Conducting successful virtual work meetings

Friday May 15 2020

Technology. Employees in a Zoom meeting. Before

Technology. Employees in a Zoom meeting. Before a virtual meeting, ensure every member of your team has learnt how to use the software. BBC photo 

By Elizabeth Kamurungi

With remote work arrangements taking root, and movement and gathering restrictions in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, businesses and employees have had to, in a short while adapt to new ways to ensure businesses continue running. Video conferencing and virtual meetings, that were not common, have now become the new normal.
In the past few months, video application zoom has become very popular as many Ugandans have turned to virtual meetings as a replacement for physical meetings. Other tools such as skype, Microsoft Teams and others are also popular.
When done right, online meetings can yield results, just like physical meetings, even with added advantage like cutting down on logistics.
On March 26, Kampala International University held its monthly senate meeting online. Mouhamad Mpezamihigo, the University Vice Chancellor, who chaired the meeting, said they have had to quickly adapt to ensure continuity of university business amid the lockdown where administrators cannot convene in person.

Familiarity with software
Mpezamihigo says it is important to orient the team so that everyone is conversant with the software to be used for the meeting and how to navigate it to avoid disruptions during the meeting. “We did a mock online meeting on Tuesday [two days prior]. The Tuesday meeting helped us to flash out a few of the hitches. Some colleagues had never had to use the online facility… we did a mock and people expressed their concerns. One key issue is how to share documents, which again we trained our people on how to share screens.” he says.

Keep team engaged
Working remotely, especially for virtual meetings, can easily become boring and participants can get distracted with things like responding to emails and messages, browsing the internet and watching videos.
It is advisable to keep presentations as short as possible.
According to Mpezamihigo, establishing a warm relationship with the team makes for a successful online meeting. This can be done through using video as opposed to only audio so that all participants can relate visually, and be in position to read expressions. Videos also reduce careless interruptions.
Sam Agona, an IT professional, agrees with the VC. “You can do a voice conversation without images but you can also do a video conversation, which is very good,” he says.

According to Harvard Business Review study on virtual meetings, it is important to create a warm and comfortable environment when facilitating an online meeting. It fosters trust. Calling participants by name, making eye contact by looking direct into the camera as opposed to the screen helps create a connection with the participants and thus makes them more comfortable to actively participate.
Clarifying the objectives of the meeting so that participants are at par with the proceedings, apportioning responsibilities as well as laying ground rules also help in keeping the meeting on track.
Asking for feedback is an effective way to get everyone participating. “You sort of ask for comments and if a member is not making any submission, you call upon him or her to give a comment,” Mpezamihigo advises.
He adds: “We create a real work environment, we follow an agenda, opening prayer, comments, and any other issues. We have an agenda which is circulated in advance, like a week before.”
Mpezamihigo advises that employees should know that even when working remotely, they are expected to deliver excellently so they should prepare adequately and have presentations in order.

Technical issues
When the countrywide power outage happened last month, I was following a live video chat on social media, and many of the participants lost connection. Although these technical glitches cannot be completely avoided, it is important to be more prepared. When in an area with unstable power supply, it is critical to have a backup source of power, if possible, an automatic one. This will save you missing out on parts of the meeting.
Sam Agon, an IT professional advises that it is important to have an intelligent software and know how to comfortably navigate it.
“The importance of having a password is to ensure security and it must be kept private and shared in a safe manner like through Email to avoid security breaches,” Agona says.
He adds that it is crucial to have a software that gives options for different modes of engagement such as one that enables presentations and screen sharing to make the meeting more interactive. “Some software like zoom give the host an option to mute all microphones for all participants and only allow when one is relaying something. People are at home right now, children playing in the background, this helps control background noise.”
The muting option prevents people from talking over each other, which is a common distraction in many meetings.

Minutes and follow-ups
Every meeting is called with an objective and therefore it is important for deliberations and decisions reached to be documented and action to be taken clearly stipulated.
“At the end of the meetings, we develop an action sheet and review it at the subsequent meeting to track implementation. We also record our meetings for future reference,” Mpezamihigo says.


Virtual meetings etiquette

•Avoid multitasking: responding to an email or browsing is likely to distract you and you might miss important information. Ground rules like having phones off can help with this.
•Avoid making long presentations.
•Look at the camera, not the screen, this shows you are speaking to the rest of the team and not just yourself.
•Dress appropriately: It is important to know the people you’ll be engaging and dress up appropriately.
•Choose a quiet and well-lit room, preferably carpeted or with long curtains. This will enable others to see you clearly and also give good audio with no echo.
•Mute your microphone when not talking to avoid background noise.
•Log in earlier. It helps one settle in and address any hitches, find a good background, etc.
•Introduce yourself: This is mostly applicable for meetings without video. It helps other participants identify and establish a connection for a productive meeting.