Virtual Meetings

Virtual Meetings: Top Tips, Apps, Rules & Fun Ideas

Before the pandemic, select businesses and organizations held virtual meetings. However, we all know how the corporate landscape has changed.

According to a recent Microsoft Workplace Insights report, weekly meeting times abruptly jumped by 10% when companies moved to remote operations. Every employee experienced an average of three extra meetings every week.

Any business that wants to survive has to embrace online meetings. So, in this post, we’re going to discuss everything you need to know about conducting virtual meetings.

What Are Virtual Meetings?

Any type of meeting that happens online rather than in a physical space can be considered a virtual meeting. There are plenty of tools available for conducting this type of meeting. Some of the most popular ones include Zoom, Google Meet, GoToMeeting, and Microsoft Teams.

Usually, people conduct online meetings for work. Geographically distributed employees use them as a venue for seeing each other, communicating, and collaborating.

The Different Types of Online Meetings

While the concept of a virtual meeting seems simple enough, it has several branches. Here are the main types of online meetings you can choose for your team and business:

  • Video Conferencing – This is similar to a face-to-face meeting, but participants are in the same virtual space rather than in the same physical room.
  • Teleconferencing – In this audio-only type of meeting, remote employees dial in to join a conference call.
  • Web Conferencing – This is a more hands-on type of online meeting. It’s mostly used for holding virtual events, conducting presentations, facilitating training sessions, and collaborating on projects. Online seminars or “webinars” also fall under this category.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Virtual Meetings?

Conducting an online meeting can be beneficial as long as it fits your business needs. Therefore, you need to review the advantages and disadvantages of virtual meetings.

Advantages of Virtual Meetings

Cost-Effectiveness

Employees don’t have to travel to the meeting location, and companies don’t have to pay for office space. According to Lifesize’s Impact of Video Conferencing report, virtual meetings reduce business travel by 47%.

Flexibility

Organizations are not restricted to selecting a specific time and place to suit everyone. No matter where in the world a participant is, they can still join the virtual meeting.

Lower Carbon Footprint

Because participants don’t have to visit the meeting location, your organization can reduce the environmental impact of the meeting. For instance, a case study developed by Traqq revealed that partial work-from-home operations can help the entire country prevent 153.7 tons of carbon emissions per year.

Efficient Use of Time

Meeting in person often comes with the urge to prolong the discussion to make the travel worthwhile. In contrast, virtual meetings can end as soon as everyone has discussed all the topics on the agenda.

Recordings

Indeed, meeting minutes can be used to review what transpired during the discussion. However, recording the entire conversation can be more beneficial. Participants can review screenshots and even go back to the discussion to find the details they need.

Real-Time Collaboration

What’s great about using virtual meeting apps is that it allows participants to share their screens and documents. Therefore, they can make changes at the moment and collaborate on the same project during discussions.

Better Health

In a 2017 article published in The New York Times, several health organizations shared how frequent business travelers suffer from a range of health problems. These issues range from obesity and cardiovascular diseases to insomnia and virus infections. While it’s not guaranteed that virtual meetings can help prevent these problems, avoiding the daily commute means having more time to rest and exercise.

Disadvantages of Virtual Meetings

Interaction Problems

Facilitating online meetings can be challenging, especially when people talk over each other. Some participants may even feel left out and disengaged.

Incomplete Sensory Experience

If your company deals with physical products, having a virtual meeting may deprive you of the full sensory experience. In some cases, it’s best for participants to try out prototypes or touch samples.

Technical Difficulties

For a video conference to be successful, all the participants need to have a stable internet connection. Otherwise, people may miss important details of the meeting.

Costly Software

It’s rare to find excellent virtual meeting apps that do not cost a fortune. In some cases, you may end up paying for software that’s costlier than holding face-to-face meetings.

How to Conduct Virtual Meetings Effectively

According to Wainhouse Research, using virtual meeting software allows organizations to save $11,000 per employee every year. Clearly, this type of communication brings benefits to companies and their employees. However, there are still some best practices to follow if you want to run a successful online meeting.

