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Better Meetings, Virtually

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Pandemic Benefits, Part 1.

Last March, I, like many, had the weird experience of having everyone I work with shrink to a tiny head in a Brady-Bunch-like stack of moving pictures on my computer. It was discombobulating, especially in a work place (a university) where formal and informal meetings were multitudinous.

Brady Bunch - each head in a 9 square grid.
Meeting not exactly as pictured.

At the same time, my job as a communicator was put on hard pause, as the situation was identified as an emergency and communications were centralized to a small team.

At first the number of meetings dropped precipitously, as we each seemed to spend two solid weeks in shock, staring bereft at our new workspaces — dining rooms, bedrooms, closets, basements — trying to remember what we were supposed to be doing. Everyone’s children and dogs were delirious. Cats were unimpressed. Productivity was a thing to be wrung out of one’s day, like the last dampness from a towel.

Then suddenly, meetings surged. We all plunged into online communications head first, learning how to chat, message, use Teams, Zoom, Facetime. It was a mad hash of experimentation. A colleague asked me to outline the preferred uses for different tools, which in retrospect was likely an attempt to give me a purpose, as I remained at loose ends without the day-to-day imperative of communicating.

It was ridiculous, of course, for me, outside of both the academic structure of the school and the IT department, to be trying to create any kind of guide. One of the asks was, what should professors be using to teach? A number of professors wanted to use Zoom. Some wanted to just use Youtube (to the best of my knowledge, and disappointingly, no one suggested Tiktok). The IT department supported Microsoft Teams. The academic solution hosted by the university was Brightspace. A guide to ‘best practice’ was heated, political, something to focus on, but ultimately–mission impossible.

Flash forward to today. Most working people in Nova Scotia, across Canada, around the world, are now much more familiar with the options to communicate online than they ever expected to be. It has touched professions that never expected to be making Jetsons-style video calls in their lifetime… restaurant workers, retailers, social workers, government front line workers.

Jetsons video call - George on the screen, Jane sitting on a white chair talking to him.
My husband, booking a haircut.

Benefits of Video Meetings Beyond the Obvious Stretchy Pants

While we all still eagerly await the time we can get back to “normal” (whatever that is), it is undeniable that there are actually some advantages to this weird wired world of connection. Here are my top four:

  1. We can all access lectures, seminars and events anywhere in the world, for one. We always could… but how many were offered? And where could you find them? Now with everything reoriented to a technology platform, events have mushroomed, and it is easy to find something of interest, often offered for free.
  2. Weather has *ceased to be a factor in planning events. In Nova Scotia, this is HUGE. (*mostly–we are still at risk of power loss!)
  3. Geographic inclusion is so much easier! With our work stretching across Atlantic Canada, determining the fairness and equity of who travels to meetings, and where those meetings are held, requires conscious effort. It is important that, for instance, our Digby and Cape Breton initiative colleagues not be expected to travel to Halifax for every meeting. Remember in the ‘before times’, when we had live meetings with a few participants dialed in remotely? The technology hiccups, the awkward pauses to ensure people weren’t talking over each other, the stilted way we had to interact? It still happens a bit, but our social norms and comfort with online meetings has reduced that enormously.
  4. Online tools have matured to a point where people can use them creatively to deepen connections and enhance meetings.

So now, working with Inspiring Communities, I’m ready to share a Better Zoom / Video Meeting Practices Guide! I don’t believe in Best Practices, because often what is ‘best’ is context-dependent. But in the last year, as we all learned together, some learnings have emerged that might be useful to tuck into your toolkit, especially you community builders and changemakers.

These aren’t things I’ve invented. They are things that I and my colleagues have noted at different events we have attended. I consider this a living document, a community wiki. So if you have a suggestion you don’t see here, please share in the comments, or send a message to cboyce@inspiringcommunities.ca.


Feature photo by Matilda Wormwood from Pexels

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