Phone conferencing can be tricky to navigate. Without really seeing everyone you lack some visual clues as to when someone else may have something to add to the discussion. This can sometimes create scenarios where some people dominate the call and others are never heard from. As in a physical meeting, you need to be mindful that just because someone isn’t jumping in and saying something, it doesn’t mean they have nothing to add to the conversation.
Some of these tips are outright common sense, others I have learned from trial and error. Some of these tips work for in-person meetings too.
1. Don’t be too quick to end the meeting.
Many times in meetings people want to end them if someone doesn’t show up shortly after the meeting begins. You don’t want to do that. In a virtual environment, meetings may get booked back to back with no time in between a prior meeting and the current meeting. People being five minutes late is not uncommon. You can’t always control other people’s schedules and you have to deal with it.
2. Pay attention to who attends and what they say
I have not always done this and have been asked at times who attended meetings and said certain things identified in my notes. When the group makes decisions in the meetings, it can be beneficial to know who helped make those decisions. When things are said, it can help to note who said them. It can also help when someone in the meeting is not participating that probably should be participating.
It seems a lot easier to keep track of people in a physical meeting because I can see them, but in a virtual meeting, all I may have to go on is their name. Putting a name to a statement can help you go back to that person later if you seek clarifications. You don’t want to be the guy (and I have been that guy) who says, “I don’t know who brought that up,” as It makes you look like an idiot.
3. Accept that interruptions happen
Apologize and move on.
It is likely that two people will try to speak at the same time in a virtual meeting. You can’t see each other, and sometimes trying to get into the conversation can be difficult if you have something to say. You don’t have the visual cues to know when someone is going to talk or intends to keep talking so it seems to happen quite frequently in a virtual meeting. Work it out, apologize, and move on. You will inevitably be interrupted or interrupt someone else.
4. Getting to the right answer is more important than being right
The best part about telecommuting is that I don’t always know who the annoying know-it-all person in the office is. When you find them though, it’s usually during a virtual meeting.
A guy I heard referred to as “Territorial” was on a series of meetings of mine once. Now, to me, “Territorial” sounds like a good thing. He takes ownership of his work. As it turned out, he also tried to take ownership of everyone else’s work. He was the office know-it-all. He knew his job, my job, everyone else’s job better.
Sometimes it pays to swallow your pride and not argue with a person like that. Pick your battles. One particular case stands out to me with the “Territorial” person mentioned above – when I was creating a RACI chart and needed this person’s input. He first asked me what the “A” stood for (Accountable) then told me I was wrong and that it was “Assist”. From that point on he started telling me what letters to put where in the chart, using “A” as “Assist.” which would have made the chart wrong.
I could have argued. Would it have been worth it? Probably not. So I refrained from sharing my screen and used his input to place in appropriate letters of my choosing. The point here is, I needed the right answers – I didn’t need to be right on what the “A” stood for in RACI. As long as I could interpret it later, who cares what letters I used and what they meant. Getting the right answer is more important than being right.
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5. Work to keep your background quiet
A crying baby is distracting. You are supposed to be working not taking care of your kid. I am a parent, I know the joys of juggling work and taking care of kids – but being a telecommuter is not code for being paid to babysit your own kids. I sent my daughter to daycare while working from home. She wasn’t old enough to leave alone in the house and I have to work. The first rule of telecommuting, treat it like any other job. I am not going to wait for you to tend to your crying kid in the middle of a meeting that you are now interrupting. If you can’t treat telecommuting like a job where you have to go into an office, you should probably go into an office and work. It is not a way to get out of paying for child care.
Other distracting things you should work to eliminate – barking dogs, UPS/Fed-Ex deliveries (Get them to leave it at the door and get it after your meeting), Outside street sounds, and more.
I have an issue in my office with furnace noise. The fan in the winter can be heard over conference calls. (I am remodeling a new office to eliminate that permanently) I have done several things to try and reduce the noise. It doesn’t bother me but it can be distracting to others on the call. I put up a wall in my office between me and the furnace. I purchased background noise canceling microphones. I also try to run the upstairs electric heaters to help the furnace not turn on as often.
External noise is listed as one of my 5 Challenges of Telecommuting. The goal is to make the meeting as free as possible from distractions so everyone can concentrate on the meeting. A crying baby, a barking dog, or a blowing furnace fan detracts from that concentration.
Just a small sample of tips of thousands I could probably come up with. I think these address some of the major issues you will face in a virtual meeting setting. They by no means are intended to address every issue you could face in a virtual meeting.
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