One, consider alternatives to Zoom. Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams, Webex, and GoToMeeting.com are among the alternatives to the popular web meeting application. Your requirements may be better met by one of the alternatives. Considerable amounts of document sharing, for example, may make Microsoft Teams a better choice. Do a little investigating of prices and features before making a choice. Of course, Zoom’s popularity makes it a go-to choice for those relatively new to videoconferencing, since people may already be familiar with Zoom through family conferences and the like. However, other video conferencing programs can be relatively easy to use as well. Do a little pricing and services check and pick a program. It does not have to be Zoom.
Two, make sure video conferencing participants know what’s expected of them. Reminders about the etiquette of muting, dress, and proper background are among the things to be covered in an e-mail announcing the conference. Employees should not have to guess as to the proper amount of formality that will be needed for a conference. To prevent background noise, participants should be muted unless they are speaking. The meeting leaders can make sure that quiet types are invited to participate. There can also be a time limit placed on the meeting to make sure it stays focused on the tasks at hand. Some meetings can be less formal than others, however, giving participants a chance to socialize and feel connected. It is a good idea to set the tone of a meeting before it starts with an e-mail that contains an agenda and directions for participation.
Three, now is a good time to look for the positives. During this time of anxiety and change, it is good to find ways to emphasize the positive at video meetings. One way to do that is to reward participants with praise for jobs well done. Take time for each participant to say something positive, for example, during lightning rounds of sharing. Keeping a positive tone can go a long way toward making a meeting productive. Bake positivity into the meeting’s pie.
Four, find new ways to focus on the customer. As businesses shut their actual doors and open their virtual ones, it is important to find ways to reach out to customers. Restaurants, for example, can post signs saying they are open for business for take-out and delivery, while other businesses can find ways to adapt to stay-at-home orders. Customers can be apprised of delivery options online and contacted with video conferencing software. Reaching out via e-mail is another possibility. Find a way for your business to reach out to customers in this challenging time.
Five, there’s plenty to do before the meeting. Share not just an agenda but as much documentation as possible. Having shared documentation before the meeting will make for less time wasted during the meeting with downloading and sharing documents. If a large amount of documentation is to be shared, make sure there is a process in place for an orderly sharing of documents, for example by having designated people share their documents. This can be part of the meeting agenda. The agenda can also make clear whether the documents will be read aloud as a way of making sure everyone can participate; some participants, for example those who use phones, may not be able to see shared documents. This is another reason to share them before the meeting whenever possible.
Six, meeting hosts should consider having a cohost who can take over if the host drops out of the meeting. Cohosts can also deliver reminders about turn-taking etiquette and handle some tasks, such as displaying documents, while the leader leads. In the meantime, meeting hosts can handle the task of adhering to the agenda and making sure that participants are following along. Hosts can also stay alert to potential problems with individual participants, such as slower transmission speeds, interruptions, and people dropping out of the meeting. Regular checks for comprehension can be part of the meeting process. Cohosts can also take notes of the meeting for later use.
Seven, during the meeting, introduce yourself and have everyone introduce themselves briefly. Give everyone a chance to practice unmuting and remuting themselves and taking turns. You may also want to try out the conferencing software’s chat and messaging features as a warm-up to their purposeful use as well. People who are talking too little may be invited to participate via a message, while those who are talking too much can be told to let others participate. The meeting agenda, however, should make it possible for everyone to participate in a meaningful way, even if some mostly listen. During the meeting, you may be sharing documents or slides; it is important to remember that not everyone may be able to see them. Describe shared items for those who cannot see them. Check by asking the group if all can see shared items.
Eight, use online meetings for training. Meetings can be structured for training purposes as well, as a way of keeping employees up-to-date on how the business is being run during this time of quarantine. Managers can train employees on not only the video-sharing software itself but also how to use it for training. Job descriptions and procedures are changing—so should the training.
Nine, use online meetings for external communications. They can be a way to reach customers and people outside the business. Online meetings can be used to conduct job interviews, for example. Your online meeting tool can be used for more than just internal communication.
Ten, get used to online meetings. Use online meeting software positively, not just as a stopgap. Learn to use the software as an everyday tool for reaching out to customers as well as employees. It can be used on short notice or according to a regular schedule. Learn to use video conferencing as an extension of your business and how it normally operates. During this time of quarantine, video conferencing is more than a novelty. It is a way of conducting business.