How to Perform Well in Online Meetings / Web Conferences

This article is about adjusting your interpersonal habits to supplement your status of working from home (remote work). 

You’ll find that the dynamics of interpersonal interactions change when you begin working remotely. The three main methods of communication you’ll be exposed to are long form written (e.g. emails), instant written (e.g. messengers, chats), and audio / video calling. 

The common theme to the changes you’ll have to make as you work from home is one of reduced perceptive sensitivity. The communications you put out will be more difficult for your recipients to fully comprehend in comparison to communicating in person. You’ll generally find yourself being required to be more precise and clear in your interactions as you work from home. 

The things you should keep in mind are a blend of technical points to do with the technology you use to communicate, along with your mannerisms as you use said technology. 

The Mute Button

Meet your new friend: the mute button. You’ll quickly grow to realize its importance, if you haven’t yet. The most poignant lessons surrounding the mute button occur when you realize you forgot to press it as others complain about background noise bleeding through. 

If you’re lucky enough to not be the victim of forgetting to mute yourself, then you’ll learn of the button’s importance when you hear yourself echoing through the mics of those with whom you speak. 

Mastery over the mute button is perhaps the most important skill to focus on cultivating as you begin your remote work journey. Always know where it is, and always know its status. Know when to press it, and know when you’ve pressed it. 

The mute button is important because it prevents a certain negative priming against your future input. Those who fumble their use of the mute button prime feelings of annoyance in their audience. Such individuals can easily, and blindly, cultivate a sloppy reputation from allowing themselves to be heard chewing on a snack bar. 

Establish Control Over Your Surroundings

Establish control over your immediate environment as you get settled into working from home. Whether that control comes in the form of a separate room or always having an opportunity to leave your physical environment if the circumstances are not to par, control over your surroundings is essential to maintain as you work from home. 

Perceive any significant environmental distraction to be your fault. You are the owner of all signals that are sent over to the people you’re working with. You’ll notice those who haven’t realized this responsibility apologizing then justifying their background noise. There are no justifications, because there are likely controllable steps of reducing background noise the individual didn’t elect to take. 

The ownership of your surroundings, and responsibility for all signals you deploy over an internet connection has the perk of forcing you to remain prepared and in control. You will conduct meetings, perform calls, and partake in all other social work activities with preparation propelling your confidence. You will take on a host’s social demeanor, rather than a guest’s. 

Have All Necessary Resources / Documents Opened Beforehand

The act of keeping a team in conjunction with the topic at hand is a tangible effort. While working from home, the necessity to keep things as efficient as possible should be supplemented with being personally prepared. 

Every meeting should have agenda items. It should be controlled for the deviation away from those items, and be limited in pauses as you transition from one agenda item to the next. 

The reduction of the length of the transitionary period between any two agenda items in a meeting is directly influenced by how prepared each individual partaking in that meeting is. With any lapse in preparation, the pause between two agenda items is lengthened. 

Ensure you keep this important mutual interest in mind as you enter online communal spaces. Be prepared to be called on, and be prepared for quick transitions between agenda items. 

Open Ends Are Wasteful

Every piece of communication you send or receive by remote means is subjected to the requirement of being efficient. Think of it as being akin to baggage weight and size limits when getting on a flight. 

Though open ends are often necessary for creative work, meetings are generally best for presenting the findings of creative thought rather than being the breeding ground for it. 

Ensure you don’t fall into the trap of open ended-ness in your remote communications. Always be closing. Always have communications buttoned up and ready for express shipment. Rather than asking how someone’s weekend was, get into a habit of asking them if it was good. That subtle shift in refraining from leaving any open ended realms unchecked will pay dividends when it’s time to perform by way of quality output. 

It’s Easy to Assume Bad Intentions, Don’t

You’ve already felt the effect that speaking to someone in person has on your communications with them. Those we want to write a fuming email to can walk by our desk and unknowingly challenge us to verbalize the poisonous thoughts we think toward them. We often don’t answer such a challenge because it’s not the right thing to do. 

