I laughed. Then I cried. Many of my colleagues had similar reactions. The video points out some of the common events that make so many online meetings so incredibly dysfunctional: ineffective introductions, bad audio, people talking over one another because of a lack of visual cues, and of course the Technology Factor.
We have a lot of skills for coping with these issues in face-to-face meetings, but we’re still working out the promising practices for handling the same issues in online meetings. Throw in some technology tools — which sometimes work and sometimes don’t — and a group of people who have different kinds of equipment and different levels of comfort and skill with the tools, and you’ve got a situation that is uncomfortable at best and disastrous at worst, especially for the meeting facilitator. We’ve all been that guy out in the hallway, talking to the wall, slowly realizing that no one else can hear us.
The good news is that the tools are growing simpler and more cross-platform. Enterprise-level tools that have been around for a long time in terms of Internet timeframes (think WebEx and similar systems) are evolving, and new tools are emerging (think Join.Me and Skype and so on). Instead of requiring special plug-ins or client versions of the software or different setups for different operating systems, the tools are being adapted to work on any platform, be it PC, Mac OS, or the different mobile flavors. The users of the tools don’t need to do as much to make them work, because the tools are becoming more flexible.
More good news is that we’re developing methods to cope with the social aspects of online meetings regardless of the technology we’re using. Not everyone can manage multi-party video calls — although that’s getting cheaper and easier too — so we’re working out ways to handle basic interactions like introductions, orientation to the meeting purpose, and conversations that lead to real work, even when you can’t see your colleagues. Visual methods that support these interactions can be employed without much special equipment at all, and the payoff in terms of lower frustration, greater efficiency, and higher engagement is huge.
So go ahead and laugh at the poor folks in the video. Then think about which of those painful moments you encounter the most — and how you can address that one issue in your next online meeting. I’d love to hear your ideas… and I’ll share some of mine too. Let’s make awkward online meetings a thing of the past.