Recent times have required us to embrace video-conferencing, Zoom, Skype or similar. The technology is a practical solution to lockdown and supports us to remain connected with colleagues, friends and family. Hopefully, these arrangements will see us through a relatively temporary period until we move through the COVID-19. But if this becomes a working life norm, I don’t think I could cope. Really.
Okay, on the positive side, I appreciate the advantages. They are great for including everyone, especially colleagues based out of the office – wherever they are, and they remove the inefficient waste of travel time and travel costs. On the face of it, you can do more in a day, and hold even more meetings. I’ve noticed online meetings tend to be quicker than face-to-face ones. Although I have heard horror stories of all-day ones. That sounds like some sort of nightmare.
Video is an improvement on tele-conferencing as you at least have a chance of noticing non-verbal communication cues. You can tell, sort of, if people are listening and/or happy, or not. But the reality is not exactly pleasurable. Let’s be honest, the technology is letting us all down. We need it to be better. The broadband speed, picture quality, interrupted sound that causes us to miss every other word, echoes and feedback, background noise, freezing screens – these are all too familiar experiences.
It’s not just technology’s fault, there is human error too. Some of this is basic manners or etiquette. Thinking about it, I think I have been stood-up for online or ‘phone meetings many more times than I have for ‘real’ meetings. There should be no difference. Being present is important. As is arriving on time and not leaving early. Personally, I cannot bear the small talk at the start. It is a hangover from face-to-face meetings and rarely works. And I can hear you if you are typing away or sorting out your expenses claim!
Some of this is lack of experience and skill, I accept that. There are also other factors. Choosing the best place to sit and work during the meeting is important. It can be really difficult with other people (or pets) in the house or the office. Positioning the camera is so important. We spend so much time thinking about how we present to the world, and all that seems to go out of the window when people don’t think about the angle of the camera, or the background that everyone can see. Instead we are treating everyone to unflattering views of our chins or noses, or of private things in our personal spaces, untidy bookshelves or eclectic art choices.
The dynamics of communication mean it can be difficult to follow conversations in large groups and to know how to take-turns. This results in awkward silences. But I think we should be more confident and embrace silence and thinking time. Whilst it is good that people mute themselves when not talking to minimise background noise, it is frustrating for all when they start talking without unmuting. Having a competent chairperson is vitally important to help avoid these pitfalls.
If I had some top tips to survive them, here they are:
- Send joining instructions and necessary papers out in good time.
- Be clear about who has the joining instructions and who is leading the meeting.
- Be clear about who is attending and why.
- Choose a quiet space away from distractions, dogs, other people, children.
- A quiet space means you do not have to put mute on and therefore don’t forget to turn it off.
- Good chairing and leadership.
- Agenda and ground rules.
- Be really clear who is on the call – do introductions.
- Say your name before speaking.
- Be clear about whose turn it is to speak – allocate topic leadership on the agenda.
- Be disciplined – find a quiet space and be on time.
- Assume silence is agreement.
- Participate and pay attention – avoid the temptation to do other work or complete your expenses claim. You wouldn’t do that at a face-to-face meeting.
- Allow equal participation, ask everyone’s views.
- Take and share notes.
- Be more patient than I am!
I hope that helps. It gives me some hope.