by Julia Weeks, Program Associate
Remote meetings require the help of a slew of supporting players, technologically speaking. To make remote meetings productive for your office, you need to have the right tools available.
Though there are many levels of technology and preparedness you can have for remote meetings, I have found that the three most foundational aspects are (1) screen sharing, (2) cloud-based document sharing, and (3) a high-quality phone/video connection.
Here are some tips and tricks to navigating remote meeting technology.
Screen sharing is the easiest way to ensure that everyone on the call is looking at the same document. Though you should always share materials with your guests before the call, having an option for screen sharing will limit any time lost due to tracking down the correct document, graph, or page where you would like to direct everyone’s attention.
We recommend, and most often use, GoToMeeting for remote meetings. With this application, your meetings can be shared with your clients via a link in an email that pulls up a new tab in their brower, with no desktop applications or usernames required.
GoToMeeting allows you to do any combination of the following: share your screen, video chat, voice chat, and instant message. (WebEx, a service that many of our clients use, has similar functionality, but I’m a diehard GoToMeeting gal).
But, beware. As with all technology, there is a learning curve. Be prepared to spend a few minutes at the beginning of your call walking your client through the steps of connecting their phone to the call in number, turning on their microphone, etc. Luckily, GoToMeeting has developed step-by-step guides for both meeting attendees and organizers. If all else fails, the application has a chat function where you can instant message your client to pass over any helpful links and guidance.
The principal downside to GoToMeeting and WebEx is that they are paid services. Though your clients can join your meetings without membership, hosts must pay a membership fee. That said, GoToMeeting has a lot of extra features that increase your value, such as the ability to host webinars, record meetings (with instant access to meeting transcripts), mobile access to all remote meeting functionality, and an in-meeting drawing function for charting and note-taking.
If you are looking for a free, no-membership-required service, Google Hangouts is your best bet. This feature has similar video, phone, and screen-sharing abilities as GoToMeeting and is easily accessible as long as you have a Google account. We often use this service for impromptu internal meetings when one of our team members is out of office.
That said, similar to GoToMeeting, I have run into technical difficulties when trying to meet remotely with clients who do not have Google’s email service. There can be issues with limited access, and it’s a waste of time to solve them at the start of a meeting. We often wind up having to switch to a phone call
Remote document sharing is the crux of GreenerU’s remote facilitation projects. Having a space to collectively create, share, and store documents reduces the headache of having to track down individual documents shared via email.
Cloud-based document sharing also allows for all group writing and editing tasks to be more efficient than any other meeting setting. Whether during a meeting or not, the ability to edit from multiple computers at the exact same time limits time spent group wordsmithing and the frustration of editing a document for hours—only to realize you were in the wrong version the entire time.
The business software reviewer FinancesOnline issued their Top Ten Best File Sharing Services, which lists a number of types of file-sharing applications. Scan this list and you’ll see two main limiting factors: cost and the ability to create and edit online.
The two largest cloud-based document-sharing applications that allow for both sharing and online document editing are Google Drive and Microsoft’s SharePoint. Both of these applications allow the user to create, share, and edit documents, presentations, spreadsheets, and more with multiple users.
The other main document-sharing services are simply that—document sharing. A document must be made and uploaded to the cloud via their service to be shared with clients. Editing requires downloading then re-uploading to the application, which defeats a large part of the purpose of cloud-based document sharing.
For GreenerU, Google Drive works best for document creation and sharing on our internal and external projects. The one hitch is that for external document sharing, Google currently requires that those documents live in the “My Drive” section. The semantics can feel a little confusing.
As I mentioned before, there will be a bit of learning curve for clients who do not already use Google Drive at their home institution. One key difference with Google Drive is in the “track changes” feature—called the “Suggesting” mode—which can get pretty messy with edits that users have to clean up by accepting changes when trying to read down a new version. That said, the “Editing” mode, with auto-saves every couple of seconds, track layers of changes over time, which enable you to see a full version history if you click on “All changes saved in Drive.”
First and foremost, I strongly recommend using a landline for teleconferencing—for obvious reasons.
Secondly, when applicable, I suggest using the videoconferencing function of your chosen conference call service (e.g., Skype, Google Hangouts, GoToMeeting) when possible. There is a higher level of accountability and personal connection experienced when you can see the facial expressions of your clients and they can see yours. At GreenerU, we find video calls to be especially helpful with clients we don’t often (or ever) see in person to ensure that we’re still simpatico.
Finally, by all means necessary, find a good internet connection! Videoconferencing especially can eat up a lot of bandwidth, and a slow connection can result in screens freezing on hilariously unfortunate facial expressions. While that’s entertaining, it’s also distracting. If there is an option to hardwire your connection to avoid the glitches of wi-fi, do it.
Again, remote meetings can put a dent in a school’s Scope 3 greenhouse gas emissions, and they can also save you time and money associated with traveling to in-person meetings. Though you’ll want to tailor your remote meeting toolkit to your specific wants and needs, the above tools should be a strong foothold to propel yourself into holding more remote meetings.
Julia Weeks has been GreenerU’s program associate with the change management team since January 2017. She’s been on the other line in hosting remote meetings for the Ivy+ Sustainability Consortium, Concord Academy, and AASHE. She is always happy to take your call.