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Making Virtual Meetings Better

Publish Date:

Thursday, March 24, 2016 7:00 am PDT

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No Jitter

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Despite the convenience of engaging with people anywhere, meetings with remote participants come with a number of challenges to overcome.

How many times have you been in a meeting with at least one person participating virtually? Plenty, I'd say, based on what we learned in a recent worldwide survey on experiences and attitudes around meetings. More than 60% of 1,000 respondents across five countries said at least one remote user participated in their meetings.

Today's work environments can be virtually anywhere: a café, a home office, the airport, a cab. With access to high-speed Internet, cloud-based collaboration services, mobile technology, and advanced audio equipment, people are joining meetings virtually more than ever. However, people need to consider the experience of all participants, both virtual and on-site.

The goal is to make any virtual meeting feel natural, as if everyone is sitting around the same table. Conversations should be fluid. Visuals should be clear. The technology in use should enable dynamic collaboration for every meeting participant. In other words, technology should act as the framework that helps shape a meeting.

The sights and sounds of virtual meetings

Designing the optimal virtual meeting environment involves a wide range of considerations, particularly around audio and visual technologies. The most crucial aspect: Technology should work for the people using it.

Sound quality is critical in virtual meetings. The vast majority of people surveyed stated that in meetings with remote participants they couldn't hear other people well, or that others couldn't hear them well. Furthermore, every single respondent said that, at one time or another, they were distracted by ambient noises like nearby colleagues, coffee shop conversations, children, and pets. More than half of those surveyed said such noises distracted them on up to 60% of their calls.

For those connecting from remote locations, high-definition audio provides a natural and clear sounding voice. However, if mobile workers are often dialing in from noisy environments, IT should work to identify audio solutions, such as headsets, that are purpose-built for remote business communications. Consider headsets that not only work seamlessly with your mobile devices, but also have technologies such as multiple microphones and active noise cancelling to block out external noises such as wind or a barking dog, for example.

Collaboration in a virtual space is easier with visual support. Provide teams with screen-sharing capabilities, two-way video, and a whiteboard to facilitate dynamic virtual interaction. These tools ensure teams can work more effectively across distances.

"Please stand by. We're having some technical difficulties."

Despite the convenience of engaging with people anywhere, meetings with remote participants come with a number of challenges, often involving technology.

Perhaps the call-in number doesn't work, the access code isn't correct, or the network is too busy. In fact, more than 48% of respondents said, on average, up to five minutes are lost due to technical difficulties or connection issues, while 20% said more than eight minutes are lost. When multiplied by the number of participants on the call, the amount of time -- and money -- lost can be significant.

With the proliferation of virtual meetings, organizers need to make the necessary adjustments to make meetings more productive and valuable for all participants. Here's a brief list of questions to ask yourself and your colleagues:

  • Do we really need to meet? Most people spend approximately 25% of their time at work in meetings; this figure goes up to 50% for upper management. Could the same objective be achieved with a few phone calls or emails to select individuals? If a meeting is necessary, would it be more effective with fewer participants?
  • Do we have the right technology? If technical difficulties frequently occur in your organization, you might consider doing a full audit of your solutions to determine user needs. This means considering participants from multiple locations and different sound environments.
  • Can everybody hear me? Is everyone in your organization armed with sufficient communication equipment, such as a noise-canceling headset or high-quality speakerphone? Distractions such as background noise, echoes, and crackling or cut-off speech can drain valuable minutes from every meeting.

Undoubtedly, meetings are a vital part of daily business life. With technology enabling people to join meetings from anywhere, it is important to think about the experience of all participants. If these considerations are taken, meetings will accomplish what they're meant to: getting people together to get work done.

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