Getting More Out Of Online Meetings

Hands up who remembers the start of the pandemic! All those zoom meetings, eh? 

"You're on mute" was the catchphrase du jour and having the kids walk in on a client meeting asking "why are you talking to Mr Potato Head". Strange days indeed.

And now, almost three years on from those very strange days, the online meetings and interviews continue to the point that we have hybrid workplaces in which several people in the same office are muting themselves as they're all on the same call with those who are working remotely.

We have interviews taking place over Zoom, Teams, Google Meet or other meeting facilities are available, in which we have the almost impossible task of trying to discern a candidate's character without the benefit of body language or even an old-fashioned shake of the hand.

And indeed, we have an entire generation that has entered the workplace knowing little else. What would they make of two-hour lunches, pizza boxes ordered at 7pm or - gasp -  five-day-weeks in an office. 

It is a changed world, and for many the change is for the better. The online meeting is as much a part of office life as watering the office plants or popping out for a Pret. Other sandwich facilities are available.

So before we start talking about how to make the most out of online meetings, let's look at what's less good about them...

The downsides of online meetings & interviews

When you have a meeting of multiple people in a room, you invariably make eye contact with each other. There are other subtle cues that go from person to person through a room, such as a wave of the hand to give way or small nods of agreement.

There are also dynamics in a meeting, and for the more dominant of the office species, there is less of an opportunity to dominate through body language or positioning. Remember the person who always took the seat facing the door or at the head of the table? Remember client meetings where you'd spend what felt like minutes deciding who sat where?

Without eye contact, without body language and without the traditional dynamics of an office setting, you're stripped of cues that may have driven a meeting or made it more seamless. You're stripped of non-verbal signs that could add another dynamic to the meeting. You are also stripped of the hierarchy of the traditional office.

That's not always a bad thing.

When you're interviewing someone for the first time, you're meeting them often in their home setting. There may be distractions, for you and for them, and if there are multiple people interviewing, it can be hard to coordinate.

How to get the most out of your online meetings

If you can't establish dynamics the traditional way, you have to find new ways of establishing them. And this can be particularly helpful for people who don't necessarily contribute a lot in face-to-face meetings (e.g. shyness), and it can help neuter those who tend to dominate them.

For instance, start by establishing the structure of the meeting and introducing everyone - much as you would around the table. Establish the agenda, the timings and the expectations for the meeting, and make sure everyone gets to contribute. There is, therefore, a greater expectation of one person to 'control' an online meeting more so than a face-to-face meeting. Make it clear who is doing this, and keep control.

As the leader of the meeting, ensure that you help establish some norms to make the online meeting as close to a face-to-face meeting as possible:

  • Look at the camera, ensuring there is a feeling of eye-to-eye contact - make sure everyone is looking at the camera, too, and that their setup doesn't require them to look at a different screen.
  • Make it clear whose turn it is to speak, to avoid people talking over each other - if required, mute others
  • Use breakout rooms for smaller conversations and tasks
  • Control contributions - allow introverts the opportunity to speak uninterrupted, try to curtail the extroverts when required

If you're interviewing someone online, you will probably need a face-to-face follow-up so that you can get a better feeling for the candidate you're speaking to, but here are some tips for assessing candidates online:

  • Be prepared for lags and noise interruptions. You won't get a lag face-to-face, but don't let it affect your view of a candidate if they take a little longer to answer, or if they can't hear you fully.
  • Minimise your own distractions. Close emails, slack, whatsapp & ensure that you keep disturbances to a minimum.
  • Use disturbances to break the ice - it is often better to have a more conversational interview online, and a child entering or a delivery man knocking at the door can be opportunities to slip into conversational mode.

Ultimately, we have no choice but to continue with the online meetings world in our remote/hybrid world. Thankfully we're over the back-to-back zoom call nightmare of the pandemic and there is a return to more face-to-face, but it's important to ensure that the online world doesn't influence our calls in a negative manner. We need to let the technology mimic face-to-face meetings as closely as possible.

Who knows, perhaps in the future, we'll be discussing how to make face-to-face meetings more like your zoom meetings, and our advice might be to let your children into the meeting room. 

Or perhaps not.

Our course on Presenting Virtually is running throughout the year - reserve a place today & discover how you can be more effective online.

Published on Jan 05, 2023 by Gareth Cartman