According to Global Workplace Analytics, 40 percent more companies offer remote work options today versus five years ago, with 3.75 million employees working from home 50 percent of the time. Most companies are finding the transition to be worthwhile because employees are more engaged. The rise in remote employees changes how many businesses conduct meetings daily making conference calls more popular than ever. But, conference calls can be difficult to manage without the right process and techniques.
Here are seven key steps for better conference calls.
Prepare in Advance
Participating in a conference call that has no clear direction is detrimental to morale. Employees want to feel as if you value their time and the best way to do that is through preparation. When you schedule a conference call, create an agenda with key points and the time needed to discuss.
Distribute the agenda to all participants with a list of items they need to bring to the call, so they are not caught off guard. Encourage them to ask questions before the meeting and are fully prepared the day of.
Test any Technology
Test any conference call or screen sharing services in advance. This way, you avoid technical issues that can delay the meeting or frustrate participants. If there are specific key combinations to mute and unmute, share these with participants in advance to limit distractions.
Set Expectations for Participation
Silence isn’t always negative, but if it lasts too long, it can impact the meeting results. Set expectations in advance for participation by assigning an agenda topic to each participant. If you find the conversation is lacking, ask questions to provoke thought and conversations and keep everybody engaged.
Use Participant Names
If the call includes multiple individuals, the conversation can get confusing if too many chime in at one time. Use names when you ask questions, so they know who you expect an answer from. When one individual is finished responding, directly acknowledge the next participant.
Meeting organizers should set the example for attendees. For example, turn off their email notifications, put an away message on instant messenger, and so forth. In addition, the organizer should kindly remind meeting participants about the ground rules at the outset, including the request for them to not multitask.
Make the Transition to Video
Dial-in calls are still the preferred conferencing tool as opposed to web or video conference calls. This can be because old habits die hard. But, video-conferencing technologies can increase effectiveness and engagement among participants because they can share notes or screens and use tools like transcription or recording. Plus, web or video conferencing can make the calls more secure, since organizers can see who is on the call, as opposed to conference calls, where people beep in and beep out anonymously.
Save Non-Agenda Items for the End
Even with an agenda, conference calls can get off topic because another key point is brought up, or an urgent matter has come to light after the agenda was created. Save non-agenda items for the end of the call during open discussion time. This gives everybody a chance to finalize thoughts, ask questions or present ideas about other items.
Use a Timer
If you are the meeting organizer, keeping the meeting to its scheduled time usually falls on your shoulders. Being aware of the time invested helps keep you on point. Set a timer on your desk or computer for half of the allotted time. When it goes off, make sure where you are in the meeting topics keeps you on track to finish on time.
Send a Meeting Recap
To avoid any oversights, send a follow-up email to all participants that outline the discussion, identifies any responsibilities assigned, a project timeline, and the date and time of any future meetings.
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