Katarzyna Grabowska
Professional Scrum Master
Reviewed by a tech expert

Videoconference - how to set up a good online meeting

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In the recent weeks, we have conducted research to learn what our employees think about working remotely. They indicated online meetings as one of the areas that need improvements. Based on employees’ needs, we have come up with a set of rules that should improve the quality of our videoconferences.

Sometimes typing a short question on Slack is quicker than a phone call or a meeting. For more complex issues, discussing them on Slack may be time-consuming, and sometimes it may result in misunderstandings. In such cases, online meetings may be the best option. Running a planning or refinement meeting by typing only is simply impossible. Therefore, online meetings are inevitable in remote work.

We’ve all been there: you call in, and the other person has unexpectedly turned on the camera. That’s rarely good news. Behind you, there’s a pile of socks after washing that you did not have time to segregate and put away, or your apartment is in the middle of renovation works, or your children are running around the desk, or your husband/wife/partner is bringing you coffee that you didn’t have time to drink prior to the meeting, or your cat is treading on your keyboard.

Remember the live interview with Professor Robert Kelly on BBC, when his children entered the room and, well, did what children do?

There’s plenty of possible situations to list here. All of them are real, and because of them we are reluctant to turning our cameras on.

And you know what? Probably we all think the same, and it’s OK since we’re working at home.

However, there are reasons that make using cameras during calls useful.

Research shows that people process visual information way better and faster than sound alone. Every case in the research proves that iconic memory turned out to be more efficient than echoic memory.

Besides the information conveyed in words, we can also see the faces of our team members. This micro-information like facial expressions or body language along with the words complement the message, as you can actually see that particular words are accompanied by a surprised, confused, approving, sad, or happy face. Such contact based on both words and images builds trust and good relationships throughout the team.

After turning on the camera the atmosphere changes. You can see and be seen. The distance is noticeably reduced. You no longer feel that you are out of the sight of others. You are less eager to multitask, and we all know that this happens during audioconferences. You maintain “virtual” eye-contact, which translates to a higher level of closeness and engagement.

Not to mention that seeing your teammates alone oftentimes makes the day better.

RST Software Videoconference — how to set up a good online meeting

While keeping all of the above in mind, you need to ensure that both you and your co-workers feel comfortable during the videocall.

1. Try to find a place free of things that may distract you or other people during the videocall. Select an area where you are the main object on your colleagues’ screens. If possible, do not seat in front of a bright window, as it makes you look like a black splat surrounded by a bright halo. Make sure the background is neutral, with no bright light or sunlight.

2. Choose a place where you can maintain eye-contact with the participants throughout the entire meeting. If you are distracted and your eyes wander restlessly around, others may think you are bored, unfocused on the topic of the conversation, while this may not be the case at all.

3. In larger groups (of more than 2-3 people), you should try to ask specific people questions, preferably by using their first names. This way, it is clear who should answer, and it eliminates the “no, no, you go ahead” situations that often seem to have no ending.

4. Things like blowing into the mic, chewing on your dinner, slurping your tea, loudly blowing or wiping your nose (allergies may be a problem), or restlessly hitting the keyboard (especially by those using built-in laptop mics) may lead to awkward situations during the call. Mute your mic when you are not talking.

5. Don’t worry if there’s a construction site right behind the wall. We have all been there and there’s not much we can do. Unless you can negotiate with the foreman. However, let other participants know at the beginning of the meeting and turn your mic off when not talking.

6. If you need to go away from the keyboard for a moment to quiet your barking dog due to a courier ringing the doorbell, remember to mute your mic, too. You can turn your camera off for a minute or two and leave a chat message that you’ll be right back. You can use various abbreviations like “brb” for “be right back” or “afk” for “away from keyboard”. It is a polite way to excuse yourself while avoiding unnecessary disruptions of the meeting.

7. Some organisations endorse the principle of “if one person uses the camera, we all use the camera”. It is a nice gesture towards the remaining participants.

8. Some of you work in the office, while the rest of the team works remotely. Some organisations tend to follow the rule that if one person attends the meeting remotely, everybody else should call-in as well. This makes people equal, so that the physically absent people are treated just like everybody else working in the same room.

9. It is a good idea to talk things over and come up with a set of rules, the do’s and don’ts of remote meetings. Make sure the rules are clear to everybody and streamline your work. This way, your meetings will be a pleasure instead of a torture. Sometimes, all you need to do it to discuss your needs with others.

10. Allow for breaks between meetings. Maintaining focus is difficult, so it is good to have a rest, stretch your legs, or fill up your mug with a good coffee.

If you have any other ideas of what to pay attention to during remote meetings, let me know in the comments. See also: Remote work Toolkit

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