In person communication tones down any emotional thinking driving the thoughts of one person toward the other. Remote work takes away that numbing effect in regards to the volatility of conversations. Biased interpretations of your words – whether written or verbal – will be easy to falsely confirm. Stay ready for others to be sure that you meant ill will with your communications when, in fact, nothing’s further from the truth. 

That’s an uncontrollable aspect you can only remedy through kindhearted, direct, and efficient explanations and reiterations. 

The controllable element to this lesson is to limit yourself from confirming your guesses as to the intent of those sending you communications. Likelier than not, people aren’t after you. Relax, and assume someone’s sending communications your way with their best intentions. 

Seek proof of someone’s malicious intent which leaves no doubt, especially in the context of remote communications. Your false assumption of someone’s malicious intent can very easily present yours for those around you to see.  

Know the Hierarchy of Remote Communication Channels

Learn the structure of importance to the various levels of communication methods available to you. Abide by the importance of subject matter each communication method inherently calls for. 

For instance, something that can be worked out through instant text messages shouldn’t be brought up during a phone call. 

The hierarchy generally follows this succeeding logic: 

The more a communication method resembles in person communication, the more important the subject matter should be. 

Especially when working remotely, ensure you’re always auditing your inquiries to match appropriate communication channels. When in important calls, meetings, or email chains, take a second to think before you inquire, and in that second, ensure you’ve matched up the importance of your inquiry to the proper communication channel. If you have, then fire away. 

Your Interruptions Better Be Good

Interruptions are volatile social moments and are very easy to get wrong. If you can stand it, don’t interrupt

The volatility of interruptions is only supplemented by the online communications domain. It is easy to get interruptions wrong in the online context. 

Interruptions are only effective when: 

  1. It is abundantly clear that the individual interruption is free from any egotistical drive to be at the forefront of dialogue 

  2. The interruption either prevents things going toward a bad place, or adds something which is unquestionably fruitful to the conversation

If an interruption of yours is deemed to fail either of the two parameters above, then it’ll take away from the kindness with which your subsequent input is met with. 

Strict Adherence to Properly Sourced Agenda Items

A common faux pas those managing remote meetings commit is to develop a poor meeting agenda which gets overwhelmed by unplanned commentary once the meeting gets under way. 

Those who have points to raise but didn’t think to check the meeting agenda to ensure their preferred topics are present will often attempt to deviate the meeting’s course. They’ll package the topics they want to discuss to be loosely related to the planned items on the meeting agenda. However, the resulting effect will be one of a meeting which deviated from its planned course of conversation. 

As a leader of remote / online meetings, it’s essential that you do a good job of preparing an agenda which is signed off by those who’ll be attending the meeting. Ensure you make any additions well prior to the meeting taking place, and that you’re receptive to prospective agenda items coming from your colleagues. 

As a participant of remote / online meetings, ensure that you do your part in adding any pressing agenda items that may have been missed by the meeting owner. During the meeting, refrain from deviating from the agenda items at hand. Ensure that you’re constantly aware of how your efforts to lead a conversation align with the meeting’s optimal course of discourse.  

Never Assume Context Is Carried Through

Your interactions through online means will stifle others’ ability to understand what you mean. Context is more difficult to communicate through online means because the nature of online collaboration is more siloed than working on projects in person. 

Remote workers are typically assigned solo work. They have an increased sense of autonomy, and generally, lesser understanding of what others are doing.  

There is a tendency for people working from home to incorrectly assume that others are fully educated on the task they, themselves, have been working on. In such a case, the individual who has made such an assumption speaks on their work with a certain false confidence. They leave out important details which can result in miscommunications. They leave out necessary steps in presenting their analyses as stakeholders unfamiliar with the matter at hand struggle to follow their work. 

Ensure you never assume that others know the nuances behind the work you’ve been doing as you catch them up to speed. Explain the givens that you routinely overlook. Be wary of small misunderstandings which can result in large, preventable, and complicated cases of miscommunication. 

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Disclaimer of Opinion: This article is presented only as opinion. It does not make any scientific, factual, or legal claims. Please critically analyze all claims made and independently decide on its validity.