Teleworking: Tips and Tricks to Working Efficiently
Authored by: Lila Jane Mabe and Brandon Emerson
For many, the past week represented the first week of full telework for many organizations; a lightning round of getting up to speed working virtually. And while many of us waded into the remote working world for the first time, others were pushing the limits of their current telework infrastructures.
Adaptability was the Orr Group word of the week. Bracing for a challenging week of managing relationships, supporting our staff, and pushing the limits of our infrastructure, we found that while a few bumps existed along the way, it was mostly smooth sailing. Leaning into our existing technology and analyzing its capabilities helped us thrive last week. Here is a list of tips tricks and best practices that helped our staff and can help yours too.
Best Practices for Transitioning to Virtual Meetings
Everyone has a different workstyle. The key to utilizing technology effectively is to create shared expectations and plans that help your teams both adapt to and optimize technology across all working styles. The following tips may help you to bridge any technology gaps as you get your teams up and running virtually, as well as some general rules of thumb to help everyone feel confident and aligned as we adapt to this new way of working together.
Guidelines. Just like shared expectations for in office dress codes and behavior, circulating guidelines for virtual etiquette helps everyone to align and prepare for meetings with their colleagues. Protocol for both video and conference calls can also serve as an important checklist for team members in preparing their space for meetings. It is important to not ignore the physical elements of a virtual office.
A significant meeting norm for Orr Group, for example, is being on video at all times possible. We have a shared expectation that all virtual meetings will be conducted by video because we value the layer of connectivity it offers. Whether walking from one site to another, or traveling by train, we always prioritize being on video. It’s a shared expectation that helps us to plan accordingly. Just as productivity is important, so is forming deep connections in these uncertain times.
Similarly, in an office setting, people are aware of the ambient noise around them. That does not disappear in a virtual setting, rather it is amplified from multiple sources. At minimum, we recommend communicating guidelines that help staff to understand norms around (1) background noise, (2) backdrops, (3) dress code and (4) preferred channels (see “invite and direct participation” below). Ensuring that background noise is minimized, backgrounds are well-lit, with neutral backdrops, and that folks are still adhering to the organization’s dress code (if one is in place) will help team members feel confident in preparing their respective space and creating the best possible virtual experience for all.
Hiccups happen. People have different levels of comfort with technology and varying learning curves. Set this shared understanding and tone early to help team members feel more confident as they adapt. We will all need to roll up our sleeves and learn new things. It will take time for everyone to adapt, and that’s okay. Check in with your staff individually, to see how prepared they are for the space they are working in. Can you offer feedback or advice to help enhance the experience for them and in turn the broader organization?
To organize around this shared understanding, it’s important to anticipate that virtual meetings may take longer than they typically might in person as people adjust to and familiarize themselves with new tools. Meeting leaders should incorporate additional time to allow for any technology issues that may arise while transitioning through agenda items. It’s also good to allow time to “check-in” on how tools are working at the close of each meeting so that team members can share recommendations about what’s been working well and get ahead of any challenges that may surface as we adapt to new tools.
Plan B. And Plan C. Depending on a variety of factors, connectivity can stall, lag, or outright fail. There are multiple free platforms that can accommodate virtual meetings. Having everyone aligned around a back-up plan and platform should one technology crash or fail can be a great time saving strategy. Much like a telephone tree, be prepared with a list of one or two back up platforms that team members should transition to if a platform malfunctions prior to or mid-meeting and circulate those ahead of time, or designate a responsible party to do so in the event of a crash.
Technology audit. On that note, if your organization is quickly transitioning to new tools or has relied upon one technology, it may be a good idea to better understand how each team member is resourced, especially team members that do not typically work off-site. A quick survey of the types of devices that team members have access to in their home may help you bridge gaps while working to put more long-term plans in place. Knowing which team members have video capacity on their phone for example, or whether or not team members operate on the Android or Apple platform can help inform decisions about how to resource team members in the coming weeks.
