By Tabitha Farrar
What I (your employee) am thinking:
Why should I pay attention in your online meetings?
What’s in it for me?
Why should I give you my undivided attention when you cannot see what I am doing?
What you should be asking yourself:
Why don’t team members pay attention in online meetings?
What causes them to start doing other things like answering emails, playing around on social media, or shopping online?
Online meetings and conference calls are on the increase. More than ever, productivity tools, portable devices, and work-life balance initiatives are leading to situations where employees are dialing into the workplace remotely. If this weren’t a good thing for the individuals and companies involved we wouldn’t be seeing such as raise—but there are still some aspects of working remotely that are less than desirable; not communicating or listening well on a conference call is one of them.
So where does the disconnect lie? Why is an employee who is engaged and on form in a physical meeting prone to slacking off and checking out in an online meeting?
How to keep remote employees engaged in online meeting situations
1. Know that there is a difference in energy on conference calls and online meetings compared to physical meetings.
By simply understanding and acknowledging this difference, you are on the right path to altering your presentation skills enough to counteract some of it. In a physical meeting held at the office, employees can see one another for a start. They can read body language and abide by the innate rules of conversation that we all have.
In an online meeting, even the best video and sound quality cannot make up for the nuances of conversation that exist when we talk to real people.
2. Only have people on the call if they really (really) need to be there.
I’ve been in plenty of large conference calls where the sheer volume of people on the meeting means that we all have to mute unless we are speaking directly.
I’ve also regularly pressed the mute button at the start of the call and not taken if off. If the speaker asks a question, there is usually a cluster of people trying to answer at once, and frankly I just cannot be bothered to try and put my own voice into the fray. This situation turns me into a listener rather than a participant, and I would probably be better off if the call were recorded and sent to me so that I could listen to it at my leisure.
This beggars the question: Do all the people on this call really need to be here, or can we just send them a summary?
3. Give everyone on the call a chance to talk—as in a designated slot.
Again referencing the example above of a large conference call, where a lot of people may be trying to unmute and talk at once; this may work in an in-person meeting, but it’s chaos in an online meeting.
If you have people dialing in remotely, be sure to alter your meeting cadence accordingly. If you ask the group a question, have a system by which you allow each individual on the call to answer that question or give their thoughts in a systematic and organized fashion.
4. And hey-presto! if they know they have to contribute, you’ve got their attention.
By making sure that every person on the call will be given the chance to talk, and by making it clear that they are expected to contribute, you have solved your problem of keeping their attention. People check out when they cease to be involved—so keep everybody involved!
If I know that I will have to give my two cents on any and every question raised in a conference call, I’m already listening.