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Avoiding virtual insanity: Make online meetings a highlight of a home working day

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Avoiding virtual insanity: Make online meetings a highlight of a home working day

Meetings – in any context or setting – can be about as welcome as discovering the last Celebration in the box is a Bounty.

Mugs with messages like ‘I Survived Another Meeting that Should Have Been An Email’ and ‘Another Pointless Meeting’ exist for a reason.

When it comes to home or remote working, meetings can take on an even more soul-sapping experience.

Crackly connections, people who love to talk embracing their opportunity, actually having to get out of your pyjamas…

It does not have to be this way. Online meetings should be a welcome release for remote teams or home workers.

So let’s celebrate the format – here’s some inspiring ideas to make your online meetings a highlight of a home working day.

  1. “What’s your latest Netflix fave?”

A bit of chit-chat is always shared as you shuffle into a meeting room with other people at work, so why make it different for an online get-together?

Allow people to share a joke or bit of goss when they first join the call – it helps them feel connected and should also usher in a relaxed atmosphere for the rest of the meeting.

  1. A window into their world

If participants are at home, video calls can offer an insight into their world away from work.

Explore this with people and use it as an opportunity to get to know them a bit better as a person. It might be a picture of a child or pet on the wall, a certificate or award on the mantelpiece, or a homemade model of Windsor Castle fashioned solely from empty Pringles tubes. Whatever it is, use it to break down boundaries or awkwardness.

  1. Break the ice

If you are aiming for something specific from your meeting (and frankly, should it be a meeting if you’re not?) an icebreaker can help to focus the attention.

For example, if your main task is to stimulate creative thinking, your icebreaker should inspire that thinking. Interactive meeting tools like Mentimeter are great for short quizzes or discussion points.

One study found that workers who shared a funny or embarrassing story about themselves produced 26% more ideas in brainstorming sessions than workers who didn’t.

  1. Rules is rules

The best type of fun is organised fun, right?

While you want to keep your meeting relaxed, you also want it to remain focused and productive, so setting the rules at the start, or even before, is as important as it would be in person.

Set an agenda and share in advance if possible and agree the etiquette up front – muting your phone/line if you’re not speaking and so on.

  1. Shut down the distractions…

One of the mega-probs with being on your laptop for a meeting is the myriad of other distractions it can throw at you – emails, notifications, tweets, news alerts.

Be strict with yourself and fair to the other people in the meeting in trying not to become distracted by these. If possible, shut down these windows while the meeting is going on to save yourself being drawn into them.

  1. …but go with the flow

While online distractions may be avoidable, for people at home, other types of interruption may be unforeseen or unavoidable. Just ask the BBC’s expert on Korean diplomacy.

As with the pet pictures and models of Windsor Castle, accept and embrace crying babies or barking dogs as part of people’s lives and personas. Let them deal with anything that needs urgent attention off-camera, otherwise you’ll simply lose their attention anyway.

  1. Comfort breaks are still needed for, err, comfort

Just because you’re online, it doesn’t mean people won’t get thirsty or need toilet breaks, especially if the meeting is anything longer than an hour.

Build in 5-10 minute breaks for longer meetings to allow people to rustle up a coffee or nip to the loo. Again, it’s likely to mean you keep people’s attention and focus for longer – and screen breaks are good for the eyes too.

  1. It’s always the quiet ones

While an online environment providing a perfect platform for those who have lots to say, it equally provides a place to shrink into for the more introverted.

Ensure everyone is given equal opportunity to air their opinions and thoughts. If there are people you become aware of who haven’t contributed or are struggling to get heard, ask them specifically for their thoughts on a point. A round-table approach can be a good way to bring it everyone, offering every participant the chance to chip in. Virtual environments can make it hard to generate rapport and trust, so you have to work to create it intentionally.

  1. Keep an eye on mental health

For those working remotely or at home regularly, isolation and mental health can become a problem. Online meetings offer an opportunity to observe how people are coping.

While asking people outright in the meeting would be totally inappropriate, take stock of people’s behaviours and how they present. Are they quiet and withdrawn? Are they unfocused or not seeming to care? Are they looking tired, stressed or like they aren’t looking after themselves? If you’re worried about them, follow up one-to-one after the meeting finishes to find out if they’re ok and offer any support that might be needed.

  1. That’s a wrap

Any other business – three words to strike fear into any meeting participant’s heart.

But for an online gathering, the parting shots take on greater significance – none of you may see or speak to each other for another week, so it’s important that ample opportunity is given for people to raise other issues or points they want to discuss or get answers to.

Equally, ensure actions or notes are circulated as soon after the meeting as possible so no-one is left hanging in uncertainty or indecision.

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Emily Stoten — Head of Marketing, Selecta

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Jo Hobbs — Communications Manager

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Sarah Crowdy — Campaign and Media Officer Communications, South East Water

“We went to ‘Alive’ for ideas on how to run a specific employee program in Europe. Alan and his team were brilliant in coming up with fresh, creative and practical approaches. The team took charge and executed brilliantly. We are pleased with the progress made so far and hope to have the same level of partnership and commitment going forward.”

Sobha Varghese — Tata Consultancy Services

“We had the privilege to work with the Alive team. It was our first time to be involved in creating an animation for our patients within paediatrics. The team were approachable, friendly, creative and very accommodating. Your vision for what you want to create, is at all times acknowledged, appreciated and accommodated by the team. They worked effectively and with great passion towards our project and worked not only alongside health professionals but also our patients who really enjoyed the experience of working with the Alive team. It has given our team the confidence and inspiration to do further projects in the future. We highly recommend Alive and their exceptional team.”

