With the UK on Lockdown more and more people will be working from home. Meetings will no longer take place in person but via Skype, Zoom or other communication packages. The slow drift to change has taken on a new life in times of crisis.
Yet there is nothing new about home working. Almost a decade ago I produced a London Assembly report with Transport Researcher Jon Hollis extolling the virtues of remote working as a way of relieving the overloaded transport network and rocketing property prices in London.
And in the late nineties I led a project to introduce video conferencing at the Spring Group, a company with UK wide sites that it was seeking to bring together.
Beyond the advancing technology, on line meetings require some changes to interpersonal skills that can present a challenge. I’ve dusted off some recommendations from the past:
At home you should ideally set aside a separate room for home working. It needs to be free from background noise which can be a distraction as well as having good natural light for the camera to operate.
If you do need to share a room, make sure it isn’t the bedroom. As far as possible you should keep your sleeping space free of other uses and concerns.
In most cases you will be using the camera on top of your computer screen, so it needs to be level with or slightly above your face when you are sitting comfortably. Remember that the screen is not in the same place as the camera so you need to look into the camera when making your point and into the screen when listening – the further apart the two are, the harder this becomes.
In films dramatic footage is often taken from the desk top, looking up at a speaker. The intention is to make them look sinister or dominating. Be aware that the camera will create this effect if it is pointing up at your face.
Check out what is behind you and in shot before you go on line. Politicians and academics often like to be interviewed in front of a bookcase because it makes them look more educated. If you do this, you should remove any titles that might not reflect your personal or company brand.
If you do have items with the company logo on them, consider placing them in the background where they will be visible. Actual products are even better. There’s nothing wrong with some free advertising if your efforts go viral.
Avoid interruptions during conference calls and meetings. Noises from outside can be distracting. Children and pets should be kept out of the room.
Remember that your colleagues can only see what is on the screen. If you have more than one person taking part in the room, you will need to move the camera or the people to ensure everyone can be seen when they make their point.
Waving documents in front of the screen doesn’t work. If you are sharing complex information you need to send it to everyone beforehand or invest in some document sharing software.
When I work with clients on speeches, I find it useful to number every line on a draft before I share it with them. That way, we can quote line numbers if we want to make changes, ensuring that everyone is on the same page.
Meetings with a large number of participants are bad at managing detail. My own experience is that six participants is a good number but more tend to lead to less focus on the key objectives. This is even more the case on line where screen size will restrict the number who can participate at any time.
You need to be clearer than ever about the roles of each team member and why they are taking part.
Good meetings require some preparation beforehand and this is even more essential on line.
Have an agenda and agree who is going to chair the session and how long each item will take to discuss.
Cue each person in. Speaking one at a time is vital on line as it is easy to overlook contributions if several people are speaking. Take time to make sure everyone gets a say because it is also easy to overlook the quieter, more thoughtful members if they aren’t in the same room.
Circulate notes of the meeting with action points soon afterwards. On line it is easy for misunderstandings to occur or action points to be overlooked, so an accurate agreed record is essential.
It is tempting to record the meeting but make sure you get everyone’s agreement. Remember that you are intruding upon the private space at home and they have a right to know if the footage is going to be circulated more widely.
Going on line for meetings can be a daunting prospect so please contact me for advice on making meetings work for you.