So, Loving Those Video Calls Yet?

If you're like most people, the novelty of the video conference wore off the moment the non-stop online meetings began. Now, you may feel that they're inexplicably worse than just a phone call or in-person meeting could ever be. (And maybe they are. If you didn't see this article, check it out. New York Times, tiered subscription model.)

But we have some ideas that can help. If you long to return to relatively normal levels of productivity and sanity, consider these tips and ideas to help everyone spend less time peering into the screen at colleagues and more time being productive.

Aim for fewer meetings

Let's face it, before COVID-19, there were already too many meetings, and the move to the home office has only highlighted that fact. So the first step in alleviating video-call overload and regaining sanity is definitely to question a meeting's purpose and value. And if it doesn't pass the test, do you best to scrap the meeting, or at least rethink and retool it.

For the sake of your team's productivity and morale, think twice (or three times) before calling a meeting, and diplomatically pose these questions to others who suggest meetings:

  • What is the specific goal of this meeting? Answers like "figuring out what we're doing with project X" won't cut it. It helps to think about meeting goals as products: what will this meeting produce? For example, will it determine metrics for the success of a new project? Or maybe the meeting will result in a plan to face a specific issue, or allow you to assign certain tasks.

  • Can the meeting be replaced with something more efficient? Meetings that are meant to catch people up on the status of a project can often be replaced with a summary report, whether written or even recorded as a video for viewing at a convenient time. Invite people who still have questions to let you know if they need to meet to discuss things further.

Cut the attendance list

Maybe your meeting is actually necessary, but does everyone have to attend? Depending on the nature of your meeting, a 10-minute phone call between two people might actually do the trick, and then one of you can send any relevant details to others in writing, if needed.

That 10-minute call and 15-minute email summary to others could save seven other people 30 minutes each. That's 35 minutes of total work time, compared to 210 total minutes if seven people attend a 30 minute meeting. (OK, you'll have to count another five minutes per person so each can read your summary, but still!)

Include an agenda with the invitation

If you're calling the meeting, you need to have a specific plan and make it known to others. Be succinct but specific. A short list of major questions to be addressed is very helpful and can simply be included with the meeting invitation.

And don't be afraid to make requests of attendees if you want them to be prepared with specific information. For example, instead of wondering out loud in the meeting whether anyone knows relevant facts and figures off hand, ask ahead of time in the invitation: "Terry, could you please be prepared to present relevant production figures for May 2018 and 2019 so we have a point of comparison?"

Arrive prepared

If you're going to attend a meeting, then do you homework. The more prepared you are, the shorter the meeting, and the better the results. If you're going to be called on to cover a topic and will need to confer with a colleague about the subject to fully discuss it in the meeting, do it outside the meeting in a simple phone call or email exchange. That will keep avoidable discussion out of the meeting and make you look sharp. 

Be punctual, be quick

Meetings are definitely part social, but limit socializing to a minute or two before, and let others stay on after if they want to socialize or discuss things afterwards. Get straight to your agenda, and keep things moving. If you called the meeting, stay in charge of the meeting and the time.

Don't hesitate to limit agenda items to a set amount of time. And if there is a lot more to say on the subject, decide whether to deal with it in the meeting or not. If it will require the attention of all or the majority of the people in the meeting, it may be worth it. But if the subject is decidedly too big for the meeting time, or can be handled by a small group of meeting attendees separately, make other arrangements and move on to the next agenda item.

Keep format varied in longer meetings

We can only stare at one another so long without starting to lose interest or feeling a bit visually overloaded. If you have relevant statistics or images, use a screen-share feature to break things up a bit. It will drive you message home better and maintain interest. Just be sure your know how to properly share your screen before the meeting starts--practice makes perfect.

You know we can see you, right?

Unlike an in-person meeting, every single participant can see you equally well in a video call, so you can get away with less than ever. You know that colleague who is a chronic texter during meetings? They're not as sly as they think, and everyone sees it.

If you're invited to a meeting where you're not going to pay attention, then consider telling the meeting leader why you shouldn't be a part of it--it may be a very legitimate point. Otherwise, show up and be present, because doing otherwise will only make you look bad and possibly cause animosity. Tempted by texts and emails? Turn your phone off during meetings, or at least turn it over, and shut off your computer's email.

How about the person who consistently shows up on camera with the oddest things in the background? (Is that a dead dog in that chair, or just the world's ugliest and most disheveled throw over a mountain of unfolded laundry?) We're all at home trying to make the best of it, but try to keep distractions to a minimum. A blank wall can be a great background, and it's also more compatible with virtual backgrounds if you want a little variety (without going too crazy--use your best judgement).

And keep lighting in mind. Lighting at face level is best, not overhead lighting. Aim for even lighting that doesn't totally overexpose part of you and leave the rest in shadows. Simply putting a lamp on the darker side can help balance out a bright window, for example, or maybe you just need to draw the shades a bit before the call. And remember, you want to face the window to illuminate your face rather than have it at your back.  

Got your own tips?

By cutting back on the number of meetings, limiting who attends, and keeping things brief, you'll go a long ways. And showing up prepared, looking your best, and varying your presentation will also do wonders. But maybe you have tips to add? Let us know through this link how you make video calls better, how you managed to cut down on meetings, or any other tips that could help the rest of us out!

Join the discussion.