In 2020 and 2021 the virtual meeting industry boomed. Everyone was Zooming, meeting on Teams, installing Skype, and downloading Google Duo. Every conceivable event went virtual, from Christenings to funerals, from court cases to government town hall meetings, and from school to business. People had weekly family quiz nights, Christmas was online, and social gatherings became virtual solo gatherings.
Now we are in the post-pandemic era, is the virtual meeting still a requirement for life, or has it had its day in the sun and the world is going back to face-to-face human contact?
The History of the Virtual Meeting.
Before the international business and business class flights, most companies traded locally and had cars to drive from meeting to meeting. Companies then wanted to invest in overseas offices for cheaper labor costs and longer operational hours, so business expanded overseas. Flights were needed to go and visit the new offices, train the staff, and support economic growth. With more expansion comes more travel and a greater need to send staff overseas to support the satellite offices around the world. In more countries, developed products were sold in those countries and international brands like Google, Coke-Cola, Nestle, and Diageo supported local economies with local jobs. Seeing the benefits of offshore operations many smaller businesses adopted the outsourcing model to reduce costs, increase efficiency and make shareholders happier with their annual bonuses.
This international economic growth required, or at least we thought it did, the need for international meetings, visits, and travel. The business travel sector including flights, hotels, and memberships boomed and a period of transportation growth ensued. Every big business needed an international flight business card, and membership and regularly sent senior managers around the world to network, complete sales, and drive the business forwards.
These were the days of the face-to-face business meeting before the virtual meeting was conceived.
The Virtual meeting for the business came about when people started to look at the costs of flights, hotels, annual airline membership, and sponsorship and ask if the costs outweighed the benefits.
In 2003 an Estonia company invented Skype. Originally called “Sky Peer to Peer” it was invented as a means of calling, and video conferencing between businesses across large distances. Skype reduced the costs of phone calls, travel, and the need for people to travel long distances for a quick meeting. It is a time-saving and money-saving technology that was a great idea at the time but did not take off until a couple of years later in 2005.
Skype is credited with the start of the Virtual meeting evolution. In 2005, eBay purchased Skype for $2.5 billion in a landmark technology purchase, and the business grew exponentially. Video conferencing, streaming, and communication took off like never before. A revolution was born. In 2011 Microsoft purchased Skype for $8.5 billion and took it mobile, making Skype the premier video and voice messaging platform that it is today.
The revolution started by a small IT Company in Estonia to solve the problem of high costs of meetings has now taken over the world and dominated business communication. Today there are several businesses all offering similar services to those conceived and developed by Sky Peer to Peer.
The Virtual Meeting was born.
What is a Virtual Meeting?
To reduce the need for face-to-face meetings video conferencing software was developed. These video conferences saved time and money for businesses and communication became virtual.
A Virtual meeting is a meeting of people who are not in the same room, often not even in the same country. They meet online from various locations to discuss the same topic, which is usually centered around the needs of the business, but these days can be family or personally related. Technology through the internet connects people. Virtual meetings can be on computers, tablets, or phones connected to the internet where each user can see and speak to the others in real-time.
Virtual meetings can be audio-only, with just the voice being used for communication, or can be audio and video with people able to see and speak to each other for a more immersive experience.
Virtual meetings have been proven to improve engagement, reduce stress, increase collaboration, and maximize productivity in the workplace.
Common uses of Virtual meetings
Virtual Meeting for Families
A Virtual meeting means speaking to groups of people online. A virtual meeting means a meeting of people not in the same room. This was used to great effect during the pandemic where families would gather around a laptop screen and complete their Christmas quiz or have a Sunday lunch. A Virtual meeting could be good for family gatherings, for anything from Christenings to Funerals.
Virtual Meetings for Business
The most common use by far is the business meeting. These can be anything from sales to customer support to team bonding and training. Businesses everywhere are using virtual meetings as an integral part of their daily operations.
Virtual Meetings for Legal Work
Pre-pandemic solicitors and attorneys needed to have face-to-face meetings with their clients to sign documents and complete their discussions. These have all moved online with e-signing of documents and with the support of a virtual meeting.
Virtual Meetings for Town Hall Discussions
Government offices like to have departmental meetings. These can also be open to the public to attend and air their views. These used to always be in the local town hall but in recent years these too have gone online and become virtual.
Virtual Meetings for school
School classes are online. During the last few years, teachers could set up a virtual classroom for teaching their classes and for students to take exams. Students can be monitored online by logging in and using their video cameras. Students can go to different classes simply by clicking on a different link, and all from the safety and security of their home.
