What exactly does a “virtual meeting” mean?
In essence, the term “virtual meeting” can be applied to any meeting that has at least one remote participant. Instead of everyone being present physically, with virtual meetings some parties connect to colleagues via web software or tele-conferencing equipment.
In practice, most virtual meetings have multiple participants tuning in from different locations into a shared digital workspace.
The pros and cons of virtual meetings
As with most things, virtual meetings offer a number of benefits but also entail some drawbacks.
Relying on virtual meetings has a number of clear benefits:
- Better collaboration: Colleagues can work together across countries and continents.
- Reduced travel costs: No extra flight, accommodation, or food expenses for companies.
- Flexibility: Scheduling is easier, since people can work from anywhere at any time.
- Expanded customer base: Companies can engage potential customers regardless of their location.
- Stability: Virtual meetings can support communication during unforeseen events like COVID or other crises.
- Employee satisfaction: Virtual meetings open up for hybrid and remote ways of working, empowering employees to work whenever and wherever they want.
Yet virtual meetings also present a few distinct challenges, including:
- Setup complexity: All participants must be equipped with the right hardware and install the necessary software in advance.
- Technical issues: Poor internet connection or subpar audio and video equipment can lead to meetings being less effective.
- Lower engagement: The physical distance makes it harder to maintain focus and a positive group dynamic.
The 3 types of virtual meetings
Virtual meetings have evolved rapidly with access to new tools and audio equipment. The following are the main types of virtual meetings:
This is the classic audio-only conference call. Participants dial in using their phone or may share a meeting room speakerphone to connect to remote colleagues. The lack of video makes it impossible to pick up any nonverbal clues. With teleconferencing, the quality of audio takes center stage, as poor audio will negatively affect the entire meeting.
Video and web conference
With advances in video conferencing equipment, it became possible for users to get even closer by sharing live video feeds during virtual meetings. This makes it easier to read body language and connect to colleagues on a deeper level.
Today, Internet-based video conferencing is what most people will associate with a virtual meeting. Such web conferences enable audio and video streaming, presentation tools, and give participants the ability to share their screens remotely. It’s a huge step closer to true virtual collaboration.
Virtual reality conference
Emerging VR technologies aim to make virtual meetings almost indistinguishable from in-person ones. In theory, this should retain what’s best about virtual meetings while eliminating a lot of their drawbacks.
For now, virtual reality conferences remain a curious gimmick. But as the VR conferencing solutions and our acceptance of them mature, they may just become the next natural step in the evolution of virtual meetings.
3. Set up the equipment
Next step is to ensure that everyone has the right equipment to make the most of the virtual meeting.
First, this means informing the meeting participants of the minimum technical requirements on their end. This gives them the chance to prepare and test their setup in advance.
Second, this also means preparing the physical space if a large group of colleagues will be participating from a single office location. Make sure your video conference room setup can adequately facilitate the meeting. This involves ensuring the right lighting, acoustics, and video conferencing equipment.
4. Set a clear agenda
Sharing a detailed agenda for your virtual meeting gives everyone the chance to prepare their talking points and questions in advance. It also ensures that the meeting itself will have a predictable and structured flow.
5. Assign roles and responsibilities
Finally, if you expect participants to prepare presentations or share key figures, make sure to communicate this in advance. Giving people clear responsibilities will also help keep them engaged on the day of the meeting.
Virtual meeting best practices
Once the meeting kicks off, sticking to the following rules of virtual etiquette will make sure it runs smoothly.
1. Engage the participants
As mentioned, virtual meetings make it more difficult to keep everyone’s attention. Try to involve everyone right from the start, whether it’s via a quick round of introductions or a rundown of speakers and their talking points.
2. Set the ground rules
If you want to enforce certain rules, communicate these clearly from the beginning. Must everyone have their video on at all times? Are participants allowed to use the “chat” function during the meeting? Will you be answering questions in real time or at the end of the meeting?
3. Remove distractions
Multitasking has its place, but it’s best avoided during virtual meetings. The participants deserve your undivided attention. As such, try to eliminate any distractions that may prevent you from focusing on the meeting itself. This means putting your phone on silent mode, turning off notifications, closing down any irrelevant browser tabs, not checking your emails, and so on.
4. Invite questions and input
To keep the level of engagement high, pause frequently to invite feedback and questions from the meeting attendees. This helps to ensure they’re following the agenda and makes them feel involved.
5. End with an action plan
Once the virtual meeting wraps up, you should have a mutually agreed upon action plan. This should outline the next steps, roles and responsibilities, and any potential future meetings.
6. Share a summary
It’s always a good idea to share the meeting minutes via e.g. email after the call ends. This helps cement the decisions agreed upon and brings any absentees up to speed. Modern intelligent speakers like the EXPAND Capture 5 can even automatically transcribe meetings for you, so that nobody has to take these meeting notes and can instead focus fully on the meeting.