions and chime in either via chat or through a general Q&A session at the end of the meeting.
Take notes: If you don't have notes handy before the meeting, feel free to take notes throughout or assign a member as a scribe to ensure that new ideas are documented throughout.
After the virtual meeting
Pros of virtual meetings
Virtual meetings are useful for a number of reasons, the most notable including the following:
1. Remote people can get connected.
Bringing people together for an in-person meeting from multiple regions can involve expensive flights, hefty accommodations and lots of planning. But virtual meetings can quickly connect the same people with some simple schedule coordination, lightening the load for those who run them.
2. Virtual meetings can happen anywhere.
So long as there is internet, virtual meetings can happen on the go, from multiple locations or through various tech devices such as smartphones, tablets or laptops. Unlike in-person meetings, virtual meetings have a higher chance (and rate) of attendance because of this remote flexibility.
3. Virtual meetings are time savers.
Virtual meetings can save a significant amount of time because they eliminate the need for members to commute and get settled. With a quick click into a link, members can join a meeting when they are ready without disturbing others. Virtual meetings also limit distractions because members can hit the mute button or stop sharing their screens if they need to step in and out of the meeting.
Cons of virtual meetings
There are some drawbacks from meeting virtually, too. Some of those include:
1. Scheduling around time zones can be tricky.
While virtual meetings can connect remote workers at the click of a button, it can be difficult to accommodate multiple time zones. For a company with international remote workers or offices on opposite coasts, the three+ hour difference can mean the difference between a fully-prepped-for morning meeting for some workers, and a crack of dawn check-in for others with little to nothing to report.
2. Technical difficulties may occur.
Internet is the backbone of every successful virtual meeting but some members may struggle with spotty service. Members experiencing technical difficulties could miss important information and may need to be filled in, anyway, at a later time.
3. Distractions become harder to combat.
Two or more members meeting virtually means two or more members in different environments with different distractions. When working from home, members may be distracted — or even simply preoccupied with — their children, pets or other demanding needs in the environment. At remote locations like a coffee shop, the library or a co-working space, members may be distracted by others sharing the space or outside noises, making it difficult for them to truly be present.
Virtual meeting tools and software
Especially if you're already a G Suite user, Google Hangouts is an easy way to create a virtual meeting with little back and forth. When creating an event, you have the option to add conferencing which will automatically create a Google Hangout once clicked. After you invite guests to the event, all they need to do is click into the link at the time of the event and the meeting can start once (or even before) everyone has joined.
If G Suite isn't available to you, Zoom is another great web conferencing tool that allows you to add up to 1,000 participants and viewers. This platform comes equipped with a chat function that allows participants to "raise their hand" and ask a question, record the meeting or take a live poll.
3. Slack Call
In addition to instant messaging across individuals and large groups, Slack comes with a feature that allows up to 15 users to join a video call at a time. For companies that predominately communicate through Slack anyway, this is a quick way to get face-time and encourage verbal communication without too much planning ahead. Slack's video interface also offers the option to draw, allowing participants to use the screen as a smart board for quick graphic organizing.