In the advent of work from home jobs and remote company setups, online project meetings have been part and parcel of most businesses over the past few years. If you think of it from a company’s perspective, they are indeed able to save on company resources such as the utilization of electricity and transportation allowances when their employees work from home. It’s the digital age and if your business have not explored on this yet, then you definitely should. The best advantage of allowing your employees work from home is that you get to keep them happy and comfortable not to mention, safe in their homes.
Online project meetings are a way for you to keep track of the progress of everyone involved in a specific project. And as splendid as the internet may be, you should expect some problems here and there when holding a digital conference with your team. This is why it’s imperative that you prepare for this in order to have a smoother experience with the team you manage. After all, we never really know when to expect technical difficulties.
In this article, we’re going to give you several tips on how to hold your online project meetings with no trouble so you can focus on your agenda and not on the fact that one mic isn’t working or another’s screen is lagging.
1. Assign a Facilitator
This is most likely going to be you or your secretary, basically someone who is well-versed about the progress of the project. Either way, a facilitator is a must because it helps make the meeting more systematic.
A facilitator’s job is to host the online project meeting. If this is you, then it means you are in charged of talking in behalf of everyone as much as you can because latency issues due to the internet can make the meeting hard to bear with. If someone has to speak, you are to give the go signal so they can start what they have to say. This way, no one speaks in unison and the lines are clear for most of the course of your discussion.
The moderator is also responsible for the tools that everyone will be using so it will be up to you to decide and test them before asking your team to download applications or sign up for website. If you’re not tech savvy, then ask someone from IT to give you the best options. As a bridge builder, it’s up to you to set an environment where the exchange of ideas run smoothly without any distractions.
2. Prepare Visual Aids
Something could possibly get lost in translation because of the general setting of how online meetings are. Sometimes, someone might get cut off and other members might not be able to hear an important keyword. It could also be due to a choppy signal or a defective headset or even distractions in the background. Some of these are inevitable and some may happen right smack at the middle of your digital conference.
The best way to avoid any kind of miscommunication is to prepare the right visual aids.
Prepare charts to show the progress of a project or to better interpret numbers. Make sure that you close applications that are unnecessary to the meeting so that your screen or device doesn’t lag. Prepare your best share-screen options to make this experience smoother.
There are messaging applications such as Skype that has a built-in share screen feature. There are also remote access applications that you can download on your computer. Whichever you choose, make sure to hold a dry-run before the actual meeting.
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IMPORTANT: Keep the visuals simple and fonts big because it may appear pixelated in the screen of others especially if they have a slow internet connection.
3. Send Out Invites
Did you know that there are e-invitations you can send that automatically redirects to your team member’s computer calendar? This means that by a click of a button, they can readily add an alarm on their own devices and get notified. This is required because the work from home setup is very comfortable and we often feel detached from work that we forget that we have online commitments.
More importantly, sending out invites gives your team an idea of what to expect. An agenda outline is vital because this will give your team and idea of what to expect, who the attendees are going to be, and what is specifically expected from them as individuals. This way, they have no excuse to underdeliver.
Note that you might need to customize these invites specially if each attendee has a different contribution in the meeting. It’s not very advisable to send the invite with all details and individual instructions directed towards everyone as it can be confusing. What you can send out to everyone however, is an outline or a flow of how the meeting should go.
Don’t forget to add in there the time and how long the meeting should take so they can clear out their schedules for a specific time frame.
4. Check the Hardware
Imagine a band that is about to play at a bar and how they all go on stage to do a sound check. Your team should have its own version of this except we call it the “hardware check”.
First, let everyone run a speed test to see if someone needs to reset their router to get the optimum internet speed from their end. Next, let them work in 2’s to check each other’s headsets and mics and to ensure that they can hear each other clearly. Third, if this is an online video conference, let them check webcam settings and lighting as well. In addition to this, let each other check background noises that may be distracting during a meeting such as cars passing by, dogs barking, babies crying and what not. Teach everyone that the mute button exists for every time that they don’t need to speak.
