General good practice for virtual meetings

As a member of staff you are responsible for ensuring time in virtual meetings is used as effectively as possible to: 

  • make best use of time and resources 
  • promote the best possible outcomes for the communities we serve . 

Before the meeting

Prepare your space

  • If possible be somewhere quiet with few distractions
  • use the Teams background function if in a "busy" environment such as a kitchen or bedroom
  • if a room is uncarpeted, audio can echo which can be distracting; putting down a rug or floor cushions if available, can create a warmer sound
  • if you share your work-space use headphones to maintain confidentiality.

Look the part

Working from home is not always ideal and colleagues have needed to find the best place they can to work from. This is often out of people’s control, but in terms of presentation, what is in your control is:

  • dress appropriately for a work meeting
  • lighting – don’t sit in front of a bright window (if this is unavoidable consider using a lamp to light yourself from the front as well)
  • use your webcam well – don’t sit too close or too far from it, and ideally find a way to elevate your laptop so it isn’t looking up at you
  • even though you are in your own home it looks unprofessional to smoke or vape during meetings.

Remove distractions

  • Set phones to silent
  • turn off laptop notifications, eg email notifications, so you are not distracted by them or tempted to respond
  • close documents not relevant to the meeting.

During the meeting

Unless it is a small meeting, mute when not speaking; be aware that all sounds are amplified equally by microphones, including typing
 
In larger meetings with many participants it is appropriate for just the speakers to put videos on. In smaller meetings it is better to have videos on for the following reasons:

  • communication is more effective when you have non-verbal cues
  • facial expressions humanise a meeting
  • seeing people helps to forge relationships
  • it reduces temptation to multi-task.

Use the raised hand facility if you want to say something - and remember to undo it afterwards

Participate

  • It can be easy to fall into silence when you are in a room on your own - stay alert, ask questions or make comments
  • if you don’t want to interrupt, you can comment or ask questions using the chat.

Concentrate on the meeting

Resist the temptation to do other things during the meeting such as checking emails or doing other work. It is usually obvious to others that you are doing so and not paying attention would be considered unprofessional. 

Do not turn off your video in order to do other things unseen or nip out of the room - you wouldn't do those things in a face to face meeting

If you do need to leave (eg to receive a delivery, attend to a child) just say so, in the chat window if you don’t want to interrupt). 

Take care during hybrid/blended meetings

If you are in a meeting where some people are together in the workplace and others are at home, it can be easy for the attendees at home to be left out. So, if you are in the workplace, make an effort to ensure those at home feel involved:

  • Avoid behaviours that might make those who are remote feel excluded – don’t talk amongst yourselves (or share a joke) that other attendees can’t hear
  • log into the meeting on a separate laptop so everyone can be seen
  • guard against dominating a discussion - it is not so easy to join in a discussion when remote.

Guidance for chairs of virtual meetings

In addition to the above guidance, as Chair you are responsible for ensuring time in virtual meetings is used as effectively as possible to: 

  • promote maximum engagement and productivity from attendees
  • make best use of time and resources 
  • promote the best possible outcomes for the communities we serve. 

Preparation

Know the technology

The chair, or a second, should have a good understanding of how Teams works and support any attendees with any issues they are having.
This includes ensuring that the methods are accessible to all often checking in with attendees in advance as most people will know which technology or methods will enable their inclusion.

Design a timely and valuable agenda
During Teams meetings, if people are not included, they are at risk of switching off and working on something else – this is disruptive. Avoid this by keeping the meeting well-paced and of genuine interest to all.
Work out an agenda order that allows attendees to leave if there are more than a couple of elements that are not value to them.
It is naturally harder to hold attention for much more than an hour in an online meeting. If possible, it is better to have a series of shorter meetings regularly than infrequent multi-element meetings. If it does need to be a longer meeting then plan in breaks.

Be aware of data security
If you share your screen:

  • close any unnecessary tabs from your browser window and anything you have been working on before the meeting
  • avoid sharing your full desktop
  • if you share your work-space use headphones to maintain confidentiality. 

Chairing

Make a deliberate start

  • Acknowledge everyone at beginning of meeting
  • consider including an activity where every attendee says something, for example a quick round responding to a question. It helps participation if people have engaged at the beginning
  • make "rules" of the meeting explicit at the beginning:
    - mute yourself if not speaking
    - turn phones to silent
    - have videos turned on as appropriate (see below)
    - use the raised hand facility to ask questions
    - turn off notifications (e.g. email notifications) so they are not distracting
    - remind people about data security if screen sharing
    - you could send attendees the document explaining virtual meeting etiquette prior to the meeting.

Use of videos

Make this explicit at the beginning of the meeting. In larger meetings with many participants it is appropriate for just the speakers to put videos on. In smaller meetings it is better to have videos on for the following reasons:

  • communication is more effective when you have non-verbal cues
  • facial expressions humanise a meeting
  • seeing people helps to forge relationships
  • it reduces temptation to multi-task.

Be an active facilitator

Virtual meetings do not always flow as naturally as in-person meetings, so monitor contributions and the direction of discussion:

  • be attentive to people who clearly want to make a point, or who have had not contributed yet
  • encourage use of the ‘raised hand’ facility in Teams to avoid interruptions
  • check in at appropriates as you may not always pick up if someone is confused or looks like they want to ask something.

Techniques that can be helpful:

  • give everyone 2 minutes uninterrupted to give their opinion on something
  • ask each attendee to raise one question on a matter of interest
  • at the end of the meeting, do a round to check in to see if everyone has taken away what they need.

Make good use of Teams functionality

Teams has a host of features and the better a Chair understands them the more opportunity for quality meetings. This includes:

  • sharing your screen
  • using the Whiteboard and Polls
  • using chat – this is useful for people to feed in questions and comments to avoid interrupting the flow of the meeting. It can be helpful if the chair nominates someone to monitor the chat for the chair and feed this into them.