Videoconferencing has become the norm in how many of us communicate and do business every day. Understanding the technology we use is crucial to keeping things polished and consistent. Many of us have been thrust into using video conferencing platforms to conduct business, and we are having to learn about things on the fly. Our communication can change and adapt for the better as we become proficient with new tools and technologies. It is important to take time and learn how these tools can help us now, and in the future as we move through this public health crisis.
There are several things to consider when choosing the right video conferencing platform for your organization to use. Can we afford a paid service, or do we have to look at free options? What kinds of rules, etiquette, and expectations do we need to establish when conducting virtual meetings? Do we need an official ‘virtual meeting’ policy document? We hope to give you great jumping off points to each of these questions below, with some additional resources for you to check out and consider.
If your organization uses Google Services, Google Meet can be a great free option. Creating a virtual meeting is now baked into services like Gmail and Google Calendar, so set up is a snap. Have peers and co-workers join your meeting by simply sending them your meeting code. Google Meet is set up as a web app, so there is no software to download. It is mobile friendly and has screen sharing features and other Google Services integration.
While some of us have used Skype to keep in touch with friends and family, it can be used at an organizational level. Skype supports group video calling for up to 50 people, and it can be used in a browser, although they do have an app for download. Other features include screen sharing, video features like blurred backgrounds, and the option to record chats.
Also a very well known name, Zoom Meetings has a feature rich free-tier option with some important caveats. Features include file sharing and screen sharing, chat functionality, and the service provides HD video and audio. The free-tier option allows for unlimited one-on-one video calls and group calls of up to 100 people for up to 40 minutes. So if you don’t think video chats will go over that time limit, Zoom Meetings is a great option.
GoToMeeting is a mobile friendly and feature rich platform at an affordable price. For just $12/month annually, you can set up their services for 150 employees. Other features include audio calling, screen sharing, easy set up for one-on-one meetings, and integration into other services like Outlook. The service also provides a dedicated call-in number in case video isn’t an option. This is SKC’s preferred video conferencing software.
This service supports full integration into Office 365, with features like video recording, background blur, live captions, file sharing, and chat functionality. Administrators can even organize webinars with up to 10,000 participants. They offer a $5 user/month plan that allows video conferencing for up to 250 users.
Packed with features, ClickMeeting is a robust video conferencing platform. If you are looking to host webinars, take real time polls, or host live Q & A sessions, this platform has the tools you need. Users have the option to record their sessions and send automated follow ups to your audience. Pricing starts at $25/month billed annually for 25 attendees.
While we already mentioned Zoom Meetings as a free video conferencing option, we felt that is was important to mention in this section as well. With prices starting at $14.99/month you gain unlimited meeting times in addition to other features surrounding user management and call recording and storage options.
Where is that background noise coming from? Is Jan muted, we can’t hear her! How do I join the call? These are just a few situations that you and your organization may have encountered when hosting virtual meetings over the last couple of months. Here are some great tips addressing good video conferencing etiquette.
Limit background noise by using a quiet space.
Consider using a headset or headphones and microphone to keep your hands free and block sounds. Organizations may want to provide these for staff.
Pause occasionally while speaking to give others the opportunity to comment without talking over each other.
Mute your microphone when appropriate.
Sit at eye level to your webcam lens. Your head and shoulders should ideally take up most of the screen to keep the focus on you rather than on a distracting background.
Reduce the temptation to multitask. Close your email and turn off notifications on your cell phone.
If it is a teleconference with no video, say your name before speaking because voices aren’t always easily recognizable.
Allow for a break. Just like in an in-person meeting, people need breaks in virtual meetings. Meetings longer than an hour or so should incorporate a small break in the agenda where people can leave their chairs and be away for a few minutes without logging out.
Look at the camera (instead of the video feed) regularly to “make eye contact”.
Invite any members new to the technology to attend the meeting 5-10 minutes before its scheduled start time in order to make sure they understand how everything works. Enlist a staff member skilled in the technology to arrive early and assist as needed.
If the majority of your attendees are new to the technology, schedule the first portion of your agenda, or even a separate “practice meeting” to get everyone up to speed.
Invite feedback after the meeting. Ask “How is the technology working for you?” and “What could we do differently?”
COVID-19 has determined that virtual meetings are now not just an option, but the reality for most non-essential businesses. In order for your organization to shift to this new reality, you may need to: clarify and share expectations, alter habits, and modify processes. Your organization may also need a change to its bylaws in order to allow for certain meetings, such as board meetings, to be held virtually.
Virtual meetings cannot solve systemic problems that were present with an organization’s in-person meetings such as attendance or participation. However, when conducted correctly, virtual meetings can become an effective part of your nonprofit’s “new normal”. Keep in mind that not all telephone calls and communication by email or document sharing needs to change to a video meeting interface. If certain non-video strategies were working fine before COVID-19, this does not mean you need to abandon them. We are going to cover some tips surrounding rules and expectations for your organization to consider implementing when hosting virtual meetings.
Require a minimum level of training for your staff – for example, completing the online tutorial series or webinars offered by the provider. Organizational leadership should verse themselves in the platform of their choosing, and be expected to understand how it works.
Arrive on time. Have the access information available and your computer or mobile device turned on and ready. Late arrivals interrupt a virtual meeting just as much as a live one. It is nice if the meeting leader can greet attendees as they arrive.
Ask staff to commit to being fully present at the meeting and refrain from multitasking.
Decide what requirements are important for your organization and make those known to staff. Are attendees required to show their video camera or can they attend via audio only? Does your office dress code apply to virtual meetings?
If an official organizational document is created to address rules and policies surrounding virtual meetings and video conferencing, be sure to go over it with your staff and listen to their feedback.
Check out some of the great resources for video conferencing that we found helpful in creating this email.