And lastly, this is something that a lot of people fail to do, let everyone plug in their devices so that no one gets cut off during the middle of the meeting because of battery issues.
5. Start with a Progress Report
If this is online project meeting is not to jumpstart a new project but to talk about an existing one then it’s best that the facilitator starts with a progress report.
Showing your team what you’ve achieved so far is one of the best motivations for them to keep going. Start with numbers or meeting deadlines and congratulate everyone for a job well done. Give the floor to people concerned as well most especially if they’re also spearheading a part of the project for you. This way, everyone is on the same page as to where the project is right now before you even start the actual meeting.
6. Arrange Topics Properly
For you to be able to provide a workable timeline, you will need to create a list of topics that you are going to talk about which is going to be forwarded to everyone concerned before the meeting. This also gives them a better idea of when they will be asked to speak or report.
Most facilitators would start with the most important topics first and then once that is out of the way, the team may go ahead and cover smaller bases. After which, an open forum may be held so you guys can raise questions, concerns or clarifications. If you follow the original order of things, you will end up with a very productive meeting. It even does as much as shortening what was originally planned to last hours and removes dead air completely.
Make sure to send this to the team as early as you can to ensure that they are well-prepared when they show up. Plus, you don’t want to embarrass anyone because they’re not in the loop.
7. Record the Minutes of the Meeting
Assign someone to listen intently to everyone without any other task at hand so she can fully concentrate on taking down notes. Usually, this would be the executive assistant or secretary. As a team leader, you shouldn’t take this part for granted because clear minutes are advantageous to everyone.
This report provides a structure for your meeting and will easily reflect how everyone did on a meeting. Moreover, whatever decisions were made during the meeting will be sufficiently depicted for everyone who isn’t present to understand. In fact, people in managerial positions love doing this because it adds a layer of legal protection. How so?
Often times before an online project meeting ends, updated tasks are being allocated to each one. Everyone then accepts their tasks and commits to a deadline. Being able to record your minutes means that you have proof to someone’s commitment and you can berate them if you want to ensure that a project doesn’t get delayed.
Another important thing to take note of here is that whenever a meeting ends, people from the upper operations are often tasked to rate the meeting and see how helpful it was. It becomes a way of measuring how the team progresses, how individuals have improved and it also aids in foreseeing a clearer deadline for a specific project.
8. Conclude with Instructions
Don’t just close the meeting once all topics are covered. Let everyone take a 10 minute break while you browse over your notes and let them come back so you can give them directives for what to do next. Usually, you need to do to this with everyone present so everyone can be held liable of their commitments. It’s best you input deadlines on the company calendar real time as well so that no one forgets.
Because this is an online setup, you must do everything you can to eliminate the risk of instructions getting lost in translation. First of all, never assume that people know what you mean. Always ask for acknowledgement to ensure that you and whoever you’re giving instructions to are on the same page. Give clear time frames as well and avoid words such as “soon” or “asap” because your “soon” might be different from theirs. And exact date and time is definitely the way to go!
Also, if anything is unclear, it would be best to give examples right away. This way, everyone involved can have a clearer picture of how things should be done.
9. Make the Atmosphere Light
Online Project Meetings are hard because they take up more time than physical meetings. You also have to consider the fact that it’s quite difficult to build rapport when someone is new to the team and only being seen digitally among a pool of other employees. If someone new is about to join an online project meeting, at least offer to talk to them without anyone else so that they don’t feel so out of place. Once the real meeting starts, introduce the new ones to the rest of the team and then hold a simple ice breaker.
What helps is to make sure you all have proper lighting so your screens don’t collectively look gloomy, ensure no one has static and as the moderator, don’t get too serious and choose to speak with a friendlier tone. It’s easier to break attention span and concentration when the speaker is uninteresting.
And there you go! If you think of it, a lot of these tips are quite simple and customary even for meetings that happen in real life. In order to adapt to the new normal, please take these guidelines at heart so you can continue to operate as a functional team even without going to the office. Who knows? If you’re company is satisfied with your performance, you may never have to leave your house ever again for work!