Meetings are a necessity, even if you work remotely. Some might say they are even more important for remote workers. This article has the basic ingredients you need to make remote meetings successful. The focus is what gear you need and how to set it up.
Ready to roll?
While that view through your office window is impressive, remember that light needs to be in front of you in order for people to see your face. Rather than have your back to the window, consider turning your whole setup around during meetings, so you are facing the window. Let that that bright white light shine on your face.
Or get a $15 ring light on a flexible arm. It can clamp to your desk and illuminate your face nicely. Get two or three. Make sure both the left and right sides of your face are lit. Play with the color settings on the lights. Offices have a cool white light. Try to match that look.
If you are just preparing for a few work at home days, then that should be enough in the lighting department. However, if you have a more permanent remote office, consider something built in. I find that track lighting with LED heads works great. Install one track of lights in front of you and another behind you. The one in front can have heads to the left and right of your face. The row of lights behind you can illuminate the back wall.
Are we getting carried away here? Consider how much time you spend shopping for clothes every year. (In my case, about 20 minutes.) Spending a weekend getting some lights set up properly in your remote office shows your vendors, clients and coworkers you care. Bad meeting lighting is the virtual equivalent of wearing sweatpants to the office. (That’s still frowned upon, right?)
The webcam built into your computer will work for occasional remote meetings, but you can do better. I use a $40 Aoni webcam that works better than the one built into my mac.
Get the camera in front of you, above your monitor. If you have two monitors, position the camera between them, just even with the top. As a bonus, the monitors also provide quite a bit of illumination aimed directly at your face.
Play with the focus ring on your camera so that your face is in focus, but the background is blurred.
Mac users will find that they cannot adjust the settings of their built-in webcam. However, you can buy a third-party app that allows you to set the color temperature, saturation and contrast. I use an app called “iGlasses.”
Now lights and camera are good to go. A couple more steps and you will be ready.
When you start or join the meeting, you can join by phone or computer. Assuming your gear is working properly, joining by computer is the better way to go. There are no codes to enter.
Your goals are to hear others and be heard. If you are meeting in an office with other people around, like in a cube situation, you will need headphones with a microphone attached. The headphones are so you can quiet the background noise and amplify the meeting voices. The microphone is to isolate your voice, so you can be heard. You can use this setup either when you join by computer or by office phone.
If you tend to move around a lot or work standing up, your best bet is wireless headphones. That will avoid snapping the USB cord off your headset when you make a lunge for your coffee. (Been there.) I use a Jabra 920 duo that costs about $100.
If you cannot join the audio by computer and need to join by cell phone, plug in those earphones and clip the microphone to your shirt.
One thing that never works is joining by speakerphone if you are in the office at your desk. It will disrupt your coworkers and meeting attendees will not be able to hear you.
Some meetings are short notice. For example, you need to help a coworker. That means your remote meeting gear needs to be at the ready with the least fumbling. If you unplug everything when you move your computer, remember to plug those ring lights, camera and headphones back in to their USB jacks. You may also find that you need to re-pair your Bluetooth headset.
If you are holding a working meeting, with materials to review and plans to discuss, you will need screen sharing and chat. Virtual workers share their screens all the time. Personally, I find that chat is used mostly for sharing text that needs that needs to be exact, like URLs or snippets of ad copy.
While there are some free online meeting platforms, I have not found one that works well. Common issues include poor performance over low bandwidth or having poor quality audio. I use Zoom meeting. It’s $15 per month and it has always worked for me. When I have a vendor or customer that wants to meet on an audio-only conference call system, especially a free one, I volunteer to set up the meeting using my Zoom meeting room.
This article’s scope is ordinary business meetings. If you have a larger scale remote event, such as a staff training or webinar, then you are into a different category. Consider engaging to an expert. Kassy LaBorie knows all about how to make those types of online events a success.
If you really have a terrible background behind you, some meeting systems support chroma key, aka “green screen” virtual backgrounds. Here is how it works: you can buy the green fabric on Amazon for $20, hang it, light it, and use the “virtual background” feature of your meeting room. You will need a photo of where you want to be placed, such as an office. This is a little gimmicky but can come in handy if your background is terrible. For example, your home office is undergoing demolition or you want to hide your spouse’s collection of clown paintings hung on your office wall.
In the meeting
If the meeting consists of a new team, like a project kickoff, spend some time at the start to make sure everyone is introduced. This helps people become familiar with the sound of everyone’s voices so those without video know who is speaking. Set expectations about how to use the technology. For example, you might say “turning on your camera is optional but it’s nice to see your face.”
If you are the meeting organizer, it’s your responsibility to help others get their audio and video working. All the virtual meeting rooms work differently. If it’s your meeting room, you are the first and only line of support for meeting attendees. Expect delays in the first meeting with a new team.
If the meeting is recurring, a high performing team will start on time and jump right in. They will usually have cameras on, unless they are on the road. As the facilitator, acknowledge the people as they arrive on the call and make sure their audio is working by asking them to say something.
How about this problem: some people in the meeting will have the same first name. This is not a problem in an in-person meeting because visual cues will help everyone know who is being referred to. However, in the case of a virtual meeting, decide who gets what name. I once had a meeting composed of three Chrises and two Johns. (Full house.) We decided to go by last name.
When screen-sharing remember that some people may not see the meeting’s video. For example, they are on the road. For those folks you may need to do some basic level of audio description. For example, “Todd is now showing us a chart of how the engagement in his ad campaign is plummeting.”
Avoid the mixed approach
Having an-in person meeting with a team is easy. Having a meeting with everyone remote is also easy. The hybrid approach, an on-site team meeting with a remote team on a conference call, can be challenging. Here are some common issues:
- The first 10 minutes of the meeting are spent getting the overhead projector working for the on-site people.
- The remote people cannot hear the on-site people because the microphone is too far from the people’s heads in the meeting room.
- The on-site people strain their voices, so they are heard by the remote people.
- The remote people have the advantage of having their full desktop(s) in front of them while the on-site people have their laptop at best.
- The on-site people use physical cues that the remote people cannot see.
Does any of that sound familiar?
Add to this the fact that many teams today are made of people that do not share the same native speaking language. This can sometimes lead to challenges in understanding beyond the above technical difficulties.
The fix for this problem is to have the on-site team members leave that conference room, go back to their offices or cubes, put on their headphones and join the call from that location. Problem solved.
Now, what to do with that high-tech meeting room? The exposed brick industrial chic conference room looks great on the webcam, but we cannot see or hear you well. And you are probably tired of shouting. My suggestion is to repurpose the room, so it is outfitted for ping pong.
If you need help with the transition to effective remote meetings, please get in touch with me.