Posted on 23 April 2020
As stricter measures to curb the spread of Covid-19 come into place, most employees are working from home these days. This has made video conferencing the de facto method of choice when it comes to meetings, whether they be simple catch up sessions with the colleagues or technical sales presentations.
Recreating employee interaction in the digital setting is key to helping staff weather the strict quarantine and stay-home measures, as researchers warn of an increase in mental health issues due to isolation and loneliness from being forced to stay home. Nicholas Bloom, an economics professor at Stanford University and work-from-home proponent, has said that social contact through video conferencing is key to keeping employees happy and productive, and regular office interaction will build loyalty in the long run.
But even with all these benefits, any of us who have sat through a long and tedious Zoom session often find ourselves feeling such meetings are best done without. After all, we have been entertaining ourselves watching “10 Quarantine Conference Call Fails” and the like, and finding situations that seem all-too familiar.
Like any business meeting, a video conference needs certain etiquette to be in place to run properly. As a basic guide, make sure that:
When left up to employee preference, some will choose to use their webcams while others will want audio-only participation. However, letting people go audio-only erodes team cohesion and leaves a manager vulnerable to accusations of favouritsm and special treatment.
This is because only hearing a person’s voice leaves the question of what they are actually doing quite open. You can, after all, eat a snack or play with your phone quietly while pretending to listen to a sales pitch.
Make sure everyone’s participation is visible and present by making the “video” part of video conferences mandatory. Unless an employee is experiencing a serious technical glitch, meeting participants should be present both via sound and sight.
One of the most distracting things in a meeting is background noise. Or even worse, multiple background noises.
It is easy to get distracted when your boss’ presentation is being constantly interrupted by someone chewing, or the low hum of a speaker. It’s been noted that when someone is using the internal microphone and speakers, the internal microphone can pick up sounds from the speakers and play it back, creating a loop of distracting noise.
The only sound participants should be hearing is the voice of the person speaking, so make it a requirement that microphones are muted until you want to talk. Depending on the environment, you may wish to institute guidelines to ask for attention or raise points so as not to disturb the flow of speech.
Speaking of a smooth flow, we all know people who, whether offline or online, talk on and on as though in love with the sound of their own voice.
Unfortunately, as it is more difficult to cut in during a video conference where mics may experience lag and people’s faces and facial expressions are harder to see, we end up sitting through boring meetings running longer than they should.
A good practice is to remind participants to pause to allow interruptions, or have a way to signal that they wish to make a point. As the behavior is a little unnatural, go over this rule before the start of a meeting, and have managers or meeting leaders model it, to make sure it sticks.
No matter what rules you decide to implement, make sure they are communicated effectively to staff and followed. This might take a while as everyone shifts to a new paradigm (and tests their headsets), but the key is to be consistent and cohesive in whatever video conference etiquette the organisation has decided to adopt.
It is important to remember that in a video conference, it is harder to pick up on body language and nonverbal cues and adjust accordingly. Hence, clear rules and procedures are necessary to keep meetings flowing as smoothly as possible.
Also, structure in the form of meeting rules (how long a meeting runs, how do you interrupt, what you can or cannot do) provides clarity and calm in times of stress. In the current difficult situation, any amount of stress that can be eliminated should be so that everyone can feel a little more reassured.
Be they regular check-ins with employees or important decisions that have to be made online now, make sure meetings are carried out as effectively as possible.
Meeting photo created by pressfoto - www.freepik.com
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