Over the past two months millions of workers have been sent home to work. While the current health crisis has undoubtedly sped up the development and need for remote working, new technologies and infrastructure developments have ensured that, even before the crisis, more people would be working from home in the future.

In response to sudden move to home offices, Gartner has published a new report on how to lead organizations through the disruption of coronavirus. One of the key elements is creating a workplace that enables collaboration at distance.

Business leaders looking to support a newly remote workforce are relying on collaboration tools to ensure productivity and mitigate business disruptions. As employees become more dependent on these virtual meeting and collaboration tools, IT leaders should provide an improved and secure user experience. There are three things they need to ensure:

  • Enable reliable and consistent virtual meeting experiences
  • Make the meeting secure
  • Reshape meeting culture to promote productivity

These are the main themes, which encompass a wide range of elements that business leaders need to consider too. John Arthur serves on the executive team of a growing, publicly traded firm based in the United States. He is also a writer and researcher on virtual meetings and collaborating in the virtual world.

Related Article: The Rise of the Virtual Conference: How to Host Your Next Event Entirely Online

1. Meeting Culture

He says that one of the most important contributing factors to successful meetings is that business leaders establish the culture for virtual meetings. The need to decide whether the company norm is going to be that people are always on video, or is audio-only acceptable? “Is it fun to see everyone in their pajamas, or is some basic attire standard in place? Those cultural norms are almost more important than the tech itself,” he said.

2. Technology Familiarity

He said it is also important that all users are familiar with the app. Whether it is Zoom, Webex, Teams, or another app, people should know a few basic things, and leadership and IT can help with it. They may seem like small things, but users need to know where the video on/off icon is, how to mute, how to share screens. “People should definitely practice, if even for 10 minutes, before conducting a bunch of important business via video,” he said. Other issues that need to be catered for is what the field-of-view for the other attendees is, how the lighting is and whether people are too close or too far from the camera.

Many virtual meeting apps have areas where users can familiarize themselves with these problems and he recommends using these areas before launching into a fully-fledged meeting.

3. Meeting Security

Scott Yelton, head of product management for OfficeSuite UC at Raleigh, NC-based Windstream Enterprise. He pointed out that security and the protection of meeting access is one of the most important elements that enterprises need to ensure before virtual meetings can become commonplace. Best practices that hosts can use to prevent unwanted meeting guests include:

  1. Set meeting password when scheduling meetings
  2. Disable "Join Before Host" so attendees cannot enter the meeting before the host
  3. Enable a co-host so you can assign others to help moderate
  4. Disable file transfer and use a cloud sharing platform such as OneDrive or Dropbox
  5. Disable allow removed participants to rejoin so booted attendees cannot sneak back in
  6. Enable a "Waiting Room" to see who is trying to enter; the host can control entrance.
  7. Lock the meeting so no other attendees can join

4. Technology and Platforming

Steve Mapes, senior VP of strategy at Dayton, NJ-based Impact XM, an event and experiential marketing agency, points out that virtual event attendance was growing 50% faster than their physical counterpart. That growth has now gone exponential. As technology and user expectations continue to evolve the ability to engage globally and affordably, along with easy access to rich data and analytics, marketers will engage in more virtual/hybrid approaches to their events. Business leaders need to pick the right platform for their specific type of meeting by considering the purpose, scope, device, industry, customization, usability and integration. Every meeting is different depending on the topic and audience.

5. Online Culture

Gartner’s recent report focuses on three things, said Lee Gimpel of Washington DC-based Better Meetings. He argues that enabling reliable and consistent virtual meeting experiences and promoting productivity are the most important.

In terms of security he says most of the recent bad press about security on video calls has come from open meetings that were posted publicly and which did not use meeting passwords. “It’s a pretty easy fix and not especially germane to a business context,” he said.

Learning Opportunities

Many organizations just suddenly started doing all their meetings virtually. Few of them probably had “the talk” about what their online meeting culture would be like. Is it ok to just be on audio, to eat on calls, to do other work on calls, to meet before 9am, to have groups of more than 8 people on a call?  “It’s important in terms of culture and consistency to stop and think for a moment how your organization is going to handle this new environment,” he said.

6. Replicate the Watercooler

In a way, this may seem counterintuitive with respect to increasing productivity. "To improve your online meeting culture, I like using breakout rooms (particularly in Zoom) to replicate the water cooler moments that happen in a physical space, he said. “I start a meeting by breaking a larger group into smaller groups of 2 or 3 people. I then give people 2-5 minutes to talk in those small groups at the start of a meeting," he added.

7. Eliminate Unnecessary Attendees

He also said it is important that while most video-call platforms work well for a call between 2 or 3 people, most do not work well as a group gets larger; they just do not have the options and setup for bigger business calls. Even business-grade video conferencing still has awkward lags and cross-talk. As a rule of thumb, if you want people to actively participate, try to keep meetings below half a dozen attendees. Cut out the meeting tourists who may just be sitting in but are not necessary.

8. Go Low-Tech.

Finally, he said, allow yourself to go low-tech even when the video conferencing software you are using is high-tech. In other words, sometimes using a real whiteboard, holding up a printed page, sharing an ugly spreadsheet, or displaying a model can be much faster, easier, and more effective than trying to get additional online meeting tools to sync documents or virtual screens. Do not let online meeting technology dominate when it may only complicate.

9.Team Check-Ins

Janera Soerel is director of business development at New York City-based BetterSpaces. She believes that the real challenges with remote working are not technology but human. To overcome them, she suggests business leaders do a few things things to ensure the wellbeing of remote workers. Three of the prominent challenges of remote working are lack of consistent communication, burnout for employees who have difficulty carving out time to take care of themselves and increased mental/emotional issues due to isolation.

Have a daily check-in with your team during which everyone answers a question or does an activity led by a co-worker! Set a standing 15-20-minute meeting in the morning, or at another convenient time. Rotate facilitation daily. This encourages shared leadership and responsibility for team wellbeing and gives everyone a chance to be heard as well as to listen respectfully to one another!

10. Encourage Personal Time

She also says that you team should take 15-30 minutes per week to have a coffee date with someone else on the team! Someone on your team can randomly assign people in these pairs each week. This can serve as a replacement for the rewarding social interactions that would usually take place naturally at the office. Encourage employees to put health related activities on their work calendars. Encourage people to block off a half hour for lunch, for their walk, for exercise, or for meditation. Company leadership has a huge opportunity here to do this themselves and lead by example (which is a secret key to building company culture in general!)