As lockdown hit in late March, we all turned to video conferencing software such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams for both professional and social purposes. Indeed, Zoom reported an increase of 10 million to 200 million users in just three months. But while virtual catch ups have taken a nosedive as socially distanced meetups in the home and at the pub are allowed again, it seems like virtual meetings are here to stay.
A new way to do business
There is much talk about the ‘new normal’. As with wearing masks in shops and maintaining social distancing when out and about, the virtual meeting looks like being with us for the foreseeable future. Reasons for this include:
- Overcoming barriers: many people who were resistant to using video conferencing got over any concerns they had when they were forced to use it, and in many cases, realised the worries they had were unfounded.
- Working smarter: during the pandemic, many professionals realised how much time and money could be saved when the travel time and costs associated with meetings are taken out of the equation.
- A shift in culture: financial and safety concerns in the wake of the pandemic will mean many business owners will make the decision to become premises-free now they know this way of working can be effective.
- Safety: although many UK workers are being encouraged to return to their place of work from August 1st at their employers’ discretion, many business owners will be sympathetic to those who would still rather work at home where possible. And even if professionals are back in the office with colleagues, they may choose to limit their contact with a wider professional circle by meeting virtually rather than traveling to the premises of a client or contact.
Overcoming the downsides
A common criticism of video conferencing software is that ‘it’s not the same as real life’. While this is undoubtedly true, in most cases it applies far more to social interactions than business ones. After all, what we wish to gain from an evening out with an old friend will always differ greatly to what we aim to achieve from a quarterly catch-up with a client.
Of course, face-to-face meetings will always be the ideal scenario, but in the far from ideal world we now find ourselves living in, video conferencing at work is a pretty close second when it comes to staying in touch with our all-important clients. Certainly, it is a far more effective resource than email or telephone when it comes to establishing new business relationships and maintaining existing ones.
As regular glitches at the government’s daily press conferences at the height of the pandemic showed, video conferencing technology is not perfect, and just as an unexpected traffic jam can make you late for an important client meeting, technical issues can occur at the most inconvenient moments.
Although no system is totally fool proof, it’s important to do a test run before a meeting to make sure everything is in place. Things to look out for include:
- Are you logged in on your work account to access the meeting?
- Do you have the latest version of the software installed?
- Are you clearly visible on screen?
- Have you warned other members of your household not to disturb you unless strictly necessary?
Of course, mishaps will occur; the important thing is to stay calm and move on, safe in the knowledge that they happen to everyone.
The new etiquette
It goes without saying that whether it’s eating, yawning, checking Instagram or looking scruffy, any behaviour that would not be acceptable in a real-life meeting will not go down well in a video conferencing meeting! However, there are a few tips to bear in mind when doing your bit to ensure a meeting runs smoothly and professionally:
There’s no doubt that the visual cues we use to pick up on when it’s our turn to speak are harder to gauge on apps like Zoom and some people find the effort required to stay alert to the dynamics of a virtual meeting is more tiring than in a face-to-face setting. For that reason, it’s important to do your best to aid concentration by making sure you don’t participate while hungry, thirsty or otherwise distracted. If possible, schedule a short break after meetings and space them out evenly throughout the day to avoid ‘Zoom fatigue’.
By placing yourself on mute when you are not speaking, you will avoid distracting others with irritating background noise and unless you have poor bandwidth, it is always courteous to switch the camera on. And just as if you are hosting a meeting at the office, if you are the host, you should be there early to welcome everyone and the last person to leave.
Although having staff members sit in on face-to-face meetings can work well, video meetings work best when only those who really need to be there are taking part. And while accidental interruptions are inevitable, it’s important to be mindful of allowing everyone their chance to speak by not talking for longer than necessary.
Taking it to the next level
While most professionals now have the ability to schedule and take part in a meeting via video conferencing apps, not everyone is able to operate all the useful extra functions such as screen and file sharing. When confident with the basics, it’s well worth exploring how you can move on to the next level to make your meetings more efficient.
A world of webinars
The explosion in webinars during spring 2020 was testament to professionals’ ability to adapt quickly and effectively to unexpected change. As we move into a new phase, it’s important to continue considering how using video conferencing software for webinars can help your business in the following ways:
- Staff development: there is now a vast amount of content available online, much of it for free, that anyone can use to brush up their skills within a vast variety of areas.
- Delivering courses: whether it’s free webinars to get your name out there or paid-for course content, consider how webinars can help your business grow in these challenging times.
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Our 12-week webinar series ‘Communicating in a Crisis’ can be viewed here: http://idealmarketingcompany.co.uk/communicating-in-a-crisis-webinar-series/