DR ELENI ATHANASAKOS, Lead Paediatric Clinical Scientist — NHS Barts Health

“‘The short animation developed in co-production with clinicians and young people is outstanding! Informative, developmentally appropriate, vitally fun and engaging. We are really grateful for the expertise of the Alive with Ideas team for their innovative approach in building children’s health literacy.'”

Kath Evans — Director of Children’s Nursing at Barts Health

“Our mission was to update our brand visuals to better reflect our innovative and forward-thinking organisation. After receiving numerous pitches from different branding agencies, Alive stood out with their clear passion and understanding of our identity and goals. We thoroughly enjoyed working with the Alive Team to create an engaging new brand that we are immensely proud of.”

Lianne Springer — Communications and Engagement Lead

“Alive wowed us during the pitch process and they didn’t stop wowing us throughout the whole project. Every person we worked with at Alive were so friendly, knowledgeable and clearly passionate about what they do. They have worked with us to really understand what we do and have created a new brand and website that really stands out from our competitors. Thank you!”

Louise Burnard, Head of Marketing and Communications UK — Be | Shaping the Future

“I think the team have done such a brilliant job, particularly with responding to our requests. It's one of the best mental health videos I've ever seen. Very proud to be associated with your exemplary work. Thank you so much.”

Dr Anna Batho — Clinical Psychologist – Critical Care, UCLH

“We have worked with Alan, Caroline and the wider Alive With Ideas team for many years. In that time, they have provided a dedicated service that is second to none. We appreciate their attention to detail and creative approach to bringing our brand, communications and stories to life. And would recommend them to anyone looking for creative communications support.”

Georgia Beech — Internal Communications Specialist, Ocado Group

“This is brilliant. I wanted to give my heartfelt thanks to all of the team who worked on this. You all understood exactly what we wanted to communicate and why, and then managed to do it in a way that was far better than anything I could have imagined. I’m a bit choked up to be honest!”

Sarah Wright, Head of Communications and Campaigns — NEA

“Each time I work with the team, I am always stunned at the effort and creativity that goes into each detail and am always eager for the end result. The team is extremely accommodating and always provide a fresh approach to our projects that elevates our communications materials!”

Alana Khaytin, Communications Specialist — Braskem America

“What I really appreciate about Alive is that they work with us as partners, and care as much about getting it right for our patients as we do.”

Sara Langston, Patient Engagement & Marketing Manager — italk

“Alive are unique in how much they deeply listen and invest in you and your ideas. I have not come across a company that listens as much as they do to ensure your needs are understood and met (actually - they always exceed my needs and expectations). Everyone I recommend Alive to has an equally brilliant experience. When you work with Alive, you are not only getting some genius creativity brought into your life, you are also hanging out with some of the best examples of human beings I’ve ever known.”

Steph Tranter, Hybrid Exec Coach & Psychologist —

“Alive helped us create a video of our response to the floods of winter 2019. Our Chief Officer received messages from all round the country praising us for it and was really pleased with both the video and the response to it.”

Alexander Mills, Communications Manager — South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue

“Alive were professional, friendly and great to work with. Most importantly they were creative, helping us to bring an extremely important safety campaign to life.”

Jack Grasby — South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue

“The (Alive) team were able to creatively pull together and document (in just over 2minutes) everything our service has achieved over the last few months, from thousands of prescriptions deliveries to hundreds of phone calls made to the vulnerable. The final product was so powerful and reflective of what our service has and continues to achieve. It couldn’t have been better received within the service – thanks Alive for once again helping us to communicate our vision!’”

Emma Wright — South Yorkshire & Rescue

“We worked with the team at Alive to create our staff recognition video.
At a time like this, its never been more important to share the amazing work that our staff have done and continue to do on a daily basis under very difficult circumstances. We wanted to shout about this and recognise that when the time came, South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue stepped up to the plate. We didn’t want an ordinary thank you post on social media or a basic email sent out internally, we wanted something special. Enter Alive. ”

Emma Wright — South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue

“This looks amazing - brought a smile to my face scrolling through it :-)”

Jack Ford, Head of Marketing — streamGO

“Our company is fun, we have great brands, but most importantly we’re all about our people – and I wanted an agency who would understand that and help us bring it to life through our website and other comms. Straight away I felt that Alive ‘got’ us and provided the creative inspiration exactly where we needed it, as well as the technical expertise to deliver a well-functioning website.”

Keren McCarron, Head of Corporate Affairs & Communications — KP Snacks

Thank you so much. Incredible work done at incredible speed by incredible people.
Outstanding work as ever and what a turnaround. As for the concepts – wow. These are that good it would be an insult to describe them as just good. It’s a joke, quite frankly. This is exactly the Alive effect I was after. Right now I feel like I am living in an Alive With Ideas wonderland. Thank you!”

Jack Grasby, Campaigns Manager — SYFR

“If you are looking to improve creativity and build teamwork, I highly recommend a session like this for your team. No matter where you are in your creativity journey, a workshop like this can give your team a boost of energy and ideas to invigorate their creative thinking.”

Amy Lilja, IC Manager — Hennepin Healthcare

“Alive were there to help when we were working every hour to respond to the coronavirus outbreak. They gave us the creativity, ideas and support we needed to deliver campaigns which empowered our residents in the most difficult time most of us have ever seen, personally and professionally. The team understood what we needed, worked closely with us and delivered fast without any compromise on quality. Working with Alive has been a joy in the darkest of times and I have no doubt will have helped to save lives. Thanks team x”

Julie Odams, Assistant Director of Communications & Customers — Derbyshire County Council

“We got 'Alive' involved to help us shift mindsets across our organisation and they delivered! Using simple, clear and creative ideas the team have delivered us a campaign which has seen a dramatic increase in idea sharing and development. They’ve also played a significant role in creating a culture of shared success. I wouldn’t hesitate to work with again, in fact, we already are!”

Gavin Buckle — B&Q
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