Use an Efficient Scheduling System

If you have participants from different time zones, communicate the schedule clearly. Ideally, you should use Coordinated Universal Time or UTC when stating the time and date of the meeting. This way, it will be easier for people to determine the schedule according to their local time.

Switch Video On

Participants will be geographically distributed. So, if you want to boost engagement, encourage everyone to switch their cameras on. There are several reasons why this can improve participation:

  • People will feel as if they’re in the same room.
  • When a person knows they can be seen, they’re unlikely to multitask or give in to distractions.
  • Cameras allow people to see facial expressions and other non-verbal cues like nodding and head shaking.

Non-verbal cues are an important aspect of communication that gets lost in voice calls, messages, and emails. UCLA psychologist Albert Mehrabian shared in his early research that the elements of communicating emotions include 7% spoken words, 38% voice and tone, and 55% body language. That means 93% of essential communication comes from non-verbal cues.

INFOGRAPHIC - elements of communicating emotion

Use the Right Tools

If you want to maximize online meetings, you need to supplement them with the right tools. Let’s say you’re trying to solve a problem or working on a project. In this case, your employees can work together using collaboration apps.

According to Owl Labs’ 2020 State of Remote Work survey, 26% of workers noticed more meetings than usual. To monitor the frequency of your meetings, we recommend using a time tracker like Traqq.

Once your team installs the app, it will start recording the apps they use and the websites they visit. If they spend too much time using virtual meeting tools, you will see that in their productivity reports. With the help of Traqq, you can ensure that meetings are reasonably kept to a minimum.

Discourage Multitasking

A study published in the Psychonomic Bulleting & Review suggests that only 2.5% of the population can multitask. So, it’s likely that people are fooling themselves when they say that they can do everything at once.

Studies show that when our brain moves back and forth between tasks, we become less efficient. Of course, this can have a direct effect on the entire team. Thankfully, the same video conferencing report from Lifesize gives some hope. The survey shows that with the camera switched on, 82% of participants are less likely to multitask.

Send the Agenda in Advance

According to Doodle’s 2019 State of Meetings report, poorly organized meetings affect the bottom line significantly. 44% of respondents say they lose time for more valuable work. Meanwhile, 43% claim that unclear actions cause confusion. Other results of disorganized meetings include slower progress, loss of focus, and weakened client-supplier relationships.

NOTE: You can create an infographic for this data:

Consequences of Poorly Organized Meetings

Less time for more valuable work – 44%

Confusion because of unclear actions – 43%

Loss of focus on projects – 38%

Slow progress due to irrelevant participants – 31%

Weakened client-supplier relationships – 26%

How to Make Meetings More Effective and Efficient

Step 1: Establish clear objectives and goals for the meeting

Step 2: Send the meeting agenda in advance

Step 3: Ensure that only relevant people are participating in the meeting

Step 4: Prepare visual aids like presentations and videos

Source: Doodle

Try New Tools

The most popular tools for video conferencing include Zoom, GoToMeeting, Google Meet, and Microsoft Teams. However, these days, tech giants like Meta (formerly Facebook) are heavily investing in virtual reality and augmented reality. So, it’s worth looking at VR apps and hardware that may improve the way we communicate and collaborate online.

A report from Grand View Research estimated the global VR market size at USD 15.81 billion in 2020. With a compound annual growth rate of 18%, the market is expected to reach USD 69.60 billion by 2028.

While the VR market is considered to be in its infancy stage, there are plenty of VR meeting apps available right now. All you need to do is choose the platform that suits your needs.

The Best Virtual Meeting Apps

According to a PMI white paper, one of the keys to a successful virtual meeting is choosing the right platform. Now, there are plenty of options on the market for hosting online meetings. Here are some of the most popular ones:

Virtual Meeting AppMaximum ParticipantsFree AccountUpgrade Cost
Zoom1,000Yes$149.90 per license, per year
Microsoft Teams300Yes$4 per user, per month
GoToMeeting3,000Yes$10.50 per organizer, per month
Google Meet250Yes$7.99 per month
Slack15Yes$6.67 per month
Cisco Webex200Yes$14.95 per host, per month

Zoom

Zoom is widely known for being an easy-to-use video conferencing platform. Even without a Zoom account, a person can join a Zoom meeting as long as they have the URL, meeting ID, and passcode. It even comes with breakout rooms, making it ideal for hosting team building activities.

