Due to the current Government advice surrounding COVID-19, many businesses have switched to working from home in an effort to minimise their social contact. However, in order to maintain productivity levels and open communication between colleagues, video conferencing software and online meetings are essential. At Mackman, we have updated our online working facilities to accommodate clients who are working from home, and to maximise our ability to communicate with each other when co-workers are unable to come to the office.
Video conferencing was first made possible in the 1870s, when it was first thought of to transmit audio and video over wire. The first audio call with a video link was between the president of AT&T and officials from Washington DC, facilitated by Bell Labs in 1927. It wasn’t until 1956, however, that AT&T made the first-ever video call as we know it today.
There are a number of options available at different price points for those wanting to invest in online meeting software. Zoom, for example, has over 700,000 users globally, is extremely scalable, and simple to use. Skype is also a popular option, with Skype for Business features on a platform that many people already have installed. At Mackman, we use Microsoft Teams, a cloud-based platform that is supported on desktop and mobile for Windows, Mac, iOS and Android. If your office is using Microsoft Office 365 Teams will already be available to you. The main strength of Teams is that it can integrate with a huge variety of other apps and services, particularly other Microsoft apps. In addition, the app allows you to arrange real-time conversations into threads, which can be found easily and provide team members with the ability to talk through projects without setting up an audio or video call.
Non-verbal communication constitutes a huge proportion of how we communicate with others. Depending on what article or research paper you read, the percentage of non-verbal cues that we give off varies between 70 to 93 percent. In 1986, the psychologist Gerard Egan defined five key elements of active listening, also known as SOLER:
By using a video call, you retain the visual cues that we follow without even realising it.
Audio calls and particularly emails leave a lot of room for miscommunication. For example, a recipient of an email may not take into account your tone of voice, or miss the main point of a long email. Video calls allow a more natural setting where points can be questioned when confusion arises, and referring back to the previous point, non-verbal elements can give additional information.
If you take your attention off a video call to reply to an email, check your phone or sort through paperwork, you will be noticed, whereas an audio call could allow you to get sidetracked. By staying focused on the meeting and any important decisions that are being discussed. Visual aids can also be used – for example, if you’re talking about a design or a product, having the item as a reference for everyone on the call to see will help to clarify any uncertainty.
Set yourself up by logging in to your chosen video calling software and any relevant programs that you will be using in the meeting. This will stop any technical issues during the call and make sure that you are in the best place to begin your meeting without a hitch. Headphones or earphones offer a better sound quality than speakers and reduce audio reverb, so it is best to use them if possible.
Use the video capabilities of your software and ask everybody in your meeting to have their webcams switched on. As mentioned previously, this will make the meeting run more smoothly. Try to overcome the urge to be self-conscious by focusing on the camera rather than your reflection. This will feel more natural once you get used to it, as it simulates eye contact with the people you’re addressing. Many video calling facilities also allow you to organise the video feeds from other people, so you can organise them into a grid and give everybody equal space like you were sat around a table in person.
Exercise common courtesy and greet everybody before you launch into your meeting. This will not only build a rapport if you haven’t met these people before, but it also allows you to gauge any audio or visual issues on an individual basis before the meeting begins, rather than finding out when somebody has an important point to share. For this purpose, a quick presentation or introduction is also useful to get everybody on the same page.
When you are participating in a video call with over three people, it is best practice to switch your microphone to mute when you aren’t using it. This avoids any breathing or background noises making their way into the conversation and becoming a distraction.
If you’re meeting online, you may want to set up a more formal structure by setting out the purpose of the meeting and providing everybody with an agenda ahead of time. Appoint somebody to take notes on the meeting, although some platforms allow you to record your meeting to watch back later. You may also be able to add notes directly in the meeting depending on the software you have, so that everybody can make a contribution or jot down ideas for all participants to see.
Although video conferences have the potential to feel a little stilted and awkward, particularly if you aren’t used to video conferencing, it is essentially the same as any other meeting. Don’t change your behaviour simply because you’re not in the same room – this includes not using your phone, tabbing out of your call to read through emails, or staring into the middle distance. Don’t follow recent examples from schools and colleges where online learning has become mainstream, where students are setting themselves as a background so that they look like they’re participating in the call. Yes, people can tell! This is particularly relevant if you’re speaking with a client or prospect, because you may lose respect or even business if they think you’re distracted, annoyed, bored, or doing anything that could be off-putting.
Give everybody in the meeting enough time and space to say their piece. There’s nothing more frustrating than feeling like you can’t offer your opinion, especially in a video call where people may be talking over each other. It may be worth letting everyone know when starting your meeting that you want there to be enough time to listen to everyone’s opinion. This could also discourage monologues from more verbose participants if loose limits are set on the amount of time that one person can speak for. A pre-agreed moderator could help with this. Everybody wants to know that their opinion is valued, or the meeting may not be worth their while.
End the meeting by wrapping up proceedings and reiterating what was discussed or decided upon. Sending over minutes to all participants is a good idea, as with face to face meetings, to remind people of any actions arising, including deadlines. If the meeting is necessarily short because of peoples’ availability, provide everybody with contact details if necessary so they know that if they have any items to add or points that need clarifying, they can get in touch.
In conclusion, for those of us working from home for the benefit of society or in self isolation but still engaged in the working week, using this technology for meetings is a benefit few generations have previously enjoyed. We hope some of these tips help you and your organisation to continue to run as effectively as possible during this challenging period and don’t forget that we are here to help if we can. You can call us on 01787 388038 or leave us a message on our contact form and one of our specialists will get back to you.