Tips for successful video conferences
Video conferences, Webex meetings and MS Teams meetings have become part of everyday life for many project participants. Some like to wear their comfortable pyjamas with a white shirt and jacket as their business outfit for days working from home. Others curse the video conference and prefer traditional meetings to online ones. The aim of this article is not to weigh up the pros and cons, but to give you some advice and ideas on how to make videoconferencing as effective as traditional meetings - because although, or perhaps because, videoconferencing is now part of everyday working life, it can't hurt to brush up on what you know about it.
Challenges of virtual conferences
Does the telephone conference call still exist? When was the last time you had a telephone conference? Ten years ago? Surely you have been on a conference call where everyone has turned off the camera. One person is eating muesli, another is yawning all the time and doesn't want everyone to see it, the next has a cat on their desk, which of course shouldn't be broadcast to the whole office. This in turn makes it difficult to create the feeling that everyone is sitting around the same table. This makes it all the more important to run the meeting in a structured way to strengthen team cohesion and create a constructive working atmosphere despite the muesli and the cat.
Clear rules, i.e., clearly defined discussion guidelines, should be a matter of course, but this is not always the case. It probably also depends a little on the culture of the company, which may be more authoritarian or more relaxed. It is helpful and rarely disruptive to remind people of a few brief rules at the beginning of a meeting. Remind them that everyone is allowed to speak so that everyone gets a chance to speak, that different opinions are tolerated and listened to, and that punctuality and courtesy are important. As far as punctuality is concerned, it may be useful to remind people of this before the meeting.
An agenda often works wonders. It is such a simple way to structure a meeting, yet so essential and important. Worried about forgetting something? Just add an 'Other' item at the end of the agenda and someone will surely remember and ask the question you forgot. Ideally, an agenda for a one-hour meeting should have no more than two to four items. Look at the items carefully. Some items may only take a few minutes, such as an announcement, an easy-to-answer technical question, or an appointment. Other items may require hours of discussion. For these, it is important to limit yourself to two or three and then give them the time they need.
And now: everyone pay attention!
Even a perfectly prepared video conference with a well-thought-out and concise agenda cannot guarantee a perfect process. In addition to these conditions, the concentration of the participants plays a decisive role. If everyone is focused and only gives relevant hints and answers, things will move quickly and purposefully. However, if people have to be asked to speak over and over again, or things have to be repeated several times, the meeting will drag on unnecessarily and everyone will lose motivation. Depending on the type of group you are having your meeting with, it may be useful to break things up from time to time. How about a quiz or a get-to-know-you game at a conference with people sitting across from each other who have never met before? Too silly? Come up with something and let your creativity run wild. Of course, your manager won't want to run a quiz at the weekly meeting, but it might be a good idea at a kick-off meeting with stakeholders and developers. For this to work, it needs to be clear who is leading the discussion. It doesn't have to be you. Assigning someone else to take the lead will at least ensure that person is focused.
Bring in structure
If you want to structure your meeting, it is worth looking at the technical possibilities. For example, most videoconferencing tools allow you to divide participants into smaller groups and then bring them back together after a period of time. This is a good option if you want to discuss issues or explore different approaches to a problem. Five minutes of brainstorming in a small group, followed by a plenary discussion of the best ideas. Virtual polls and diagrams where everyone can write something often bring out interesting aspects. You can use timers, for example, to give everyone exactly three or exactly five minutes to speak, like in blitz chess, or have everyone respond with exactly five words. All this gives structure to the meeting and promotes concentration because there are no long monologues and problem solving is active and fast.
Many companies now allow employees to work from home for one or more days if they wish. If there are fixed days when everyone is in the office, this is the optimal way to hold on-site meetings. However, if this is not the case and people are always in the office on different days, depending on what suits them best, then video conferencing is the way to go. Sometimes people in the office take part in virtual conferences to coordinate with colleagues at home or on Workation.
Keywords: Project management, Tip