Not all that long ago, most people worked from a central location, and business owners believed in-person meetings were the best way to exchange information, solve complex issues, and build strong workplace relationships. Although we’ve had the technology to collaborate remotely for decades, corporate America was initially hesitant to adopt a hybrid business model.
Today, experts in the field predict the availability of hybrid work will continue to rise through 2024 and beyond. With so many people embracing the option of working from home, there’s also been a dramatic shift in the way we communicate, with new circumstances and challenges to navigate. If you’re looking for ways to minimize distractions and help keep your team members on the same page, keep reading for five suggestions that can improve the success of your remote meetings.
Why So Many Companies Choose Remote Meetings
Aside from the obvious growth of hybrid work environments and employees working from anywhere in the world, employers planning a face-to face-meeting can find it difficult to determine a date, meeting time, and location that ensures maximum participation. If you’re the one hosting that in-person meeting, your company may also have the additional expense of renting meeting rooms, catering, and possibly paying overtime hours for your people to attend.
In addition, the cost of sending team members to meetings hosted in other locations can add up quickly, with expenses such as transportation, lodging, meals, and other travel-related costs factored into the equation.
Not only have remote meetings simply become a necessity for today’s work environment, but utilizing remote meeting software can significantly minimize these in-person costs while still facilitating effective business communication.
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For off-premises workers, the ability to connect electronically eliminates time-consuming commutes, a benefit that can go a long way toward workplace satisfaction. Instead of multiple people driving to a central location, the meeting facilitator simply sends an email invitation noting the date and time of the meeting.
Challenges Associated with Connecting Remotely
The use of remote work and virtual collaboration has greatly expanded the pool of potential talent for business leaders. With fewer geographical constraints and a willingness to work remotely, business leaders have the ability to access a wider range of skilled professionals from all over the world. The shift towards remote work has also led to a rise in the number of companies being run entirely from remote locations.
That said, strong professional relationships still require a personal touch, and remote meetings can present a few challenges that must be overcome, such as
- greater difficulty in discerning nonverbal cues and body language, which can make it difficult to interpret tone and meaning in conversations.
- a lack of face-to-face interaction, which may lead to less engagement, less socialization and less team bonding.
- a rise in distractions like noise, family interruption, pets, etc. These distractions can be a hindrance to effectively communicating and can ultimately result in less productivity.
- technical difficulties, such as poor internet connectivity, malfunctioning equipment, or software compatibility issues. These technical issues can disrupt communication and make it difficult to stay engaged during remote meetings.
While these challenges are common to all remote meetings in today’s work environment, they can also be addressed effectively with a little preparation and the right strategies.
5 Ways to Improve Your Remote Meetings
With a few simple changes, you can improve the productivity and success of your remote meetings. Some key areas to focus on include minimizing distractions, maintaining clear communication, staying on track, and ensuring that your technology is ready. Let’s take a look at each one in turn.
Minimize or Eliminate Visual Distractions
The more virtual meetings you attend (or facilitate), the more you’ll notice that people are easily side-tracked. What can you do? You can start by eliminating as many distractions from your environment as possible.
Whether you’re leading a meeting from your home office or scheduling for a time during the day when you’re usually out and about, take a few minutes to minimize the likelihood of people paying more attention to where you are than what you have to say by assuming everyone invited to your virtual meeting will be looking over your shoulder.
Before your next meeting, take a few minutes to consider the view behind you. When you’re scheduling meetings from home, try moving your computer or laptop to a location with minimal distractions. If you don’t have a spot in front of a “blank” wall, consider investing in a mobile screen or room divider.
When you’re leading a meeting from a public location, try taking advantage of the “blur” feature you’ll find within the settings of most video collaboration platforms. Professional photographers typically use a similar effect to ensure viewer attention remains focused on the subject. If you’re not impressed with the results of blurring potential distractions, experiment with virtual backgrounds.
Heighten Communication: Clarify Expectations, Provide Instructions, & Offer Feedback
When you’re well-versed in the ins and outs of remote collaboration, it’s easy to assume everyone in your group has a similar level of expertise. That may not be the case. To ensure everyone is on the same page, provide clear instructions at the beginning of every meeting for a few days (or weeks) so your participants know when to mute their microphones and how and when to submit comments to the chat box.
Then clearly state your expectations about appearing on camera. If you want video engaged at all times but have a participant who doesn’t want to appear on-screen, suggest options like a “hide” feature that will ensure everyone is seen and heard without being distracted by their own appearance.
According to conventional video etiquette, every participant should remain on camera throughout the entirety of the meeting whenever possible. Not only does keeping cameras engaged reduce the likelihood of multitasking, but nonverbal communication, such as body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice, can convey important information that is not always communicated through words alone.
