COVID-19 work-from-home scenarios have forced all meetings online. Online meeting participants are no longer “back benchers,” and how meetings are attended and facilitated is now as equally important as the content of the meetings.

Onsite meetings typically rely on a structure dictated by the physical presence of a conference room, conference room tables, chairs, placement of screens, microphones, whiteboards, and furniture. Online meetings rely on meeting participants to restrain themselves from distracting the meeting.

 Based on my own experience, and having gathered pointers from the web, here is my top list of things participants shouldn’t do.

 We love your dog, but…

Dogs, kids, relatives, people shouting up the stairs are all cute interruptions the first time they happen, but cause a meeting presenter to pause.

  1. Close the door
  2. Use a headset with microphone
  3. Mute your microphone
  4. Create “office hours”

We know when you are multitasking

Do you really think we are not going to know when you are checking your email during a meeting?

  1. Don’t do it!
  2. Type quietly
  3. Mute your microphone
  4. Turn off your camera (we can see your eyes)
  5. Pay attention to the speaker
  6. Mute your cell phone and don’t read text messages while in conference

We know you are hungry

In an onsite meeting eating is not a significant distraction. When you are in an online meeting we really don’t need the close-up of you shoveling food into your mouth.

  1. Excuse yourself and turn off your video
  2. Mute the microphone (we can hear you chewing)
  3. Don’t use a headset while eating. You can’t imagine what crunching sounds like when recorded on a microphone near your mouth.
  4. Don’t do it!

Quality of audio and video is very important

I was taught by Audio/Video experts that the quality of audio will stop a meeting and the quality of video will distract a meeting. Be cognizant of the effect you are creating.

  1. Use a noise cancelling headset with a microphone
  2. There is no need to speak loudly. Speak slowly and clearly
  3. Windows and room lighting should be behind the camera and illuminating your face
  4. Do not have a distracting background
  5. Look directly into the camera but don’t get too close to the camera

Meetings need leaders/facilitators

Online meetings are no different than onsite meetings. A meeting should have a Leader/Facilitator and an Agenda and participants should have time to prepare.

  1. Always publish an agenda
  2. The leader should always use video
  3. When referring to someone else in the meeting, explicitly use their name
  4. Leaders need to control a meeting
  5. If you are not a good leader ask someone else to perform that role 

We can’t read your body language

While we don’t know we do it, we use other people’s body language as cues during a meeting. In an online meeting that becomes difficult.

  1. Pause between thoughts. Give people a chance to speak.
  2. Ask if people have questions or comments at different points when you are talking
  3. Don’t talk over others
  4. If you don’t like or agree with something, don’t grimace or “stew.”  Wait your turn and express your feelings.

Obvious things

  1.  Be on time
  2. Don’t talk over others
  3. Wear appropriate clothing (yes, I did wear a Hawaiian shirt to an online meeting yesterday)
  4. Silence your Alexa and Google Home devices

A successful work-from-home strategy involves participation from all staff. Meetings are one of the most important tools to make it happen. Effective meetings engage participants, are to the point (read: short), and deliver value. Think about these things as you create, invite, and facilitate your own meetings.