Virtual Meetings for TV Shows
Americas Got Talent was one of the first TV shows to use Virtual meetings to listen to and vote on the contestants so that people still had an audience to perform to. They offered limited spaces to audience members and offered them the chance to watch, listen to and vote on the performances of the contestants. Since AGT trialed this process, other TV Shows have followed their lead and now people can perform online through virtual meetings and can be watched online.
Virtual Meetings for social events
Social events like parties, birthdays, club meetings, and quiz nights have gone virtual. Many wine clubs or whiskey groups offer their members the opportunity to receive bottles in the post and sit online in a virtual meeting to discuss the tastes and the pairings that work well with that bottle.
Different kinds of Virtual Meetings
The simple telephone call has gone through much evolution in recent years but is still the main way people speak to each other over long distances. If a virtual meeting means people talking to each other that are not in the same room, then the conference call is the pioneering technology for this. We have all been in meeting rooms with a triangular speaker in the middle and with multiple people on the same call. This has been adapted so that people can now dial into a conferencing service and listen in as many people talk to each other from different rooms and different locations, sometimes around the world, all dialing into the same number.
Using Video conferencing for virtual meetings, people can pick up on social cues, like body language, and facial features. People can be more certain that the other person understands and is engaged in the process. This brings people together and makes the experience so much more personal. The use of video means that people can feel part of the team, even though they are working from home, or distant from their colleagues.
Web conferencing is different from a webinar in the simple way of engagement. A Webinar is usually one-way communication like a seminar in college or university. Through web conferencing, people can share screens and engage in the experience. People can interact with websites, and documents and share notes collaboratively working on projects to share ideas and discuss the processes.
Shouting over long distances!
This could be the first form of virtual meeting, along with sending smoke signals to far away villages, shouting, or using music to send messages over long distances, it still conforms to the meaning of virtual meetings. Virtual meetings mean people talking to each other from different places or different rooms, so although this might seem farfetched, it is still a means of a virtual meeting.
Phone Applications for Virtual Meetings
Several applications have become part of everyday operations for businesses around the world. These applications support communication between people in different rooms and places. Some of these applications support video chats and others are purely voice communication tools, but they are all supporting the meaning of the virtual meeting.
We have discussed Skype earlier, but this is an important application for virtual meetings, so it deserves a second mention here.
Zoom became popular during the pandemic with businesses using it daily for their virtual meetings. It has a 45-minute free meeting allocation, and for longer meetings, a subscription is required. People often ended meetings after 45 minutes and then created a new meeting to start again, this allowed for toilet breaks and the chance for attendees to get a glass of water.
Teams and Google Hangouts or Google Duo offer a similar service to zoom with more focus on the shared experience and sharing of screens, documents, and interaction.
ConXhub offers audio conferencing and virtual meetings of people over their mobile phones to conference with other people during the meeting and to bring people together through their mobile. Having crystal clear communication through the mobile phone means that anyone can have a virtual meeting, wherever their mobile phone gets a good signal.
Clubhouse quickly boomed as a group chat facility where people do not need a video connection and can easily talk to other people interested in similar things. People could choose a topic of conversation and like-minded people would join. Some to speak, some to listen in and not take part, but either option provides a great virtual meeting for people to discuss things that they are passionate about.
Benefits of Virtual Meetings
There are several benefits to using the virtual meeting productively and incorporating it into operations for the business, the following are some simple examples of how your business can benefit from virtual meetings.
- Employees with sick leave can work – whilst we do not encourage people to work whilst they are sick, sometimes it is helpful to the employer to have a quick meeting to conclude business or to get updates on issues that affect their work. People can get sick however, by using virtual meetings they can take less time off work and still be engaged with their teams. When people are busy, they get better quicker, so it is a health benefit to be able to work through virtual meetings when under the weather.
- Work from home parents – instead of taking a day off work, parents can look after their children at home and still log into virtual meetings to earn money and support their family. Putting something good on TV and logging in to a virtual meeting for a few minutes a day keeps the kids entertained as well as keeps the parents engaged and busy with their work. Everyone wins.
- Work from home during the pandemic – when there are several people off sick, the last thing that an employer wants to do is to lose staff or break regulations around safety precautions. During the pandemic, people were not allowed to sit face-to-face, especially if they had been in contact or were in near proximity to people who are sick. If there is a chance of spreading sickness, it is best avoided, so the virtual meeting supported more people to work from home. This is also relevant to snow days, flooding, and days when people simply do not want to leave the house.
- Minimize travel – commuters spend an average of 2 hours a day commuting from home to work. These 2 hours can be better spent with the family, completing chores, or just getting some much-needed rest. Commuting costs money too, so having a good virtual meeting service helps employees to save money, spend more time with their family, and to help the environment by not polluting it with petrol and emissions.
