In our new work-from-home world, constant communication stimuli are thrown at us, from emails, and Teams calls to chats and text messages, making it easy to become distracted or worse, we get tempted to multitask (and think we’re nailing it!). However, studies have shown that multitasking decreases your brain’s efficiency and mental performance, which means productivity level also declines! For example, doing two tasks at once has reduced productivity by up to 40%! So, let’s fix it! 2 years in, many of us have outgrown the “I’m sorry, I was on mute” and the inevitable “I seem to have a bad connection” excuse. But still, people experience virtual meeting anxiety around the world. Therefore, let’s explore a few ways to help you reduce the worries associated with virtual meetings.
You run the meeting (and the world)
You’ve been in back-to-back virtual meetings all day. It’s late afternoon, and you dread the last call of the day because you struggle to keep this specific group of people engaged. As with the now ancient face-to-face meetings, try and maintain professionalism while taking charge. Life happens, sessions run over. If that’s the case, have the courtesy to chat with the participants in your next meeting and notify them that you’re running late. Once the session has started, make sure everyone knows why they’re in the meeting and confirm if quick introductions are required – this usually sets people at ease. Equally important as the meeting owner, allow participants to leave the session once you’ve picked their expert brains. Once someone has contributed their portion of the session and needs to go or have a tight schedule, allow them to leave as soon as they need to.
I survived another meeting that could have been an email.
Running late and meetings exceeding the scheduled time are commonplace in the virtual world. Many people understand this as it happens to all of us. However, courtesy again comes into play. Notify participants if you’re going to be late, have technical problems, or won’t be able to attend. Another aspect of timing – keep it short and to the point. The internet is littered with shocking statistics on our time spent in virtual meetings versus our productivity. How much time is lost during a week because of fruitless virtual meetings? 30mins per session is advisable; if a Teams chat would suffice, go for it instead of scheduling a meeting.
Keep it human
Whether you’re having a meeting with internal c-suiters, customers, or your co-worker, the rule is simple: Everyone on the call is human, therefore act as such. Respect, politeness, and setting everyone at ease to contribute is critical. If you must crack a joke, read the room, and find the best moment to lighten the mood. Speaking of moods, don’t put people on the spot by demanding they share their “video”. If it is a requirement for the specific virtual meeting, notify participants in advance or at the start of the session. This will give them time to ensure they are presentable and prepare themselves for screen time. This is where people are the most anxious in virtual meetings as they are concerned with their appearance, surroundings and seeing themselves on screen.
Take it easy and try to act natural; you can only achieve this if you are prepared. Therefore, always assume you’ll be asked to switch on your video. Having your video on (especially with clients and superiors) is a sign of respect and professionalism.
No hidden agendas please
The assumption is that the work-from-home lifestyle has afforded many of us time. That cannot be further from the truth. If anything, everyone’s diaries are stacked with meetings. Neat freaks would colour-code their meetings by type: green for easy-going, red for important, yellow for customers, pink for private time – their diaries resemble a Tetris game. Share an agenda well in advance so that all attendees know what it’s about and what input will be required during the session. If you cannot share an agenda, at minimum, have one prepared for yourself to assist and guide you throughout the meeting. An agenda helps the meeting flow and usually forces participants to get to the point once that one person starts rambling.
Cancel noise culture
In March of 2020, the norm was dogs barking, kids screaming, and significant others enquiring about dinner plans. Now, 2 years later, we have become used to the idea of attending virtual meetings from home and knowing the dos and don’ts. Noise-cancelling headphones are an excellent investment when you have no quiet place to escape to. If you cannot stop the noise in your vicinity, politely notify attendees of the background noise; you’ll usually be met with relating, understanding voices.
They can see your screen
Sharing a screen forces your audience to engage. On Teams, which is the most popular virtual meeting platform to use for business, a red border will appear on the outline of the screen you’re sharing. Do make sure to hide the live chat with your significant other and any other possible embarrassing Google searches from your audience, though! Whether it’s your meeting agenda or a beautifully curated presentation, sharing your screen pulls your audience in and keeps them captivated. Ensure you familiarise yourself with the virtual meeting platform buttons, functions, and presentation mode before the meeting.
Whether you’re leading the meeting, presenting, or contributing as a participant, ensure you have no distractions during the session – difficult, yes, but impossible, no. While on the call, everyone can hear if you’re typing or speaking to someone else. Worse still, when it’s time to contribute, and you ask questions to get you up to speed, it indicates that you’re not paying attention. To avoid these embarrassing moments, close your email and chat boxes for the duration of the meeting, also put your smartphone on silent for bonus focus points.
At the end of the day, virtual meetings allow us to speak to colleagues across the world at any time. It enables us to work from home, from our comfort zones, to be ourselves. But it requires some rules to adopt before, during and after attending. If you follow the suggestions above, you’ll be more productive, less stressed, and you can even add ‘Virtual Meetings’ to your long list of skills! Stay human, respect others’ time, and enjoy the new virtual world!