5 tips for effective remote meetings

By Byron Patrick, CPA/CITP, CGMA

Q. Virtual (online) meetings are often disrupted because there's an echo or background noises, and sometimes it's hard to tell who's speaking because they connected with their phone and only their number shows up on the screen. Any suggestions for making our remote meetings better?

A. One of the biggest changes technology has made in the workplace in recent years is to make the place less important to the work. Thanks to high-speed internet connections, mobile devices, and cloud-based software, accountants can now work anytime and anywhere with colleagues and clients virtually anywhere in the world.

Reliable communication is a key component in enabling remote working arrangements. Zoom, GoToMeeting, and BlueJeans are just a few of the technologies empowering remote meetings. How can you use these type of tools most effectively? Having spent possibly a thousand hours participating in remote meetings with several technologies, I offer the following tips for ensuring that remote meetings are successful.

Tip 1: Wear headphones. Yes, your computer has speakers, a microphone, and likely some level of echo cancellation to prevent feedback, but there always seems to be someone in every meeting causing an echo. While one solution is for that individual to mute themselves (see Tip No. 2), a better solution is to use a headset that always eliminates the echo.

Tip 2: Use mute as much as possible. Background noise can be incredibly distracting and disruptive to meetings. It could be a dog barking, someone talking in the background, or something as simple as someone typing on their keyboard. Whatever it is, it can impair the ability of participants to hear the active speaker. Additionally, for meetings run from a conference room, the sounds created from papers or bags rustling on the conference room table (near the microphone) can be darn near deafening to those attending remotely, especially if they are following Tip No. 1.

A common reason people object to using mute is that they often don't remember to unmute when talking. However, if they use mute regularly, they will get used to unmuting. Even better, if they are using the Zoom app on a PC or a Mac, they can temporarily mute themselves by holding down the spacebar.

Tip 3: Join the meeting a few minutes early. Let's say you have a 2 p.m. meeting, and you don't have a meeting ending at that time. Click on the link(s) to enter the meeting at 1:55 p.m. so you can get set up and troubleshoot any technical issues before the meeting begins. Inevitably, remote meetings start late because attendees are not ready at the start time. Give yourself time to get your headset plugged in, audio configured, and your video working.

Tip 4: If joining audio via the phone bridge, don't skip entering your audio PIN. Many ignore this step because they assume it doesn't matter. However, if your goal is to have efficient meetings, it matters. Have you ever noticed when reviewing the list of attendees in the meeting that you always see some random phone numbers? Those numbers are the attendees who did not enter their audio PIN.

All of the common meeting tools provide attendees with an audio PIN to use when dialing in from their phone. When you enter the PIN code while following the audio prompts, your phone number will get connected to your computer connection. Now, when you begin talking, your name will get highlighted as the active speaker. No longer do you need to say, "This is Fred ...," every time you start a sentence.

Tip 5: Think about your camera placement. One of the biggest reasons videoconferencing enables remote teams is the ability to see the other people when meeting. However, poor camera placement can actually become a distraction. Place your camera in front of you and as close to eye level as possible. Nobody wants to look at the top of your head or up your nose during the meeting. Additionally, consider your lighting. If the light source in your office is behind you, you will look like a silhouette. Find a way to position a light source in front of your face. Your remote eye contact will be much more effective if they can see your eyes.

Following these five tips can reduce wasted time and frustrations for remote meeting attendees. Teams face many hurdles when working remotely. Don't let ineffective meetings cause you to stumble!

— By Byron Patrick, CPA/CITP, CGMA   

About the authors

Kelly L. Williams, CPA, Ph.D., MBA, is an assistant professor of accounting at Middle Tennessee State University. Byron Patrick, CPA/CITP, CGMA, is senior applications consultant at botkeeper.

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