If it wasn't part of your regular job pre-COVID, surely by now, video meetings are a staple of your work life, and maybe even your social life. In the past year we've all had significantly fewer in-person meetings and instead we're looking like the Brady Bunch multiple times a day. Successful meetings have always required preparation, structure and respect. Video meetings are no different, but those basic rules look a bit different with some new etiquette. Here are some of those "extras" you need to keep in mind:
Great meetings start with an agenda sent out to the participants before-hand. Then, as a participant, you do your research and prepare your notes, ensuring you can contribute valuable input. Today, as a host, when you send that agenda you also need to send the login information, as well as let people know if video will be required. After all, your participants can't prepare themselves for a video call if they don't know it's an expectation. Nobody like's a surprise video call! When you receive an invitation to a meeting that will have video, you should also prep a few things. At this point, you're probably already mostly there. Hopefully you're working in an environment with a professional-looking background and you've invested in a reliable mic and camera. That said, technology fails at the most inconvenient times. Log into meetings a few minutes early so you can run through a test, making sure mic works and your camera is well-aligned. In final preparation, make sure you understanding the platform. If you always use Zoom and you get an invitation to a Zoom meeting, then great! You can be confident your computer is set-up. But what if an invitation comes in for a lesser-known platform, like BlueJeans. When you see that show-up in an invitation, it's wise to visit their website, run any set-ups and do some tests long before the meeting starts.
Hopefully you only attend meetings where everybody is respectful to their colleagues. Good manners and a smile go a long way in accomplishing the goals of a meeting and getting past conflict. In the past months, we've learned that there are entirely new ways to be disrespectful during a meeting. Working from home brings background noise. Spouses might have their calls of their own, kids might (will) fight as soon as you get onto the call, and it seems like the Amazon delivery person stands outside your door and waits for you to log-on before ringing the door bell and angering your dog. That's OK! It's reality. But you can also minimize how much it disrupts your meeting. Before the call starts, let those around you know you'll be on a call and try to set yourself up in a quiet room where you won't be interrupted. More importantly, though, use the mute button! Get in the habit of hitting mute as soon as you're finished talking. Sure, at some point you'll be "that person" who forgets to unmute, but at least you won't be the unthoughtful person preventing good conversation. And, of course, we can't talk about respect without bringing up the annoying awkward, unavoidable "go ahead... no you go ahead... no... ok I'll... oh...." Interruptions and talking over each other can sometimes be avoided by following a few respectful rules. Give some breathing time between speakers and letting them finish their thought before chiming in. That is simple but comes with one other requirement -- don't hog the spot light. If you ramble for minutes without coming up for air, then yes, somebody is going to interrupt you and no, they are not the one being disrespectful.
Finally, great meetings have structure. They follow a specific agenda, have outcomes and goals, and are led by a facilitator. Remote, video calls require even more structure. As noted in our previous point, it's easy for somebody to run away with the meeting and talk too much. A great facilitator has to be ready to cut people off, use the "Mute All" button and call on people who are being drowned out. Another great tool to leverage in video that helps keeps things organized (and is unavailable in face-to-face meetings) is the chat feature. Yes, sidebar conversations in private chat can be harmful to a meeting's productivity, but an ability to PM the facilitator asking questions or requesting the floor, all without interrupting the dialogue, is game-changing! A team who has effective meetings is guaranteed to have a better project outcome than the unprepared, disrespectful, unstructured team. And, after so many months of work-from-home, "sorry, this is all new to me" is no longer a valid excuse for your poor etiquette on a call. Are you putting in effort to make your calls amazing?