15 tips for more efficient web conferences

Ensuring the success of flexible collaboration in the home office.

Modern collaboration tools are great for making work routines easier to manage. They provide employees with the flexibility to work from home - and to complete their work tasks more quickly. But there is a lot more to it than simply installing Microsoft Teams. Here are some tips on how employees can work efficiently in their home office, particularly when it comes to video conferencing.

Regardless of the situation - agile work environments or emergency situations: There are many reasons for introducing modern collaboration tools such as Microsoft Teams. Not least because they increase work efficiency by up to 50 percent, as confirmed by the German Social Collaboration Study 2019. Here are some simple tips for successfully organizing flexible collaboration in the home office:

1. Find the right work rhythms

Anyone having to work from home for extended periods of time should determine the right working hours for themselves and their colleagues. If they change often, for example due to child care needs or doctor's visits, team colleagues and managers should be informed of the new availability times as soon as possible. In addition, it is also recommended that the attendance status in Microsoft Teams is updated accordingly.

2. Inform others of interim statuses

While updates regarding interim statutes or developments are made in person when people work in an office, that changes when colleagues work in home offices. Therefore, they should regularly inform their team colleagues and managers about interim statutes or current tasks and workloads using Microsoft Teams. This facilitates long-term collaboration across several teams. In addition, teams should hold regular on-line meetings to maintain personal and informal contacts.

3. Please do not disturb!

People working from home can hang a “Please do not disturb!” sign on the door when they are about to start important tasks or participate in a video conference in their home office. This way, family members know that they should stay outside.

Also, on-line conferences do not come with a catering option. Therefore, all participants must ensure BEFORE the meeting that they have sufficient drinks and (if required) snacks at the table. Unnecessary getting up during a conference is disruptive, even during on-line conferences.

4. Ensure sufficient network bandwidth

While the network connection in the office is not a problem, it should be checked in the home office ahead of time. Most employees have access to adequate bandwidth at home, but there cannot be any significant disruptions between the Internet connection and the device, e.g. walls or long distances to the wireless router. While sitting in on a video conference, users should not be streaming Netflix movies or downloading games on the play station.

5. Try out functions ahead of time

If you wish to share contents from your Notebook with others, you should test screen-sharing ahead of time. In the midst of a hectic conference, it might become impossible to locate even the simplest functions for releasing files. Therefore, moderators should familiarize themselves with the chat functions or how to add new participants on the spot ahead of time. In addition, important documents such as agendas, presentations or graphs can be uploaded in Microsoft Teams beforehand to save time and bandwidth.

6. Test the technology in a timely manner

No later than five minutes before the start of the video conference, you should verify that the Internet connection, software, headset and web cam are functional. Try not to use the built-in microphone in the laptop, because it is often of an inferior quality. Alternatives include dial-in by telephone or smart phone, which can be set to speaker if required.

7. Turn on video

Where possible, web conferences should be started with the video turned on. This is important particularly at the beginning, in order to gauge the mood of the others or - in the case of partners you do not know - to get to know each other and gain a first impression. If technical difficulties arise during the course of the meeting, the video can be turned off again following a prior announcement.

8. Pay attention to appearance

But it makes a bad impression if the participants taking part in a video conference are unkempt or in their pajamas. In most cases, it is sufficient to maintain the same dress code as in the office. Only in the case of important customer or sales meetings may it make sense to wear a suitable outfit. If you do not want to disclose your current location to other meeting participants, you can turn on “Background blurring” in Microsoft Teams using the “Blur my background” option.

9. Equal opportunity for all

A moderator should be designated for conferences involving more than five participants. The moderator briefly introduces the participants at the beginning, or asks them to introduce themselves. Afterwards, he or she makes sure that everyone is given enough time to speak. To this end, the moderator can either address participants directly and ask specific questions, or encourage them to participate by chat.

Where some people are sitting in a meeting room and others are connected on-line, it is the remote participants who are often at a disadvantage. Because delays in transmission usually lead to delayed reactions, which are not relayed back in time. Therefore, it is important that “novice” remote participants are actively included in the communication process. Alternatively, every single person can dial into Microsoft Teams separately on-line, to ensure that everyone is treated the same.

10. Use digital white board and combine off-line methods

Digital white boards or alternatively OneNote can be used for brainstorming conferences. In this way, topics can be written down and discussed later on, or they can be listed in the minutes. It is the equivalent of transferring the classic cards and flip charts / white boards into the digital world.

The advantages of both worlds can be combined in longer workshops or idea conferences. For example, the moderator can paste the topics that are collected on a moderation board using cards and transmit them by web cam. To prioritize, the participants write (in the chat) who is assigning points for what. The moderator then adds the corresponding points to the relevant topic.

11. Plan and keep to breaks

Particularly longer conferences need regular breaks (off-line and on-line). In this case, the old rule applies: a minimum five-minute break after 90 minutes. Since in on-line conferences participants cannot be personally asked to return to the room, clear announcements are required, such as: “We will continue at 11:15 am.” In the meantime, participants should get up from their desks, move around and go outside if possible, so they can continue to work with a focused attitude later on.

12. Small talk yes, multitasking no

More and more, participants look at their smart phone or answer e-mails during a conference. This not only interrupts their own concentration but also that of the other participants. Therefore: Close Outlook, set your phone on silent and put it away, and set your activity status in Microsoft Teams to “Do not disturb”. Self-discipline is the first step to a successful meeting.

Whether off-line or on-line: Small talk facilitates communication and relaxes the participants. Therefore, moderators in particular should give people enough time for small talk at the beginning, end and before/after the break periods of a meeting. Having said that, this aspect should not take up too much time compared to the total duration of the meeting.

13. Use chats

The possibilities offered by chats are often underestimated. They can be used to share links, ask general or personal questions and to provide information about changes to processes or about interesting and relevant situations. In Windows 10, every participant can take screen shots using Shift+Windows+S and add them to the chat using the Clipboard.

14. Record results in real time

While in off-line meetings someone is quietly writing down what is being said, this can be done visible to all in the case of on-line meetings. Results are recorded live and shared via screen-sharing. In that way, participants can read what was discussed and decided at any time. In addition, this log also documents who must complete which tasks by what date.

15. Record meetings

Particularly important meetings that involve a lot of information should always be recorded. In that way, they are always available to those employees who were not able to participate. Those forced to cancel a meeting can remind the moderator to make a recording or ask him or her to forward the relevant link afterwards. Recorded meetings are automatically transcribed and therefore can also be used for searches.

Take time off

It is very important that those working in home offices for extended periods also look after their health. In these settings, employees often have a tendency to work too long for uninterrupted periods. After all, the home office is not like the regular office with lunch trips, small talk at the coffee machine, or the drive home. Therefore, employees working from home should also make sure they plan enough time for breaks, meals, refreshments or short walks. And at the end of the day, they not only have to log out of Microsoft Team but they must also “log off” mentally.