The modern age is a truly a wonder to behold. With the click of a few buttons, we can talk to and even see people from all across the world.
This allows for an unprecedented capability to interact. No longer are we bound by our geography, and this enables people to conduct business and exchange ideas like never before — all without stepping foot in an airport.
But just because hosting virtual meetings is relatively easy, it doesn’t mean that you should just dial in unprepared. To ensure no time is wasted and that digital discussions always remain productive, there are a few rules of the road and key points of etiquette to consider.
Modern, Reliable Technology
While there are various communication strategies and interpersonal behaviors that factor into executing a good virtual meeting, the critical component is functionality. Amazingly, even in 2018, digital conference calls are still plagued by poor connections, laggy feeds and all sorts of wacky technological glitches. Nothing is more frustrating than an otherwise productive meeting being disrupted by one participant suddenly assuming a robot voice or another being ejected right in the middle of a strategic discussion.
Reliability is absolutely paramount — followed by having an intuitive, user-friendly setup. For some people in the virtual meeting, they will only be using the technology occasionally. So it helps tremendously to have an interface that is user-friendly. This way, poor UI won’t lead to anyone accidentally muting their speaker, failing to properly share their award-winning presentation or fumbling through pin codes and delaying the actual work that needs to get done.
Choosing a mobile, flexible and unified platform that can integrate with multiple communication channels is an important first step. And these days that usually means using cloud-based technologies. Such options are now the best choice for virtual collaboration — and adopting the right one will show whoever is on the end of the call that your organization always moves with the times.
Even with the best technology, a virtual meeting will still differ from a sit down taking place face to face. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It just means that you need to be aware of how to approach a conversation and presentation happening in a different medium.
For example, in a physical office environment, listeners can easily process crosstalk. Understanding multiple people speaking at once is just built into human hearing ability. But the same back-and-forth on a digital call means that one person might be fully interrupting the other’s audio feed or otherwise leaving the output indiscernible.
The lack of body language and hand gestures — which are harder to interpret even when high-resolution video is streaming at top speeds — also means that the core message will generally register most prominently through audio channels only. This is doubly true considering that some participants will inevitably being checking their email or otherwise dividing their attention during a virtual meeting.
On the other hand, it’s also good to remember that boring, dull monologues will cause people to tune out even faster in a virtual meeting. In person, holding court for five straight minutes might be fine, especially if there are visual aids and the speaker is engaging. But even the most charismatic person starts to sound like the teacher from Charlie Brown — “Wah Wa Wa Wah Wa Wa” — very quickly on a video call.
One of the greatest benefits of virtual meetings is that they free you from the office. Never before have employees had so much freedom and flexibility to remove the shackles of their desk to work from home, during business travel or even on vacation. It is incredibly liberating.
That said, the key is to understand that meetings must remain professional. Just because the technology allows mobility doesn’t mean the people on the other end want to hear firetrucks, screaming toddlers or Zen music playing in the in background. Keep your environment — and its sounds, sights and distractions — as professional as it would be in a boardroom.
In this respect, it’s also key to know your audience. If you are just doing a quick check in with two colleagues you have known for years, then perhaps it is fine to conference in from the patio of a chic (and quiet) cafe. But when the person on the other end is an relatively unfamiliar sales prospect, stick to a home office, hotel room or other location where you are in control of the ambient noise and potential distractions.
This is still a work call after all. You may be able to conference in from anywhere, but that does not mean that anything goes.