 Pros

  • Support for large online conferences
  • Meeting and webinar streaming on Facebook
  • Free features
  • Google Calendar support

Cons

  • Excessive and costly add-ons
  • No comment control
  • Minimal to no protection against Zoombombers and hackers
  • No HD video support

Number of Participants

  • Up to 100 for the free account
  • Up to 500 for the Enterprise account
  • Up to 1,000 for the Large Meetings add-on

Pricing

  • Basic (Personal Meetings) – Free
  • Pro (Small Teams) – $149.90 per license, per year
  • Business (Small Businesses) – $199.90 per license, per year
  • Enterprise (Large Enterprises) – $240 per license, per year

Check out how Zoom dominated the virtual meeting market in 2020:

Microsoft Teams

Since its launch in 2017, Microsoft Teams has transformed significantly. Before, it only came with basic online meeting features. Today, you can access channels where you can have topic-based conversations with teams. There are also tabs that help you navigate through your channel content.

Pros

  • Free for Microsoft 365 users
  • Efficient chat add-ons
  • Helpful bots
  • Seamless collaboration, file search, and backups

Cons

  • Lack of notifications
  • Unnecessary storage consumption
  • Limited number of channels

Number of Participants

  • Up to 100 for the free account
  • Up to 300 for the Essentials, Business Basic, and Business Standard accounts

Pricing

  • Free
  • Essentials – $4 per user, per month
  • Business Basic – $5 per user, per month
  • Business Standard – $12.50 per user, per month

GoToMeeting

GoToMeeting app for virtual meetings

Specially designed to be business-centric, GoToMeetings offers personalized meeting URLs, screen sharing, HD video quality, and more. Users can also use the whiteboard feature, which lets the host put the presenter’s screen in the spotlight. What’s more, those who are unable to participate can receive a recording of the meeting.

Pros

  • Free mobile app
  • Real-time document sharing
  • Support for large meetings
  • Several integrations

Cons

  • Reliance on equipment quality
  • Difficult call-in process
  • Limited chat option
  • Large bandwidth requirement

Number of Participants

  • Up to 150 for the Professional account
  • Up to 250 for the Business account
  • Up to 3,000 for the Enterprise account

Pricing

  • Free trial
  • Professional – $10.50 per organizer, per month
  • Enterprise – custom package available upon request

Google Meet

Google Meet

Google Meet was originally developed as the company’s internal meeting app. However, when Zoom became incredibly popular, Google decided to offer the platform to the public. It comes with interesting extras, like anti-abuse features and live captions. As long as your employees have a Google account, this platform can be a secure alternative for your business.

Pros

  • Unlimited number of meetings
  • Seamless integration with other Google products
  • Closed captions
  • Screen sharing
  • Easy to use

Cons

  • Bug issues with more participants
  • Google account required
  • Minimal support for multimedia file sharing

Number of Participants

  • Up to 100 for the free and Workspace Individual accounts
  • Up to 250 for the Workspace Enterprise account

Pricing

  • Google Meet – Free
  • Google Workspace Individual – $7.99 per month
  • Google Workspace Enterprise – custom package available upon request

Slack

While Slack is better known as a collaboration platform, it also comes with a video conferencing feature. So, if you’re using this app for project management, setting up meetings will be more convenient for you. It even comes with the signature Slack emojis, which are great for boosting engagement during online meetings.

Pros

  • Hundreds of integrations
  • Shared channels for easier work with external contacts
  • Intuitive and simple interface
  • Breakout rooms for fun virtual activities

Cons

  • Low video and audio quality
  • Minimal support for large audiences
  • No call recordings

Number of Participants

  • Up to 2 for the free account
  • Up to 15 for the Pro, Business, and Enterprise accounts

Pricing

  • Free
  • Pro – $6.67 per month
  • Business – $12.50 per month
  • Enterprise – custom package available upon request

Cisco Webex

webex

Cisco Webex is known to offer tight virtual meeting security and intuitive controls. Unlike Zoom, the free version of this platform does not limit the meeting time to 40 minutes. So, it’s also great for small businesses that need an online meeting app with comprehensive features.

