The COVID-19 pandemic has reframed the structure of the modern workforce over the past several months. The days of attending in-person meetings and popping in your boss’s office for a quick question have been replaced by video conferences and instant messaging.

With stringent steps in place across the country to help curb the spread of COVID-19, many businesses have been reviewing work-from-home (WFH) policies. With the uncertainty of when the transition back to “normal” will be, here are a few tips on how you can optimize your virtual meetings.

1. Invest in a communication & collaboration platform.

If you haven’t already, you might want to consider investing in a communication and collaboration platform that will allow you to chat, call, meet, and stay connected with your employees.

While video conferencing cannot replace being physically present, it has its advantages. Video conferencing can provide more engagement than the alternative of audio conferencing. The expectation is to maintain “virtual eye contact” and a professional appearance. Additionally, investing in a platform that offers a screen-share function can make a meeting more productive as it can gather all attendees to be on the same page.

A 2018 State of Video Conferencing Report from Owl Labs reveals, “45% of companies choose either Zoom or Skype for Business for video conferencing.” However, there are multiple collaboration platforms out there for you to choose from. Below are a few more options to explore the best fit for your business:

  1. GoToMeeting
  2. Microsoft Teams
  3. Google Hangouts
  4. Adobe Connect
  5. Slack
  6. Cisco Webex

2. Provide proper space & time to speak.

While in-person, you can easily pick up on the body language when a person is about to speak. This is not as easy to pick up on virtually, so it is important to give each attendee a chance to get a word in without disruption.

Our partners at ThinkHR offer some advice on how to give each participant time to speak:

  1. Advise participants to pause for a second before diving into the discussion.
  2. Whoever is leading the meeting should encourage remote employees to contribute to the conversation if they have something to say, preferably before continuing with the agenda.
  3. Have one or more remote workers lead the conference or a section of the agenda when appropriate.

3. Plan accordingly.

When sending a meeting invite for a face-to-face meeting, you will typically include the basics like date and time, location, agenda, etc. Don’t forget to include these essentials when scheduling your virtual meetings.

Whichever platform you use, be sure to provide all attendees with the proper information they need to join. Whether this is a link to join the meeting, a number to call in, a meeting ID, etc., double-check your meeting invites to ensure your employees attend the correct meeting.

4. Test your systems ahead of time.

We all know technology has its downfalls, including poor connection, software updates, and other technological disruptions. Our partners at ThinkHR also recommend that you “test any systems ahead of time so that they’re working for everyone when the meeting starts.” Give yourself enough time before the meeting starts to fix any technical issues that may arise.

5. Dress appropriately.

It may be tempting to stay in your pajamas all day given the comfort of staying at home. However, it is recommended that you continue to portray a professional image, as you would being physically present.

Dressing well can potentially increase your confidence, which can in turn increase your productivity. According to a Forbes article titled Dressing For Online Meetings In The Coronavirus Era - There’s Actually Science Behind It, “ takes even more discipline and commitment to stay productive in our new working environments. When it comes to work attire, if you are used to presenting yourself in a certain way to your clients or in the workplace in general, keep those standards when attending video conferences.”

6. Avoid distractions.

There are many distractions you may face at home. You may have children at home with you, other people living with you, outside noises, the temptation to have the TV on in the background, or your phone right next to you. Try your best to find a quiet space in your home and utilize that “Do Not Disturb” button.

Distractions can also come in the form of emails coming through during the meeting, chats, maybe even some unfinished work you have up on the screen. All of these items can wait. In order to fully absorb the topics discussed in the meetings, do your best to direct your focus to that meeting and being fully present.

7. Make your meetings interactive & fun.

Some meetings may involve individuals within the company that not everyone might be familiar with. In this case, start off with an icebreaker, giving everyone a chance to introduce themselves. Set aside 5-10 minutes for everyone to interact with each other. Click here to read an article from lifesize for some fun icebreaker ideas.

To boost interaction, set expectations prior to the meeting and let attendees know what is expected of them in terms of their participation. You can even set up a live poll or survey at the beginning of the meeting regarding its agenda to get everyone comfortable with sharing their ideas on the topic. Don’t be afraid to call on people. If you notice some participants are being a bit quiet, or haven’t had the opportunity to speak, make sure you encourage them to speak up.

Working from home can make individuals feel isolated at times. Set aside time to ask everyone how they are, what they did this weekend, highlights and lowlights of their week, and show appreciation for their hard work. As we lack the full ability to be social in this evolving virtual world, setting some time aside for social bonding can keep your team engaged and motivated.

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Disclaimer: Please note that this is not all-inclusive. Our guidance is designed only to give general information on the issues actually covered. It is not intended to be a comprehensive summary of all laws which may be applicable to your situation, treat exhaustively the subjects covered, provide legal advice, or render a legal opinion. Consult your own legal advisor regarding the specific application of the information to your own plan.