Going all in on all remote: Ensuring virtual meetings work properly

In this time of crisis, it’s more important than ever to have meetings that are short, impactful and technically sound. I talked to Cary Moretti, co-founder of Proximuto and remote-work pioneer, and discovered his strategies for planning around and fixing technical difficulties that arise during virtual meetings.

How do I choose between video, voice or screen sharing for my next meeting?

Video is great because it allows for some non-verbal communication. But with the recent rush to a work-from-home (WFH) model, there are widespread issues related to bandwidth, connectivity and access to good cameras. Video is best for client meetings and one-on-one calls or gatherings outside your organization, but be aware of boundaries (yours and others’); not everyone wants their home on camera. One approach is to start with video and switch to voice-only if there are connectivity issues. Voice-only, on the other hand, is quick, easy and effective for internal meetings. Add screen sharing (with audio) if your team is reviewing documents or shared content as a group; screen sharing lets the speaker focus the group on the right content at the right time.

Our calls never seem to work on our virtual private network (VPN). Are there ways around that?

Video uses significant bandwidth, and most organizations do not have VPNs with the capacity to handle a 100 percent remote workforce, all using video conferencing at the same time. In some cases, even audio can be affected. Use a secondary device — such as a phone or tablet — for your meetings. In a WFH environment, you can have your primary device (your laptop or desktop computer) on the VPN and your secondary device (your phone or tablet) off the VPN. If your home Wi-Fi is not as robust as you’d like, or family members are using up bandwidth, turn off your camera and switch to audio-only. Check with your IT department to determine if you need the VPN on. If you don’t, turn it off.

Do meeting participants really pay attention?

Probably not, but that’s okay. In-person meetings are rife with daydreaming and surreptitious email checking. It’s more extreme when your team is remote — especially audio-only — so plan for it. Make sure all attendees need to be there. Send the meeting agenda in advance and stick to it. It may seem counterintuitive, but spend a few minutes at the outset socializing, because this will engage the group and afford members who are still trying to connect some extra time to join the session. Expect attendees to lose focus. If you need to call on someone who hasn’t been speaking, provide a lead-in, use their name (that’s always an attention-getter!) and then offer a recap of the last 10 seconds of the conversation as a transition.

How do I deal with participants dropping off the call unexpectedly?

Many employees who have suddenly started working remotely have not built up their WFH environment, and many of those who have now find themselves sharing Wi-Fi with others who are working or playing in the same location. This strains home networks and, in many cases, leads to time outs, buffering and dropped connections. Many mobile towers in residential neighborhoods are overburdened by the sudden shift to WFH. If you or your co-workers are experiencing connectivity issues, keep your bandwidth usage low by disabling inbound and outbound video. If you can, keep a secondary device handy (one that you’ve prepared before your meeting), because most conferencing tools work on phones and tablets as well. If you’re setting up a meeting, always include a call-in number so participants with Internet challenges can phone in. If you’re attending a meeting, find the call-in number and have your phone ready so you can quickly switch to your backup device if you’re dropped from the meeting on your primary device.

What if it takes too long for everyone to join (or find the correct call-in number or URL)?

Establish meeting protocols for your team or organization. Constantly changing meeting tools and call-in numbers can lead to delays in starting those gatherings. Meetings generally start on the hour, so make sure yours ends on time so attendees can join other meetings. Respect punctuality: Start on time and end on time. If you are in danger of running over, try to reschedule or call out only necessary personnel and wrap up in a second session. When sending invitations, be certain that your collaboration suite isn’t adding a second (unnecessary) meeting URL. Microsoft’s Office 365 and Google’s G Suite both let you set defaults for meeting creation, which can streamline the process. Just make sure your defaults are set correctly.