by Tiffany Robinson

Collaboration tools are invaluable in the world of remote work. My company uses Skype for Business which allows us to chat at any time individually or as a group, share our screens, make instant phone calls, and even VIDEO calls! At any time (if willing) we can turn on our cameras and talk face to face. And there is no better way to bond then to share a cup of coffee with your co-worker in the morning.

Collaborating on projects is simple when using these tools. And it also allows for impromptu brainstorming sessions, troubleshooting, or anything else that you would typically roll your chair over to Susie Q for.

On that same note, Meeting technology can be a curse in a blended work environment, if used without the virtual attendee in mind. If employees are attending a meeting from a remote location, their experience in that meeting should be equally considered as those that are attending onsite.

Here are 5 of the most difficult to deal with and easily reparable problems that regularly occur in blended meetings:

Limited sound: Usually the speaker is using a microphone and the room adds input in which the speaker can respond. Pretty standard stuff, however often times if you are attending the meeting remotely, any input from the rest of the room can’t be heard. It causes the virtual attendee to miss out on half of the meeting, meaning half the information.

Solution? Have the speaker repeat or recap what has been said by the room, or have a microphone or microphones available throughout the room itself.

No ability to participate: There are times when there are so many individuals in a meeting that that the remote participants are automatically put on mute. While understanding the need to silence the background noise of 200 separate environments so as not to interrupt, removing the ability to participate is a quick way to un-engage 200 people.

Solution? Always have another method of easy communication available to those attending remotely, such as an IM chat associated with the meeting, or the ability to un-mute yourself when you have input or questions.

Restricted visuals: When sharing a document, such as a PowerPoint presentation with the room, consider how it will be viewed virtually as well. Emailing a presentation or document out to the group only to have them figure out how to follow along on their own is one of the ultimate blunders in engaging the room.

Solution? Unless there is a technically difficulty (which happens) refrain from emailing a presentation and make every attempt to solve the issue before moving forward with the meeting. Also, put someone attending the meeting in charge of the virtual display, changing the view from PowerPoint, to presenter when necessary and even managing online chatter.

Video conferencing technology: My Company has just installed the ability to video conference on a large screen in every room. While seriously cool, it tends to be uncomfortable for those not sitting in that very cool room. When meeting with individuals sitting together at a table, whilst you are joining on the giant screen, it can feel as though you are interrupting the conversation when you have input, in the way that the outsider tries to insert themselves into a group of chatting friends in a hallway. Also, it can be difficult to hear side conversations that you would normally be privy to if you sat in the room.

Solution? Even if 2 or 3 are co-workers are sitting in the same office. Consider having each team member dial in to a virtual meeting room so that everyone has the same experience and is comfortable sharing their ideas.

Lobby Candy: This comes in the form of ice cream socials, Lunch and Learns, breakfast meetings, giveaways under your chair, really any group activity that you need to be present in order to enjoy. While these things are wonderful for those who are onsite, when done in blending meetings it’s akin to an orphaned child watching a happy family through the window, as they eat their dinner together by the fireplace. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched my department eat a beautifully catered meal as I’ve sobbed into my peanut butter sandwich at my desk.(ok that might be slightly melodramatic).

Solution? In no way should a company refrain from these types of engagement activities, but when deciding to do them in a blended meeting, consider what to do so the virtual employee is able to participate:

o  Hold food socials before or after the designated meeting time

o  Change chair/desk giveaways to virtual raffle, or at least include one in the game.

o  Mail or email a gift card for coffee or lunch

o  Get creative in the types of activities that are done in a department meeting.

If you are ALWAYS making the effort to include the virtual employee’s experience when holding blending meetings, then they won’t mind the occasional technology issue or peanut butter sandwich.

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