- Technology becomes familiar and ingrained into work culture – we are living in a technology-driven society. It is a part of everyday life and sometimes we do not try new technology unless it is necessary, or we are supported by training and advice. Encouraging people to adapt to technology makes them more comfortable with it and more comfortable with modern technology in general.
- Connection and inclusion for staff – staff feel included if they can work with their colleagues on projects or in their teams. Teamwork helps businesses grow so the better the team works together the better the business performs. Through virtual meetings, staff feel connected and included which leads to a feeling of respect and happiness from the team members.
- Product and project collaboration – Virtual meetings mean having better collaboration on projects. The screen sharing and screen control options available mean that participants can discuss and collaborate in detail, virtually. Being able to properly explain your product is of vital importance in sales, virtual meetings help salespeople explain and discuss their products to potential clients and customers.
- Access more people and more customers – some customers cannot go outside, cannot get to the store, or cannot do face-to-face meetings for a variety of reasons. Virtual meetings allow your product and your business to contact and talk to more customers. Those who cannot do face-to-face meetings, for any reason, from being sick, to simply not having the time or the transport available, can easily access virtual meetings.
- Flexibility – offering virtual meetings to customers means that your business is offering more flexibility and support for your customers. Being able to adapt to the current state of your business and the social rules impacting your business means that you are more flexible than your competitors and you can meet the ever-changing demands of modern times.
- Stability and continuity and resilience – There are some businesses that cannot adapt, and there are some sectors that are fully reliant on walk-in customers and face-to-face meetings. These businesses struggle during times when a virtual meeting would help. Being able to offer virtual meetings means that your business revenue can remain stable during difficult times, it means that your business will continue and shows resilience in the face of adversity. A Virtual meeting tool can support your business and keep it afloat.
Disadvantages of Virtual Meetings
Whenever there are advantages to something, there are always disadvantages too. There are obvious drawbacks to reliance upon one single means of communication, but do the advantages outweigh the disadvantages listed below?
- Getting set up – making sure that you have the correct virtual meeting software can be a challenge. If you get set up with the wrong one, you are tied into a contract for a long time which can negatively affect your bottom line. Making sure that all staff has a camera, a microphone, and the ability to use the software is essential too.
- Connection issues – for Virtual Meetings to work, all participants need to have good and consistent internet connections. It is possible that one or more of the participant’s internet connections will fail during the meeting, and the meeting will be delayed due to a slow, or broken internet connection.
- Staying engaged – if the meeting turns into more of a lecture than a participating meeting and a collaborative discussion, then people can quickly lose interest and stop being engaged in the process. Making sure that everyone speaks, and everyone is engaged is of vital importance to ensuring that the virtual meeting is successful.
- Local distractions – Virtual meetings often happen at home, and at home, there are children, pets, and other distractions that can make the meeting less effective. Removing distractions is hard, especially for work-from-home parents and during times when there are things going on at home, but if people on the Virtual Meeting are distracted, they are not going to benefit from the meeting.
Preparing for a Virtual Meeting
Preparation for a virtual meeting should be similar to preparing for any meeting. We obviously do not need cakes, coffee and pens set out on the desks, but we need to prepare for it otherwise it will not go well. Here are some simple tips to use to prepare for your next meeting:
- Choosing the right tools – When we have meetings around a table, everyone should have a notepad and pen. When we have a virtual meeting, everyone needs a phone, computer, something to take notes on, and to make sure that they have uninterrupted access to the meeting. Is the tool that you are using up to the task and provides you with everything you need? People should have access to all the links and all the material necessary to enjoy and participate in the meeting.
- How many people are attending? It is important to know the number of people expected, even for virtual meetings. The more people attending, the longer the meeting will take. It is good to give everyone a specified amount of time to discuss their concerns, and therefore knowing how many people will take part helps to understand the expected length of time for questions and additional comments.
- Agenda – all meetings should have an agenda and structure, without that, meetings can go on too long, or go off course and become a free for all conversation or debate. An agenda should be shared before the meeting, and if your virtual meeting tool allows, should be always on the screen, so people can see where the meeting is up to and what is coming next.
- Scheduling – who is talking when, about what, and to whom? Again, good structure helps everyone have a positive experience of the meeting and to enjoy it. Making sure that the time of the meeting is at a convenient time for everyone involved means that people working from home can schedule the school run, can ensure that the dog is walked, and can help to minimize distractions.
- Check in with everyone and make it comfortable – everyone should have their 5 minutes on a call to say hello, check-in, and say how they are doing and what they want to discuss in the meeting. Sharing time makes a meeting collaboration and helps to keep everyone engaged in the process.
- Give each person time and attention – if it looks like, or sounds like, someone is not paying attention, or is distant, bring them into the conversation by asking them a question, or for their opinion. Making sure that everyone is engaged and involved is important so that people do not feel they have wasted their time by attending and are collaborative in the outcome.
