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Paul Isaris
Paul Isaris

Posted on • Originally published at paulisaris.com

10 Tips For a Productive Virtual Meeting

Photo by John Schnobrich on Unsplash

Originally published at paulisaris.com

Introduction

It's this strange time of the "Social distancing era", because of the coronavirus bizarre situation.
Regardless of how long this lasts or whatever the world will look like after it ends, it is for sure an interesting time to be alive and trying to make a living through a pandemic.

We, as developers, are fortunate enough to be able to still work with little to no severe impacts
in our everyday tasks and projects. Most of us have set-up our homework offices, poured ourselves a cup of
coffee or tea and get cracking with our tasks.

However, with everything that is happening around the world, teams now face the challenge of doing most of their work virtually. Meetings with the team and the clients, code reviews, Scrum events, all work-related social events have been moved to the "virtual world".

What this essentially means, is that we should find a way to remain productive and professional, even in this scenario.
Some of us have been having more experience with this, while some others are just being introduced to the world of virtual meetings, and they need some guidance.

In this post, I share 10 tips for ensuring that we have productive meetings and that value is being delivered, no matter the situation.

The Steps

1. Prepare some material beforehand

It's crucial for the meeting to be targeted towards a well-known goal and subject.
Spend some time to bring together a document (which preferably can be edited online by key participants). This is very important in the case that you are hosting the meeting.
In this document, specify the meeting goal (or leave it to be completed as soon as the meeting starts).

Also, don't forget to prepare any links, presentation files, videos, application credentials and notes that you may need during the meeting.

Being well prepared is a sign of utmost professionalism, something we all like to be congratulated for!

2. Prepare and check your equipment

Nobody likes to join a virtual meeting only to find out that their camera is not working or that their microphone is hissing and making weird noises.

At least 30 minutes before the meeting starts, dedicate some time to set up your equipment. Make sure that the room has the proper lighting for the camera, and that your voice sounds as expected through the microphone.

Most software applications for virtual meetings (eg Skype, Hangouts, Zoom, etc) have a built-in process for doing the tasks above. Spend 2 minutes before the meeting starts to do a final technical check-up and be ready!

3. Please, mute your microphone!

Seriously, I can't stress this enough. As long as you are not speaking, please mute your microphone. It makes everyone's life difficult and makes people want to leave the meeting even more.

Also, when the meeting starts, remind everyone of the golden "Mute when not speaking" rule.
It's extremely easy to unmute your microphone when you want to speak or ask a question.

If the Internet connectivity is not good during the meeting, you can kindly ask the other participants to close their cameras so that you can hear them (even though you will not be able to see them).

4. Set the mood for the meeting

If you are hosting the meeting, it's always a good starter to set the mood.
Start by asking you everyone is doing so that you add a personal touch. Remember, all participants are joining the meeting from their personal space which may include crying kinds, noisy neighbors, shouting construction site workers (even though the latter is not the case in a pandemic).

Begin by sharing the document from step 1, and ask everyone to confirm that they have access to see it. Remark the meeting goal and try to come up with an estimation of how long the meeting should be so that all the participants are on the same page and can organize their after-meeting tasks better.

5. Set the rules for the meeting

Again, this is very important, especially if you are the host. Remember, that some of the participants might be using the virtual meeting software for the first time, so it's a nice idea to take some time and explain how the meeting is going to run.

For example, you can start by prompting everyone to mute their microphones (after the introductions of course) and use the "raise hand" functionality when they want to intervene.

Besides, it goes without saying that if a participant is acting selfishly (by not letting others speak for example), you should address the problem by reminding them of the rules throughout the meeting.

6. Prepare your environment for screen-sharing ;-)

When participating in a virtual meeting, you might need to share your screen for several reasons. Be it that you want to show something to the people or to showcase the application you have been working on to a client.

The thing is that during this pandemic era, we are working from our home setups. This means that you will probably be using your home computer to join the meeting.
So, your desktop, web browser and applications window should be in a "presentation-ready" state ;-)

7. Don't be afraid to close the camera

Working from home also means using the home network. Especially in the case that you are using Wi-Fi, your Internet connectivity might not be the best. To add insult to injury, remember also that, because most people are working from home, Internet networks are stressed already and you might not get a good service.

In the unfortunate event that this happens, excuse yourself by explaining the situation and feel free to close your camera. After all, the important part of the meeting is probably to be able to hear the other participants and be able to communicate with them.

8. Revise often and take notes

It is a common scenario that virtual meetings go on forever, and after a while, people don't pay attention to what is being said. After all, there is no one around to restrain them from checking their phones or open a new tab in the browser...

You should make sure that value is being delivered through the meeting. So note-keeping will both keep you concentrated on the meeting and will result in an organized after-meeting roadmap for the next steps.

Additionally, if you are the host of the meeting, you should often vocally revise what is being said, to wake up the participants who are slacking off and prompt them to voice any objections or additions they might be having.

9. Resist the urge to check your phone

As stated in the previous step, it is a common thing for virtual meetings to result in only a handful of people paying attention while all the others are checking and replying to their e-mails or checking their social media.

It's important to resist the urge to do so! Remember, participating in a meeting -whether virtual or not- means that you have the responsibility to be present in your full professional "outfit". After all, you might miss something really important which will probably result in numerous other meetings and e-mails!

10. There will be chaos. And that's OK!

Sure, everybody will try their best for the meeting to be as efficient and productive as possible. However, bear in mind that chaos (either technical or not) should be expected.

The microphones will not be operating as planned, networks will fail, whole sentences will be asked to be repeated for people who "did not quite catch the last 5 minutes of your talk".

And you know what?

This is perfectly fine. As developers, we are experienced in working with technical difficulties and finding alternate solutions to our problems: Skype is not working? Let's all switch to Zoom. Microphone not working? Fine, write in the chatbox.
The whole meeting thing is not working? Fine, let's either organize another time for it or compress it in an e-mail (after all, most meetings should have been e-mails, right?)

Conclusion

In these strange yet important times, it is more vital than ever that we are able to prove that technology is helping things keep moving and we -as a purely technological field- are obliged to do so.

What are your thoughts on virtual meetings?

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