In March 2020, with the sudden shift to remote work, video conferencing apps saw a record-breaking 62 million downloads. But as video calls started to proliferate, you may have started to ask how you can keep your remote team engaged during video conferences.
“Zoom fatigue” is now a thing. Employees are becoming exhausted with repeated virtual interactions and the sustained attention needed to engage in them.
You may have observed this with your own team, as they became increasingly disengaged with each new video conference.
How a video conference is different from physical meetings
The key is to understand how a video conference is different from a physical meeting.
Video calls require more concentration than physical meetings. Speech is only one of the ways we communicate as humans. The rest of it is non-verbal, such as our tone and pitch of voice, facial expressions and body language.
On video calls, we need to concentrate a lot harder to process these non-verbal cues. And when we become exhausted through all this concentration, it’s a lot more likely that we become disengaged.
Osman is uniquely positioned to answer this. He is a self-professed telecoms technophile who has been in the workplace collaboration sector for 15 years. He’s worked with telecoms operations like British Telecom, Telstra, and now BlueJeans by Verizon.
Osman shared the following tips:
1. Have a camera-on policy for your remote team video conferences
As a team leader, you should require all participants to turn their camera on, at least at the start of the meeting.
This mimics being physically in a meeting room together, which helps as much of the way we communicate is non-verbal.
Having a camera-on policy will help team members get used to the nuances of how their colleagues communicate. It’ll also quickly help them spot when their colleagues are confused or in disagreement.
Also, seeing their colleagues can help remote workers foster closer relationships and be more empathetic to each other.
You can set an example by turning on your camera first. To be clear, this isn’t because of a lack of trust, but is aimed to help this camera-on policy into the company’s norm, so all employees become used to it.
Have you heard work-from-home employees remark that they are concerned about the look of their home offices or their appearance during the video call?
2. Be thoughtful about who you invite to video conferences
Several video conferencing software allow up to 100 participants on their standard plans and up to 1000 with add-on plans.
As a result of this technology, we’ve started to see very large video conference meetings held – even though its not necessary for most attendees to attend!
If you stopped to think about it, it would be rare to call for a meeting for 10 or more people in a physical context. Most offices do not have meeting rooms that are large enough to hold that many people!
Beyond a certain number of people in a call, the meeting becomes too unwieldy and people start becoming disengaged. Remember that there’s a good reason for Jeff Bezo’s two-pizza team rule!
That’s why as a first step, you should be thoughtful about whose attendance is absolutely required, before inviting participants.
If someone is only required to know about the meeting’s outcome, there are other ways to ensure that they stay informed (see below).
3. Use video conferencing software to free your employees from unnecessary calls
Your team should only attend video conferences that absolutely requires their active input.
They should not be asked to sit through an hour-long meeting, when their contribution is only for a minor ask for 5 mins at the end of the meeting.
Your thoughtfulness as to whether their attendance is really required will free up their day for real work. It’ll make your employees more productive, reduce their stress levels, give them more room to achieve their potential whilst also ensuring they are more engaged in the meetings that they do attend!
But what do you do if they need to know about a meeting’s outcome or are involved in the actions that need to be taken after the meeting?
That’s where video conferencing software comes in. There have been many exciting new software developments which promises to save us time.
An interesting one by Blue Jeans is its “Smart Meetings” features. This software feature automates transcript-taking and allows crowd-sourcing amongst the attendees of meeting notes, actions and highlights. Attendees in a meeting can now make notes and call people’s attention to a certain point even for people not actually in the meeting.
With this approach just one person from each team can attend the call and the rest can read the transcript, or be notified by BlueJeans of the parts of the meeting that are flagged for their attention.
Osman likens this to watching the highlights of a football match instead of sitting through the full 90 minutes!
For the participants, the fact that they can take notes, create action points and flag matters for their colleagues, means they can actively participate in meetings much like in real-life where you’d take notes or practice active listening in a face-to-face meeting.
4. Conduct smaller meetings, or if not, use breakout rooms
We’ve explained why participants tend to be disengaged in large meetings. It’s hard to stay excited when you are just one of 50 heads bobbing on a screen!
That’s why a good rule of thumb is to invite only people who are essential to the meeting. For the rest, make use of software to give them the transcripts and the bits that are relevant for them.
If it’s necessary for a large meeting to be held, you can consider using breakout rooms to split the meeting into smaller groups of 5 or 6 persons.
Smaller groups are more effective and ensure people become more involved and engaged in the conversation.
5. Moderate each video conference
Boring as it may sound, every meeting should have a host.
This person (or people) should be responsible for setting the agenda, deciding the participants, making sure that everyone is heard during the meeting.
Obviously they should also ensure that meeting goals are met within the allotted time!
During the meeting itself, it is the host’s job to prevent people from overtalking and taking all the air time for themselves.
One suggestion is that for larger meetings, you can use software to mute everyone except for the person speaking at the moment.
The same software can also allow attendees to indicate if they have questions by “raising their hands”.
To keep participants listening actively, you can also call out people for their views, for example ‘Hey, Paul what’s your view on this?”.
With the rise of remote work, video conferences are going to become a norm.
It’s not a stretch to think that your effectiveness as a leader can be judged by whether you are able to get your remote team engaged during video conferences.
We hope that this article provides first steps that you can take in this direction!
Here at Esevel, we help reduce the complexity of managing a dispersed workforce, by taking care of your remote employees’ safety, productivity and day-to-day work needs.
To learn more about how Esevel can help you scale up your remote team, see here.