Pros

  • Simple and intuitive user interface
  • Two platforms in one for conferencing and collaboration
  • Comprehensive free plan

Cons

  • Internet Explorer as default browser
  • Paid Call Me feature
  • Limited customer support

Number of Participants

  • Up to 100 for the free and Plus accounts
  • Up to 50 for the Starter account
  • Up to 200 for the Business account

Pricing

  • Free trial
  • Starter – $14.95 per host, per month
  • Plus – $19.95 per host, per month
  • Business – $29.95 per host, per month

How to Make Virtual Meetings Fun

Unfortunately, meetings can be boring. So, it’s not surprising why a Zippia survey revealed that 67% of workers get distracted during online meetings. Even so, a little fun can make video conferencing more tolerable and productive. Here are some ways you can make virtual meetings fun:

Prepare Ice Breaker Questions

You can get your team members acquainted with each other by preparing ice breaker questions. The experience can be funny, meaningful, and even deep, depending on the participants’ answers. What’s more, this activity can be a great way to know about an employee’s personality and values. Here are some ice breaker questions you can ask:

  • As a child, what was your favorite movie?
  • If you were stranded on an island, what three things would you have with you?
  • What’s one food you can eat for the rest of your life?
  • If you were to be reincarnated as an animal, what would you be?
  • What’s one quirky or unusual thing you do regularly?
  • If you could travel back or forward in time, what date would you visit?
  • What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?
  • What’s your peculiar talent?
  • What’s the greatest challenge you’ve overcome?

Let the Participants Choose What to Do

Most of the time, when people are allowed to choose what to do, they have more fun. After all, a Finnish study revealed that autonomy can be a strong motivation for future work engagement. Give your team more freedom and expect them to be more involved in the virtual team building process.

However, remember that too many activity choices may overwhelm the average worker. So, if you’re going to conduct a survey, limit the options to three or five. You can also send an email to ask people about their preferences. Once you’ve collected the results, announce the winning activity to the team. Let them know that you can use the runner-up options for future online meetings.

Improve Your Visual Content

According to developmental molecular biologist John Medina, “vision trumps all other senses.” In his book Brain Rules, he shared that we only retain 10% of the information we hear. Meanwhile, if that detail is paired with a related image, we remember 65% of it.

So, to encourage attention and memory, you should use visuals throughout your meeting. Provide levity from time to time and illustrate a point.

Stay on Topic

No matter how entertaining your online activity is, if you run out of time, most of the things you prepared will be wasted. Often, people forget to keep meetings short and on-topic. The experience wouldn’t be engaging if you had to rush through a fun exercise.

According to organizational psychologist Steven Rogelberg, you’ll get better results when you conduct short meetings regularly. It’s enough to bond teams, solve problems, and keep projects on track. Ideally, you should keep the meetings 15 minutes long and don’t drag them beyond 30 minutes.

Ground Rules and Guidelines for Virtual Meeting Etiquette

No matter what app you use, you need to maintain basic good manners in a virtual meeting. Before the massive remote work movement, we were expected to comply with certain ground rules. For instance, we needed to respect other people’s time, come prepared, and put mobile devices on silent mode.

Even if we’re doing things online, we shouldn’t forget about the common guidelines for meeting etiquette. Here are some ground rules to follow when participating in an online meeting:

Look Presentable

Just because you’re working from home, it doesn’t mean you can wear anything you want. That may be the dream, but when you’re in a virtual meeting, you need to dress appropriately. Doing so will allow you to bring the right message across.

In a survey conducted by Quantified Communications for Harvard Business Review, it was discovered that clothing matters in a virtual meeting. 49% of respondents say that wearing business casual makes a person look innovative, trustworthy, and authentic. Meanwhile, 27% associate business formal attire with authenticity. Finally, 67% equate formal wear, such as a suit, with an expert look.

