Working from home has become the new normal and businesses have had to adapt quickly to a new environment for their teams. One of the critical areas to be redeveloped is communication. There are a lot of different communication tools available and many are free to use. With free tools, however, they can have restrictions so it’s important to define what you need from your software before purchasing a tool in order to make sure it can deliver what you need.
For example, Zoom offers an excellent conference calling system, but is only available for unlimited minutes for 2 people and limits call time to 40 minutes otherwise. If you are constantly having calls with more than two people, are you placing undue pressure to keep within the 40 minute limit? (A limit may be a good thing!) If you decide Google Hangouts is right for you, is it important to record your meeting, as the free version does not offer this option, whereas Zoom does.
We have some tips below to help you run your conference calls:
Test your calling system first
You need to be familiar with the system you plan to use before you start holding calls. Don’t assume that by sending a link it will be clear to others how to use it. You will most likely need to set up an account to use the software, and it will allow you to download the tool to your device.
There are differences between online tools versus desktop versions. For instance, Skype online has an option to Schedule a Call, but this is currently not available on the Desktop version.
Make sure you have the right software for your team. If you need to pay for something to make the calls much easier then make that call, rather than struggling through calls because they don’t have everything needed.
Also, be aware that not everyone understands and uses technology in the same way. If you need to allow time to explain how to use the functions of the tool you are using, it will be worth it for those that may need guidance on how to mute, turn the camera on and off, ask questions or chat. Take into account a phone’s features may be different from the features of a laptop, so check with your team how they are connecting and if they are able to use the tool effectively. You may need to give some extra time ahead of the conference call to allow those users to test the tool themselves and become familiar with it, or you may need to choose another tool that is best for your team.
Have a conference host
Every conference call must have someone responsible for the management of the call. This may not necessarily be the speaker but will be someone who understands the software and can add new people to the call, mute people, change the primary speaker, know how to share screens, and make sure any chat and recording is managed/saved correctly.
Set out an agenda and time limit
People do not want to waste time, and there is time wasted trying to get the attendees on conference calls. It’s important to be punctual as is the case in face-to-face meetings. You don’t know that someone may be waiting outside the virtual conference room having a chat to someone else because you no longer have the ability to check or see.
Be very clear on time limits, and make sure you have an agenda planned. Send out documents in advance and make sure at the start of the call everyone is aware of what information will be referred to. If you have document links, pop those in the chat so the team can easily find them. The moderator/leader should keep referring to the agenda and clarify the time passed/time left.
Prepare all your documents and tools in advance
If you are planning to share your screen, be very aware of what you will be sharing. There are often many ways to share information, so you need to look at whether you plan to share a document or your screen. If you share one document then start to refer to another, your attendees won’t be able to see that, so be mindful of how you will share your information and periodically confirm that everyone can see and understand what you are talking about.
Check you are logged in and the tools you may want to use are available. If you share your desktop be aware of what you have on your desktop, what browser tabs you have open, etc. Close anything you don’t need to display and minimise any chance of exposing anything you don’t want someone to see.
Manage rules and expectations
People will forget they are on camera, or may not want to turn on their cameras for any reason. If you want people to be on camera, tell them before the call starts that this will be an expectation. It will allow your attendees to properly prepare for a call.
Throughout the call, you can also mention that people can be seen and their image is coming through clearly. This is helpful to remind people they are on camera, as they may be reviewing documentation or may not have the video call as their primary view.
If the call is going to be recorded, make sure everyone is aware of that upfront. If there are legal reasons to not record or take screenshots please be very clear on this at the start, when anyone new joins the call and in the documents and notifications provided in advance.
Be understanding of time lags and connection clarity
One of the main issues with video conferencing is clarity. Everyone will have a different connection so if people drop off it may be due to poor connection or a sudden drop in connectivity. It may also mean that your team has time lags. When one person is speaking, this issue is minimised, but when it’s multiple speakers it can become difficult to understand and manage the conversation.
Manage expectations and either ask people to talk or set up a way of asking to speak. The host or conference leader must manage the behaviour of others either by muting or establishing how people can contribute. If you have someone who continually dominates the conversation you may want to send a private message to alert them to this. It’s very important that the point of the meeting is achieved, and therefore it’s helpful to reinforce the decisions, summary of conversations and the key points.
The host needs to ensure everyone’s involvement especially if a decision is required as part of the call.
By taking these points into consideration you are setting your team up for the best possible conference/video call. If you get a bit lost get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org for some guidance and support. Good luck!