In April, the FBI warned Zoom users about suspicious hijacking behavior, and Zoom quickly responded to the threat with increased privacy controls, such as required waiting rooms and passwords. While those measures have helped increase security and privacy for users, Zoom hijacking continues to happen every day – but this time, from your own coworkers.
Here’s how it plays out: You’ve set up a video conference meeting to discuss a critical issue, and within minutes, it’s gone awry. You’ve lost the attention of one distracted participant who is clearly reading other things on her computer. Another sloppy co-worker is sitting up in bed while still in his pajamas, and it’s hard to take him seriously. The least technically savvy participant seemingly doesn’t know how to work the mute button and his dogs are barking in the background. The other co-worker is constantly chewing gum or eating her lunch on the video call as if she were on her break. Already your meeting feels like a circus ring – how will you ever get things done?
With stay-at-home orders and social distancing, companies around the globe have turned to video conference technologies such as Zoom to keep their business running. In fact, Zoom reported over 300 million users/user sessions in a single day. As more and more businesses have already trending towards remote working, it seems that video meetings will very much last as a key part of the corporate workday.
You’re not alone. There’s no shortage of annoying virtual conference call behavior, as humorously outlined by the Boston Globe. But don’t worry, not all work from home meetings need to be this way. Here are some tips for keeping your virtual meetings from going off the rails:
- Take a minimalist approach to meetings. Do you really need the meeting to be on Zoom in the first place? The video meeting burnout these days is real. It’s more taxing on our minds to attend multiple video conference meetings than it is to meet in person, or have a phone call. If you really need a Zoom meeting, keep the meeting tight and to the point. Think hard about inviting only the people who really need to be involved; your participants (and non-participants) will thank you.
- Be Clear About the Agenda. It’s harder for participants to stay focused on the computer screen with so many distractions popping up on their computer – never mind trying to work when there are other people at home. Taking a few minutes to set a clear agenda at the beginning of each and every Zoom call helps people stay focused and on task. Trim the agenda just to the essentials, and set ground rules ahead of time to avoid too much summarizing and repetition of key points.
- Call on individual speakers. There needs to be a clear meeting leader who calls on people, rather than a free-for-all. That little outline box around a Zoom box that indicates who has “the mic?” It seems to be the new trophy these days, with people competing to hold it the longest. On Zoom, it’s harder to read the room and body language about who will speak next, so people feel like they need to compete for air time. When someone’s on a roll, it’s difficult to raise a hand or gesture to be the next speaker. Calling on specific individuals is a good idea under normal circumstances, but on a video conference call, it provides a structure so that everyone has an expectation of who will speak next and avoids the awkward moments where multiple people are talking at once.
- Make sure you, and everyone else, gets a voice. Just like in person meetings, you will get the more outspoken personalities that may dominate the conversation. If you’re a participant, spend a few minutes before the meeting jotting down salient points to make sure to share. If you’re the leader, don’t be afraid to thank the more prolific talkers for their insightful points, then call on the quieter participants for their feedback as well. Calling on participants may serve double-duty of keeping Zoom ghosters – the ones who sign on for a second to say hi, and then disappear behind their profile picture to do other things – on their toes throughout the call.
- Take conflicts offline. The expression “praise in public, criticize in private” most definitely applies here. It’s harder to read body language on a video call, so even the gentlest constructive criticisms can be taken the wrong way. Be alert for potentially hot topics or concerns that should be addressed offline instead of in front of an audience.
- If you’re new to Zoom, learn all of the host controls on your video conference software ahead of time, so that you can act quickly on the fly if a disruption or an embarrassing situation happens during your meeting. For example, in Zoom you can do things like mute a participant if their kids are screaming in the background, privately ask them to unmute if you plan on calling on them next, and you can even stop their video or screen share if something inappropriate or distracting is happening on the screen. Or, you can create breakout rooms for sub-chats or sidebar conversations so that smaller groups can make much-needed progress to support the team.
Video conferencing serves a valuable role in our new work environment, and we wouldn’t be able to conduct business without it. At the same time, this new frontier brings its own set of challenges. Video conference calls are more susceptible to distractions, less professional behaviors, and user fatigue. Keep your meetings as succinct as possible and keep your fingers on the controls to keep your meetings – and your coworkers – productive and on track.