Come on Time

No matter what excuse you have, it’s always rude to make people wait. So, if you have an unstable internet connection, you should log in earlier. This way, you can troubleshoot camera, audio, network, and computer issues before the meeting.

Now, if you’re already in the meeting, be patient with other participants who are dealing with technical difficulties. After all, a survey from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga found that 60% of participants experience issues related to their cameras and microphones. So, always choose to be kind, especially to those who don’t have video conferencing experience.

Don’t Eat

Eating while somebody is discussing important details can be rude. What’s more, it can be distracting to other people who see you. Besides, you won’t be focused on the task because you’ll be worried about dropping food all over your device.

The same 2020 Zippia survey we mentioned earlier revealed that 45% of respondents get distracted by snacks during virtual meetings. So, if you want to avoid getting hungry during the session, make sure you have a bite to eat before the meeting starts.

Keep Your Microphone Muted If You’re Not Talking

It can be frustrating to hear echoes and ambient noises from separate microphones. So, if you’re not talking, respect the presenter by putting your mic on mute. Here are some ways you can tone the noise down:

  • Take the video call in a room with adequate sound-insulating features like carpets, drapes, rugs, and furniture.
  • Keep children and pets in other rooms.
  • Stay away from noisemakers like air conditioners and fans.
  • Use a noise-canceling microphone/headset.

Switch Your Camera On

If the host has their camera on, it’s common courtesy for participants to turn on theirs as well. First-time meetings necessitate proper introduction, and that is best done with video. However, if your camera is slowing your connection, let the participants know. Politely excuse yourself and switch off the camera when you’re not talking.

Stay Present and Seated

The same 2020 Zippia survey said that 67% of employees get distracted during virtual meetings. They perform off-task activities like checking emails, texting, multitasking, eating, and browsing social media, among others.

INFOGRAPHIC - off-task activities during online virtual meetings

During dull moments in a meeting, you may be tempted to check your phone or grab a snack. However, fight the urge to do so. If you’re distracted, you may miss an opportunity to share or receive valuable information.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Q: What is a virtual meeting?

A: In a virtual meeting, people—regardless of their location—use audio, video, and text to meet together in an online space.

Q: How do virtual meetings work?

A: Using video conferencing software and an internet connection, individuals can connect and collaborate via audio and video.

Q: How to make virtual meetings fun?

A: Despite people being physically separated, there are still plenty of ways online meetings can be interesting and fun. For instance, you can hold virtual team building activities or even play online games.

Q: How to make virtual meetings more interactive?

A: A productive online meeting starts with a clearly set agenda and well-articulated objectives. Even if you’re the facilitator, you need to delegate roles and tasks to the attendees. An ice breaker at the beginning can also be a great way to lighten up the mood. Also, you can make the presentation interesting by adding visuals to the discussion.

Q: How to encourage participation in virtual meetings?

A: Instead of asking for questions, tell the attendees to participate. Call on people and get their feedback on specific aspects of the meeting.

Q: How to record a virtual meeting?

A: You need to choose a video conferencing platform with a recording feature. If you’re the host, you’ll likely be able to start recording the session before the call begins. However, you can still start the recording process during the meeting.

Q: How to do introductions in a virtual meeting?

A: Don’t jump in the call blindly. Instead, come prepared with a proper introduction. Before the meeting, prepare a couple of drafts about yourself. Read them out loud and see which one best represents you.

Q: What to wear for virtual meetings?

A: The Quantified Communications survey we mentioned earlier shares that wearing neutral colors will make you appear trustworthy, authentic, and more like an expert in virtual meetings. Choosing between business formal, business casual, and casual attires will also depend on the message you want to send across.

Q: What do you use for a virtual meeting?

A: The basic necessities for virtual meetings include a device with a built-in microphone and speakers and an internet connection. However, if you’re hosting advanced video conferences, you’ll need an HD webcam, fast computer processing, a high-quality microphone, and online meeting software.

Conclusion

While online meetings might not be able to replace face-to-face meetings in situations where participants need to be in the same room, they are clearly not going away anytime soon. As long as you embrace the benefits of virtual meetings, you can easily maximize their efficiency.

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