- LISTEN – in all meetings, virtual or face-to-face, paying attention and listening are important. It shows engagement and respect for the meeting, the business, and the people holding and organizing the meeting. Listening to every point and everyone in the meeting is a very positive sign that others will take as respect and enthusiasm.
Features of Virtual meetings
We have touched on some of these already, so we will not go into too much detail again, however, it is important to recognize the different features of virtual meetings so you can choose software and a solution that meets the features that you require for your business:
- Screen sharing – a very common and necessary feature so that everyone can sign from the same screen and know exactly what people are talking about.
- Screen control – if your virtual meeting is about a product, website design, or technical support, having the ability to control someone else’s screen or use a pointer on someone else’s screen means that you have control of the meeting and can be precise in your comments and feedback.
- Demonstrations and sales pitches – during sales pitches, showing how the product works, and its features of it improves the virtual meeting. If it is a workflow, an application form, or a process, being able to demonstrate that process helps keep everyone on the same page.
- Calendar integration – it is a very useful tool to be able to integrate a business calendar with the virtual meeting, so when it is time to log in, all attendees get reminded of their need to join in.
- Multi-display screen viewing windows – it is great to see everyone in attendance and see loads of faces on screen. It is like being back in the office and showing great teamwork when more screens are shown. Multiple screens also allow for different elements of the meeting to work together. We might need a script, a code, a picture, and a demonstration to all be a part of the process. Jumping between screens can be confusing but having 3 or 4 screens visible during the meeting shows the smooth and fluid flow of work.
- File Sharing and collaborative viewing and editing – many virtual meetings need excel sheets, documents, PDF versions of marketing material and reports to be discussed. Statistics, graphs, and charts are common discussion points. Being able to discuss and even edit documents during meetings is great collaborative work and produces a product from the meeting. Finishing the meeting with something completed makes the meeting feel like a success.
- Chat tools – during a lot of Virtual Meetings, someone can lose their internet, or if there are many people in attendance some people will have to manage a distraction. Having a built-in chat tool, so everyone can see the chat can be very useful to communicate with people who are not on video, or audio. A chat tool is also a great way to keep the agenda moving along and keep everyone informed of where the meeting is up to regarding the agenda.
Tips for Running good virtual meetings
Now that we know what a Virtual meeting means, and we know what a virtual meeting is to you and your business, let’s review some useful tips on how to make your next virtual meeting the best one that people have attended recently. Virtual meetings are easy to set up, and can often be boring, or there can be too many in a day, so managing a good one will be appreciated by all in attendance.
- Cross time zone scheduling tools – if you are an international company, or use freelance workers from overseas, or your boss is on holiday and needs to attend, it is best to have a tool that shows you times and even weather in different places
- Encourage participation – the more the merrier right? Get everyone involved to have a good meeting.
- Collaboration tools – as discussed above, it is best to have the right tools to make your meeting a success.
- Mirror in-person meetings, especially for newbies – as close to in-person meetings are best. Offering a round table discussion and allowing everyone to get involved through ice breakers and conversations means that people are more engaged and happier in the meeting.
- Plan participation and schedule each person’s time to talk – going alphabetically for example through the group gives everyone the chance to talk and share their views
- Set objectives or an agenda – having purpose and goals helps the meeting to feel like a productive use of time.
- Manners matter – polite, professional, video to see, be attentive, mute microphone, don’t check phone, have a dedicated space, thank people for attending and value their input.
- Stay engaged, don’t wander off or look out the window, simply do not be rude
- Be concise with the time. 45 minutes for Zoom, and stay on point
- Give tasks to people equally – like in face-to-face meetings, giving tasks to people equally displays respect for those in attendance
- Allow for dogs and kids – people at home might have distractions. It is not bad if a child wanders in to view, it can be an embarrassment for the parents, so please just be kind and considerate.
- Wrap-up and summaries – closing the meeting by thanking people, setting tasks, and arranging the next meeting will help people to feel valued and appreciated during the process, and can help people remember what happened and what to do next.
- Send email of minutes and allow for edits – some people will have heard things differently, so good, clear communication, written up in a concise format after the meeting helps everyone to remain focused and to remember your meeting. Be the one that they remember, so they are happy to attend next time!
Where can you have your next Virtual Meeting?
Are you going to have your next meeting online, on audio, or video or are you going to have small groups in different rooms on a conference call style meeting? Planning your next meeting can be fun and engaging. Push yourself with your meeting planning and make sure that you use the tools at your disposal to the best of your ability.
Your next meeting could be discussing the benefits of ConXhub and how getting a new phone solution can benefit your business. For additional tools and information, stay with us for further updates and support. We are keen to improve your business communication with you.