Functional Remote Meetings

Note: This is another article I posted on LinkedIn early in the pandemic, to help resolve some common problems I was seeing as people started learning how to work remotely.

Last week, I shared some general pointers on working from home. This time around, I’m digging into details, sharing a few more bits of advice specific to remote meetings:

  1. When invited to a meeting that uses a video conference software you have not used before, dial in 5 minutes early. That gives you time to run the installer, connect to the call, find the video and audio settings, and test that your microphone and camera are working before the call actually starts.
  2. Invest in a good microphone or headset. The difference in sound quality does make it easier to communicate.
  3. Give your system the resources to do the call well — Stop any programs on your system that are taking up high CPU. Do not run video or large downloads in the background during a call. Small network or CPU hiccups are noticable when talking, and distract the rest of the team.
  4. Turn on your camera. It feels a bit invasive at first, but seeing the faces of your team, as well as their reaction helps bridge some of the communication gaps of not being face-to-face. It also allows people to continue non-verbal communication such as nodding heads.
  5. Test your camera before a call – look at the image you will be sharing with your team. Are there distracting elements behind you? Does the lighting show your face clearly? Is there anything in-camera that you do not want the team to see, or that would be unprofessional?
  6. If you have a recurring meeting that always connects to the same video conference URL, the host of the meeting should allow the meeting to start as soon as the first people connect. That allows the team to talk and start without the host, in case they are delayed for any reason. 
  7. “Can you hear me now?” — If you are unsure, ask whether people can hear you. Likewise, you’ll see an icon when people are muted – watch for talking and let your coworkers know if they forgot to unmute. A few quick words and questions save more time than waiting for people to realize something is wrong.
  8. Slow down a bit – everyone’s feed may be delayed by up to a couple hundred milliseconds, which is enough to cause simultaneous talking more often than when face-to-face. When you slow down, you offer a better chance to allow others to participate. Likewise, when you want to add to the conversion, say something, then pause. This ensures the other person heard you and yielded the discussion to you… otherwise you may talk over each other, resulting in neither one of you being heard. 
  9. Explicitly invite people to talk – Maybe this is just my teams, but I find that no matter if we have 6 or 20 people on a call, only 4-5 people actively engage in the conversation, while the rest mostly listen. It is partially due to the point above, that people tend to hold back to avoid talking on top of each other, but also that some of us are simply more vocal. When you do need feedback from the entire group, you need to actively invite it. One technique is to pause the discussion and invite comments directly from those who have been more quiet. Another technique is to go “around the room”, having the host of the call invite each person, by name, to share their thoughts.