Particularly in virtual meetings, where participants are not in the same physical space, nonverbal cues are important in conveying emotions, attitudes, and intentions. By being aware of nonverbal cues, participants can better understand each other and improve collaboration and trust.
Even with microphones muted, smiling, nodding, a tilt of the head, or even a friendly wave as others log in can go a long way toward strengthening team bonds. When body language is taken out of the equation, many people find it difficult to know when it’s appropriate to speak, which often results in people talking over each other or being hesitant to offer feedback.
Keep Meetings on Track & Schedule Time for Breaks
Although many workers find virtual gatherings less stressful than meeting face-to-face, too many or too lengthy meetings can make it difficult to focus on the subject at hand. Similarly, a growing number of employees report meeting fatigue. If your company is one of the many that have increased the frequency of remote check-ins and team social gatherings, it’s important to remember that sitting in front of a screen (or on the phone) for too long without a break is a clear recipe for distraction.
If your meeting is relatively short and pertains to making a single decision, you should have little difficulty keeping your participants engaged or holding team attention—as long as your meeting stays on track. However, a meeting agenda that could keep your team in front of their cameras for 90 minutes or more will be far more productive when you schedule bio breaks.
Current evidence suggests most people can focus on conference calls for 30-37 minutes at best. Letting your participants know from the start that your meeting agenda includes breaks could dramatically reduce random distractions and disruptions. When you dismiss for breaks, consider setting a countdown timer.
Preview the Quality of Your Video & Audio Signals
Poor audio and video quality can be just as distracting as a busy background. Logging in to remote meetings at least 5 minutes before the scheduled start time should give you plenty of time to ensure your camera is working as it should and that your head and shoulders are properly framed.
Ideally, your camera should be positioned just above eye level so you can be viewed from the waist up, a position that makes it easy to make “eye contact” with your audience by looking into your camera rather than gazing at some other point on your screen. You’ll also want to aim for uniform, even lighting conditions to avoid harsh shadows, washed-out colors, or dark, grainy video.
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Although you’ll be able to preview your image, you likely won’t immediately hear yourself speak. But just because your audio settings were ideal for a previous meeting is no guarantee you’ll get the same call quality during your next collaboration. If the feature is available in your software settings once you’re logged in, consider recording a sample of your voice and playing it back.
Experiment with the feature until you’re confident your attendees will hear you. You’ll want to keep in mind that setting your speakers too loud can create garbled-sounding feedback loops. If you’re picking up background noise, consider investing in a USB headset equipped with a microphone.
Learn to Project Confidence While Relying on Fewer Cues
Most people feel it’s much easier to know how their presentation is perceived when speaking in person compared to relaying the same bit of information remotely, and with good reason. When you’re addressing a room full of people in person, you have the advantage of making direct eye contact as you gaze around the room.
Thanks to subtle changes in body language, you’ll know at a glance when you’ve captured the attention of your audience or struck a topic that may require further explanation. Knowing everything is going as intended can do a lot to boost your confidence. When too many of those non-verbal cues are removed from the equation, many meeting facilitators find their confidence levels plummet.
Although you can give the impression of confidence by making eye contact directly through your camera, you may not have the luxury of the important cues you rely on during in-person gatherings to know how your message is perceived. While you have the advantage of viewing your participants, they are likely muted, and you may misinterpret or feel hesitant about their visual cues.
Rather than second-guessing yourself, consider a few simple techniques known for keeping remote team members focused and engaged. To help ensure forward momentum,
- prepare thoroughly for the meeting, familiarizing yourself with the agenda and any relevant materials. This will help you to speak with authority, asking and answering questions with ease.
- take time to confirm (and encourage) audience participation from time to time by giving your attendees a cue to submit a comment, respond to a “shout out,” or acknowledge the contributions of a team member.
- speak clearly and calmly, and avoid filler words such as “um” or “ah.”
- make sure that you’re well-groomed and dressed professionally to help convey a sense of professionalism and confidence.
- use active listening and focus on being engaged with your fellow participants by using technologies such as screen-sharing, whiteboard, or polling tools when appropriate. This can help show your engagement and interest in the topic, which can result in participants perceiving an increased confidence level in your interactions.
Ensure Your Teams Have the Tools They Need for Productive Remote Meetings
While many companies are continuing the shift to hybrid or remote work, and these numbers are expected to continue to grow, many of these businesses are relying on increasingly outdated communication technology to keep their teams connected. Over time, most realize their “workaround” solutions are not all that efficient or cost-effective.
Phone.com offers fully featured, affordable solutions for your company’s hybrid and remote work model. If your company is ready to benefit from a business communication solution that lets your workforce connect with your business phone number from anywhere, share important documents, and work collaboratively without downloads, delays, or complicated setups, visit Phone.com to learn more about how we can help and to get started.