In this age of the home office, it can be a challenge to deal with new ways of holding meetings. Every once in a while, online meetings turn into a delightful form of chaos, and the best thing to do is just shake your head and laugh. But just a few simple tips will turn your online meetings, and even your online workshops, into real opportunities for productive collaboration.
You find them in every company – those workers who can never get their video conferencing or telecommunications to work right. There’s John, who can never find his way into the online meeting room, or Alice, whose camera and microphone take turns acting up. And of course there’s always that colleague whose cat and kids are constantly scampering past the screen.
In principle, online meetings are supposed to be more efficient, but in many respects they’re also more stressful, especially when you can’t see the other participants, don’t know them too well and need to maintain full concentration to understand what they’re saying.
Tips for Online Meetings
As with offline meetings, an online meeting should have one person responsible for facilitating the meeting. An important component in facilitating an online meeting isn’t just being a good moderator, but knowing how to share content to the screen such as the meeting agenda, presenting content and issues, meeting minutes, etc. – all of these greatly help participants to understand and follow what’s being discussed. Video conferences will run smoothly with a just a few simple rules:
- Create an agenda and schedule in advance.
- Define a moderator who’ll moderate the meeting.
- Define rules in advance, such as muting microphones when no one’s speaking. This way no one will hear the tapping on a keyboard if someone decides to answer an email during the meeting (but note that people aren’t as good at multitasking as they think). This also includes the little things like online punctuality, letting others speak and letting people ask questions at any time.
- Also, be open about whether video is desired or not.
- The following things are important to do at the beginning of an online meeting:
- Make sure everybody knows everybody else – having a round of introductions online is much more important than in a meeting room.
- At the end of the meeting, agree on a todo list of what’s next.
- Prepare meeting minutes during the online meeting – ideally, minutes should be completed and sent out 15 minutes after the meeting, with all participants informed of their tasks and follow-up responsibilities.
Tips for Online Workshops
In comparison to online meetings, the challenge in online workshops is that sometimes participants need to collaborate to work out extremely complex matters (e.g. models, business processes, etc.) Before physical distancing became necessary, this was generally handled in a meeting room using a flip chart, moderator and business analyst, and also included the relevant stakeholders and technical experts.
In general, the points listed above for online meetings also apply to workshops held online. These include discussing the agenda and schedule at the beginning of the meeting, introductions, introducing the topic, bringing all participants up to speed, agreeing on rules for the workshop and the method for keeping minutes. However, since proper preparation is still much more important for a successful online workshop than for a meeting room, we also recommend the following practical tips:
You should clarify without question who’ll act as moderator – in practice, this is usually the project manager. The moderator will ensure the agenda and schedule are adhered to, keep minutes and record todos. In addition, you should clarify who’ll take on various roles, such as business analyst – in other words, the role/person who’s responsible in the workshop for facilitating discussion on development and clarification of the business process. As a result, you specify how the workshop will be facilitated in terms of both procedure and content. These duplicate facilitator roles are an essential success factor for online workshops.
The moderator and analyst should agree in advance how to divide up each of their roles, and who’ll do what during the workshop:
- When the agenda, schedule and minutes will be shared to the screen (moderator)
- When and how the process under development will be worked out (analyst)
The business analyst and moderator should create a template in advance and use this during the workshop to record the model or process online.
From my experience, a swim lane diagram pre-filled with the most essential standard elements has proven to be extremely helpful as a template for this purpose.Alexander Hirt
Clarifying Issues in Advance
The business analyst and moderator should clarify as many issues as possible in advance of the meeting. Ideally they can already be working together during the workshop to develop a first draft, for example of a process, instead of beginning with a completely blank template.
The process or other item being worked out should be documented directly on the screen so that all participants see the result and give their feedback. This also means that the completely recorded process as well as minutes will be ready at the end of the workshop, and can immediately be sent out for review.
Bottom Line: Take Advantage of Online Meetings
Meetings in these crisis times are held almost exclusively online. Many companies are jumping on board, and will certainly be using video conferences and calls more and more in the future, whether to save on travel costs or reduce time spent on trips.
This means that employees who can already come in a proven set of methods for taking part in “offline” meetings and workshops will start off with a clear advantage here. One good option for broadening your own horizon in this area are our courses in project management and agility, which you can use to expand your own toolbox of methods out to online formats as well.