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Rules for Running Virtual Meetings That Actually Make "Snow Days" Less Awful

Most of the country has had at least a day or two of weather that isn't fit for man nor beast and we've probably been tempted to take advantage of the opportunity to work from home.Even in Chicago, where bad weather is hardly unusual and dealing with it is a badge of honor, a lot of companies experienced disruption. This weekend the Chicago Tribune gave 3 reasons that the impact wasn't as bad as it could have been. Besides better weather forecasting, front wheel drive vehicles and cell phones, I think there's a fourth: the technology that lets us work from home more effectively.

While it's impossible to guess how many webmeetings and video conferences were held last week, it's safe to assume that the number jumped out of sheer necessity. A lot of people experienced web and video sessions for the first time. Some of these meetings hit the mark and have inspired folks to do it more often. Others have probably been traumatized forever. It doesn't have to be that way.

Sean O'Brien is the Sr. VP of strategy and communications for PGi, which owns the conferencing solution iMeet. This platform works best for small groups who want to incorporate video as the way they work. It's also one of a growing number of suites that combine video, screen sharing, web conferencing and collaboration tools all in one package that can be launched through a simple web link. I recently asked him what tips and best practices they offer their customers to make sure the webmeetings are interactive, engaging and effective.

When should you go through the hassle of setting up a webmeeting and when is it appropriate to just pick up the phone?

The ubiquity of the web makes it a powerful meetings platform for remote workers and small businesses that gather and brainstorm across wide geographies. Setting up an online meeting shouldn't be a hassle. It should be as simple as surfing the web or sending email. If you find it cumbersome, then it's probably time to reexamine how you are connecting. That being said, if connection speeds aren't great, or you just need a fast answer to a simple question pick up the phone and move on. If technology becomes a pain to coordinate, people won't use it.
What advantages does video add (and what are the disadvantages)?
People want to get together. To really connect with the people they are meeting with, rather than just zoning out behind a mute button. Video is the best technology for enabling this human connection. With video, people get to read the non-verbal cues like body language and facial expressions that don't transmit over the phone, making it a good substitute for a face-to-face meeting. I've found that video also drives a higher level of accountability to the meeting. It's like your guests are in the room with you, which makes it less tempting to multi-task. That said, I think we've all had moments where we know when turning on the webcam is a bad idea. If you're still in your work-out clothes or sick at home, it's probably best to stick with a headshot or a personal picture.
What are some tips and best practices for running good virtual meetings?

  • Make sure you have an agenda. It's important to let participants know ahead of time what to expect.
  • Engage all of your meeting guests by asking questions of specific people. Be sure to include everyone in the conversation. Chances are if they don't need to talk, they don't need to be in the meeting at all.
  • Use webcams whenever possible. Video is best for driving higher meeting engagement, which leads to a more productive meeting.
  • It's also fine to spend a few minutes 'off topic' at the beginning of a meeting, before getting down to business. I have found the best meetings are the ones where you connect with the 'whole person' you are meeting with â€" beyond their role in the meeting. In my experience, those few minutes of connecting on a more human level about kids, about sports, about outside-of-work passions are often the key to building a trusting relationship and the foundation for a better meeting.
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Photo by flickr user Mike Babcock CC 2.0

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