After a year of working remotely, Business Change Consultant Alaur Rahman shares his top learnings over the past 12 months for nailing virtual meetings and interviews.
This time last year, millions of workers across the British Isles ceased morning commutes and catch-ups by the coffee machine. Seemingly overnight, bags were unpacked, makeshift home offices constructed – and we found ourselves dialling into virtual meetings and navigating home working alongside colleagues and customers.
Now one year on, businesses in Guernsey and other jurisdictions with low (or zero) numbers of COVID-19 cases are beginning to again welcome employees back into the office. And while meeting our team after many months apart will hopefully be a highlight of 2021, it’s also clear that virtual meetings and interviews are here to stay.
A recent survey conducted by Channel Island law-firm Walkers found that 54% of HR professionals and business leaders would offer flexible working after the pandemic with some indicating they would employ individuals based permanently in other jurisdictions. Similarly, research by the Institute of Directors found that 74% of company directors would be keeping home-working after COVID-19.
In the past year, I have had countless virtual meetings. Amongst the coffee break chats, lunch and learns, and morning catch-ups, has been a plethora of conversations with candidates looking to join our Business Change practice.
While digital literacy and virtual competency has undoubtedly come a long way since March 2020, there can always be technical surprises in store. So, after spending 12 months adapting to our new virtual reality, I’ve shared some of the common challenges that I’ve encountered – and my top tips for nailing those important online interactions.
Practice makes perfect
From Microsoft Teams to Zoom to Google Hangouts, the video-conferencing systems available at our fingertips are many, and the functionality of each varies significantly.
So, it’s unsurprising that the most common challenge of virtual engagements is lack of familiarity. While advice for new users is often to download software in advance and get familiar with the online meeting place, I’d also recommend taking a few extra steps to help put your meeting participants at ease.
Tip #1: Why not ping a short email to your presenter or candidate ahead of time to ask how familiar they are with your video-conferencing platform of choice? Attaching a couple of slides with a step-by-step tutorial will save you from having to spend 5-10 minutes of the session showing them how to present their slides or unmute themselves when trying to speak.
Rules of engagement
Without face-to-face interactivity, it can be challenging to gauge or stimulate engagement from your audience – particularly if you’re mid-flow through a presentation.
With built-in engagement tools such as polls, raised hands, and chats, presenters can incorporate the platform’s functionality to help capture their audience’s attention and get people in the mood to engage.
Tip #2: Take advantage of the platform’s recording feature to re-visit meetings, interviews or presentations – you’ll be surprised to learn some of the subtleties you missed in the moment that could change your mind or impact a decision. Some platforms also offer audio transcription, making it easier than ever to go over your notes and revisit key learnings. Just make sure to ask for permission from participants before hitting the record button!
Technical difficulties are unfortunately an unavoidable part of life. Even with all the planning and preparation in the world, old laptops and insufficient bandwidths can cause issues with connectivity – particularly if there’s a household full of other people plugged into various devices.
Over the past year, we’ve all encountered slow Wi-Fi connections resulting in choppy video feeds or distorted audio. Particularly in bigger meetings or virtual assessment days, with groups of people dialled in – there is bound to be at least one person with connectivity concerns. And, as much as I hate to admit it, I have been that person on more than one occasion!
Tip #3: The simplest thing to do when faced with connectivity issues is to ask everyone to switch off their video feed to speed up bandwidth – or, like me, sit right next to the Wi-Fi router to improve signal.
Audio echo has also been an issue cropping up from time to time. It is always smart to mute yourself and raise your ‘hand’ every time you want to speak – and make sure to check your speaker and mic are working before you dial in.
Scope your surroundings
Creating a well-lit, professional environment and dressing smartly is, by this point, virtual meeting 101. But for the more tech savvy, blurring your background or adding an appropriate screensaver can be a great addition – particularly for those navigating working from home without a spare room or office.
If you’re in a formal context, try to avoid anything too whimsical – you don’t want to create the wrong impression, and appearing to be out in space may lead people to believe you’re working for NASA!
Tip #4: Minimise interruptions and improve your area to demonstrate that you’re in control of your environment – and that it’s a space you’re comfortable working from. Digital backgrounds can provide an easy fix for those working remotely in house or flat shares.
If you’re looking for virtual background inspiration,Tech Republic has shared some recommendations.
It’s clear virtual meetings are here to stay, with hybrid models and flexible working policies set to become a permanent fixture of our working lives. Hopefully these tips will help you to have more considerate, collaborative, and communicative virtual meetings with colleagues, customers and candidates alike.
Alaur Rahman is a Business Change Consultant within Agilisys' Business Change Team. Alaur previously studied Accounting at the University of Bedfordshire, before attaining his MSc in Strategic Accounting & Finance at Nottingham Trent University.