The meeting landscape changed dramatically as the COVID-19 pandemic forced many organizations to turn face-to-face meetings into virtual ones. Employees had to quickly adjust to using video conferencing in their daily workflows and learn new skills to support virtual collaboration.
Video will continue to play an important role in meetings and collaboration as organizations plan for the post-pandemic workplace. Organizations need to evaluate how video fits with new workflows and in the physical office space.
In the book Suddenly Virtual, authors Karin M. Reed and Joseph A. Allen examine the lessons learned from virtual meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic, the challenges of virtual meetings and best practices for effective remote meetings.
Here, Reed and Allen discuss why training will be vital to the success of virtual meetings and how organizations must navigate a video-first hybrid workplace.
Editor's note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Why is training needed for effective remote meetings? Who in an organization is responsible for providing training?
Karin Reed: We're all communicating through a little lens, and most of us are not doing it well. It's not something that's an innate skill. It requires a different skill set to communicate effectively through a camera than it does to communicate to an audience face to face.
It's imperative to teach people how to connect via video because that's how most of us are doing it these days -- and will continue to do it because the only way you're going to connect teams that are both colocated and remote is through a virtual meeting.
Joseph Allen: Who's responsible for ensuring employees get training? I think there's three different groups. One is the institute of higher education. We need to change our curriculum to include training on how to communicate effectively in a meeting environment.
Two, leaders of organizations should incorporate training around meetings to every manager, including midlevel and lower-level managers. Every manager's repertoire of required training should include it.
And the third group is the workers themselves. They should take ownership of their meeting behavior, whether that be leading or attending meetings. If you level up your skills to be more effective in meetings, you're going to rise in your organization, you're going to get promoted [and] you're going to get opportunities that others may not because they can count on you to communicate effectively in that environment.
Many organizations use multiple meeting apps for internal and external meetings. How do users navigate using multiple apps?
Allen: You've got Zoom, you've got Google Meet, you've got Microsoft Teams [and] you've got Skype for some people. They're all pretty similar, but they're all a little different. It's important for organizations, for their internal folks who only meet internally, if they can land on a specific software. Then, they can train people relative to that software.
The harder part is for those who are boundary spanners -- those who interact with people outside their organization because they're probably going to interface with more than one of these different systems. What that means for your external stakeholders is you're probably going to provide additional training materials where they can look at how to use different services more effectively.
Reed: But I feel that puts much of the onus on the individual. Organizations that set aside time for their employees to be trained demonstrate that they understand the importance of it. I think that makes a bigger impact on how effectively employees use these tools that they actually set aside time for training.
As we head into hybrid, there will be a performance drop. That's pretty dramatic if there is not an investment in helping people understand how to use the tools and helping leaders to be effective in facilitating these tricky meetings and letting attendees understand their role in making those virtual meetings a success.
Organizations are not only investing in virtual meeting services, but also reevaluating their investments in meeting rooms and video endpoints. How should they prioritize where to invest their video budgets?
Reed: You have to pay attention to all of them concurrently because you need to enable the folks who are working from home, you need to ensure your meeting spaces can create presence for all who are in the meeting, [and] you need to think about things in the meeting space, like lighting, which you didn't have to before. I think a lot of it is going to be worked out over time. I doubt anybody is going to immediately go into the hybrid model and feel like, 'Yeah, we've got this.'
Allen: Organizations need to do a needs assessment. Some organizations have workers who are tech-savvy and capable of managing different collaboration tools. So, that organization is going to need a different set of skills to be effective in the hybrid environment than an organization that had always been face to face. But, now, they're suddenly virtual and going hybrid, and they have to figure out how to address that skills gap.