Coronavirus (Covid19) has forced us to reconsider how we lead our projects. In a few days co-located teams have had to break up and work from home. Long planned kick offs and design workshops have had to moved online, and project managers are facing a new set of technical challenges.
That said, for many project teams working remotely is not new. I have over 15 years’ experience of leading remote teams dispersed over several countries and time zones. Experience has taught me a few simple things that you can do to make your online project meetings successful. Here are my top ten tips for your next virtual team meeting!
1. Invest in a great headset
I now use a professional call-centre style headset that is adjustable, light-weight and doesn’t hurt my delicate ears. The sound quality is amazing no one complains of bad line and I can hear everyone on the call even if there is noise in the background. Audio to avoid
- Laptop audio. The speakers and microphone on your laptop are likely to be awful. You will struggle to hear, and no one will be able to hear you.
- Cheap in-ear headphones and headphones that come with mobile phones. These will be better than your laptop speakers, but you will struggle with background noise and they can be very uncomfortable.
- Over ear headphones designed for listening rather than speaking. I have a pair of noise cancelling headphones that are very comfortable, but I struggle to be heard on calls because they lack a microphone. You may find noice cancelling headphones are enough for your needs, but to get one of good enough quality it will probably cost you more than a headset designed for calls.
Headsets designed for internet-based calls with an adjustable microphone. For example:
2. Share the login details well before the meetingBefore the meeting share the call details. Ideally share the details when you schedule the meeting using your scheduling tool. For example, if you use Outlook and Skype you can schedule the Skype call when you create the Outlook invite at the click of a button. This avoids any delays when you get to the meeting time and realise you haven't sent out the login details. Most online meeting tools allow you to start meetings quickly from different apps including Microsoft office, email and instant-messaging tools.
3. Check your remote meeting tool will work for everyone on the callCheck that your attendees can all use the tool of your choice. I have come across several companies that don't allow the use of Skype or are still in the process of setting federation. In fact, it is worth having a backup tool like WebEx, GoToMeeting or Zoom when you are running Skype meeting. Also bear in mind that there's been a lot of reports that Zoom is not particularly secure so it's well worth making sure all attendees are happy with using it.
In your meeting invite include a link to troubleshooting tips.
TIP! A few days before the meeting send out a reminder and ask everyone to run a test by clicking the call link. This should alert people to any firewall or other connection issues.
4. share any slides before the meetingShare your slide decks and any other documents in advance of the meeting so you don't have delays at the start. This is particularly useful for the inevitable person who has technical problems and can’t see your screen.
5. Use a filesharing siteThe file size of Slide decks can get huge and inevitably your meeting delegates want you to share your slide deck either before or after the meeting. It is well worth setting up a filesharing site to you can do that. You may have a secure in-house site that you use, or you may be able to one of the many online services like: Amazon Drive, Box, Dropbox, Google Docs or OneDrive (or one of many others). Just check that they meet with your IT security requirements. You can also dramatically reduce the vast lies of PowerPoint slides by saving them as PDF and then emailing the PDF.
6. Let people know who you areAsk everyone to log in with their full names that will make it much easier to understand who is speaking during the call. Always do introductions on telephone conference calls so that everyone is clear on who is attending, what their role is and which company are from. Ideally each person will login with a name and a profile photo and of course if your attendees have their video turned on you'll be I would see each other's faces. Most conferencing tools help you to identify who is talking by showing the active speaker in a bigger window.
7. Plan questionsWhen you're doing a presentation have a think in advance about whether you want people to ask questions during your presentation or afterwards. A great way to handle questions is to ask everyone to type them into the chat function. You can then choose when you want to answer them without your presentation being interrupted.
8. Use mute allDon't be afraid to use the mute all function when you're doing a presentation. It is so irritating when meetings are interrupted by the ping of late comers or by conversations in the background. Also let your attendees know about some of the key features for example tell them how to raise their hands or how to let you know if there is a problem. For example, in Zoom you can raise your hand, ask the presenter to go slower or faster and even request a coffee break.
9. Use screensharing!Screen sharing is your friend. For presentations and training it gives you control of the of what information is shared and when. You can troubleshoot with the remote support team. You can watch in real-time what a user is doing. If you have nothing to share you can use it to take notes and clarify action points. In project status calls I share my screen and write the email summary during the call. This saves time and eliminates email back and forth debates about actions.
10. Use chat for notes and actionsUse the chat tool to take notes and action points as you go through the meeting. Microsoft Teams, Skype, Zoom, GoToMeeting and Webex all have a chat function that allows you to send messages to one or all attendees. You can use this to:
- Take notes and actions.
- Share email and web addresses.
- Share technical information for example, program code, DB queries.
- Share key facts/background that you can refer to in the meeting.
- Ask questions
Don't be afraid of silencesIf you're someone who does a lot of face-to-face meetings you may struggle with silences in online calls. Particularly in troubleshooting meetings. I work in IT and we frequently have troubleshooting meetings in which support technicians work together to resolve a problem. There are long periods of silence, which I used to really struggle with because I couldn't see whether anyone was doing any work. Over time I learnt that my questions and requests for reassurance didn't help the process. So, I have had to learn to keep quiet and trust the team. If you want to follow along, ask the technical team to share their screens, see you can see what is happening.
Record meetings and use transcriptionAs Project Managers we frequently chair meetings, with many participants and a lot of information being shared. This makes it difficult to take actions. Luckily online meeting software almost always has an option to record meetings and some can transcribe the call into a text file. You should let everyone know that you are recording, and agree how the recordings will be used and stored. The recording feature is so useful that I sometimes set up an online meeting in the background of a face to face meeting. For example, for design workshops and project kick offs, I will set up a skype meeting and share presentations and documentation like the Business case, PID and project plan through Skype that allows me to use the recording feature.
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