Recently I have attended a number of online meetings, when travel was not appropriate. The results of these were mixed, and demotivating at best.
Online meetings need not be a Cinderella service. It’s all in the design, and respect for the people involved.
If you have part of a meeting as “real” and others as online, you cannot run the event as though it were mainly for those in the room. It just wont work.
Over the last 2 years I have run a number of online events, and focussed on helping people to feel engaged and valued. Attending an event where we are made to feel like second class citizens is worse than not being involved at all.
The effects of the financial crash
After the unfortunate circumstances of the global financial situation, some firms took to online meeting and training tools whole scale. Some firms, for example HP, banned all global travel, including for training, and insisted that all training take place over online tools. This took a while for people to adapt, both those setting up the sessions and those participating. But the net results is that online events are now the expected solution.
Just using these powerful tools as a screen share for the visuals, and a telephone line is a waste of peoples time, and expensive solutions. We need to remember that if being used to supplement a live event, then any questions made “in the room” need to be repeated for those “on the call”. Each of these tools, WebEx and GoToMeeting have powerful collaboration tools, including white boards, documents and desktop sharing. These tools have help to engage, not disengage people.
Designing for online tools
Ok so you need to run a meeting, some people will be in the room, others will be dispersed. What do you do.
- Project onto the screen in the meeting room the screen that ALL participants see, not just a ppt.
- Let all participants see the chat
- Whiteboard all questions
- Repeat all questions asked in the room, so everyone can hear them – relaying them in chat is not engaging, do it as a backup not instead!
- Design activities for the online environment and replicate them in the room… not the other way round
- Never have silent audio, people will not know if the call has dropped, much like radio, silence is bad! Be creative
Engage or Disengage
This really is a bipolar situation, there is no half way, you either actively engage people regularly, or you will be default disengage. Talk to the people in your organisation, do they look forward to conference calls or do they “accept” them as a necessary evil.
Online does not need to be a tool of last resort, as you can record, and capture things just not possible in a meeting. Its different, in many ways more powerful, as long as the event considerers the limitations of the technology.
Of course many will say that it can never beat face to face. but then these tools provide video.. do you use it? Of course being in the same physical space cannot (yet) be fully emulated, but the tools, when used properly and with consideration can make a big difference.
I started out with the word respect. and if the people leading the session do not fully respect ALL the people on the call and design for everyone, that is in itself disrespectful, and disengaging.
One final note
Please do not compare Skype to WebEx or Gotomeeting, sure they sort of provide a similar set of functions on the surface, But the quality is soooo different! especially where there is more than a one-to-one event