Commonplace items have cross-functionality. Like personal phones and devices, some common items like smart TVs can offer helpful features at this time to bridge any critical technology gaps or issues. Many newer model TVs are equipped to support wireless screen sharing; team members may also be able to use an HDMI cable to connect their computer to their TV. Individuals can explore options using google to search for information about their respective TV model. This can allow team members to review documents on a wider screen than a laptop when needed. While not perfect, it is a good alternative to living on a laptop screen exclusively.
Invite and direct participation. Most tools available today offer many different options to encourage communication across multiple channels – from emails to chat to Facebook-like internal sharing tools. Like air traffic control, be sure that your teams are clear on what type of communication happens where. Setting clear guidelines here can help your teams avoid gaps and miscommunication. Keep the locations of agenda items and announcements regarding meetings in one consistent place; for example, direct comments and recommendations to a specific platform so that everyone is looking at the same thread.
Leading Virtual Meetings
Whether you have a team of five or a team of fifty, virtual meetings can present unique challenges for teams that may be used to meeting in person. Understanding the features of your tools is critical. Perhaps in the office you have no need to mute as you are speaking between two conference rooms. That is no longer the reality we face. Check your video conferencing platform (Orr Group uses Zoom) to see if the following functions can be utilized. They will make your meetings more efficient and collaborative. Take time to familiarize your staff and create protocols around the following:
Mute. Mute is your friend. Getting into the mute habit will help to minimize background noise and disruptions moving forward. Team leaders should remember to periodically remind folks to place their devices on mute, especially at the meeting’s opening, key agenda transition points, or following a period of discussion. Most platforms offer helpful features as well to control the meeting function across participants.
For example, most allow the “host” or designated meeting leader the option to mute and unmute all participants. Likewise, many platforms allow users to select a “mute on entry” feature so that you don’t have to worry about disrupting the speaker as you sign-in to a meeting. As team leader, you can utilize your next team meeting to introduce these features and encourage folks to familiarize themselves with the location of their respective mute function so that they can quickly access it when it’s their turn to share.
Screen Sharing. Sharing (your screen) is caring. Even if you do not have web cameras available to all team members, screen sharing is a powerful feature that allows all participants to view the same screen. Whether it’s a meeting agenda or a complex spreadsheet, you can utilize this feature to ensure that all team members are looking at the same material at the same time. When sharing your screen, your mouse arrow effectively becomes a laser pointer that can help direct your participants’ attention. Most platforms also allow features that enable participants to share multiple screens – i.e. one participant could share an agenda while another shares additional files.
While less common, there might be a time where an audiovisual component is part of your meeting. Most platforms allow you to share your system audio with other participants. This can be a helpful tool in reviewing videos, presentations, or other audiovisual content together, rather than attempting to have a microphone pick-up and translate the audio.
Participant and Chat. Invite participation with “raise your hand” and other chat features. Most platforms feature a tool that allows participants to “raise your hand” or otherwise signal that they would like to speak. In the Zoom platform, for example, you will find a “Raise Hand” button in the “Participants” tab. This feature is a great way to prevent cross talk and invite team members to signal that they would like to contribute during larger meetings. A bit like in school, it will allow others to finish their thoughts fully before being interrupted. It can also be helpful when a meeting host has muted participants.
Additionally, these tools are great for inviting and organizing collective member participation. You can ask members to drop questions into chat for a more streamlined Q&A during a meeting; questions logged here can also be held for later follow up if any agenda items need to be tabled due to time constraints.
You can get creative with how these tools are used as well. You can invite members to “vote” on topics or take a temperature check to “read the room” of a virtual meeting. You can invite participants to vote by typing “yes” or “no” via the chat function, for example, or you could ask participants to raise their hand if they’d like to spend more time on an agenda item. Asking participants to rate something by typing in a number – e.g. “on a scale of one to three, with one being the best, how would you rate this technology?” – is just one more way to invite more dynamic participation in your platform.
Akin to checking the technology of any room prior to an in person presentation, the features and functions listed above should be tested and retested before you lead a meeting. Ensure that you’ve familiarized yourself and feel comfortable leading others in using key features. Have a back-up plan, just in case. And remember that we’re all in this together; hiccups will happen. Confidence and adapting to change are signs of a great team and meeting leader.
What other technology solutions having you been finding useful? We’d love to hear from you!