Avoid meeting hiccups with a dress rehearsal

Avoid meeting hiccups with a dress rehearsal

Oct 26, 10 • In Practices

Coordinating a large remote meeting can seem like putting on a major stage production. Make sure your meetings go off without a hitch by practicing first.

Picture this: it’s time for the very first whole-company monthly meeting since adding remote team members to the team. The presentation slides are all ready, everyone is at their desk, the clock is ticking – and half the company can’t connect to the videoconferencing server. You start a frantic troubleshooting session. People are tapping their fingers. Your manager starts wondering if building a dispersed team was such a great idea.

This scenario is all too common in distributed teams. The fact is, remote workers are dependent on technology in order to make collaboration possible, and that technology doesn’t always perform as expected – often going down at the worst possible time.

Nor is it a coincidence that the problems seem to crop up at the most critical moments. Because often, the first time a remote collaboration tool’s limits are tested, in terms of how many users it can support at once, is when it is used for a major meeting. A software company that wouldn’t dream of releasing a new web site without thorough load-testing will depend on a third-party collaboration tool to scale well without any beforehand testing whatsoever.

Sometimes, tools may have hard limits on the number of concurrent users they support. Or, you may have a license that only permits up to N number of users at once before you have to upgrade to a higher level of service. Do you know offhand the maximum number of users your videoconferencing or shared whiteboard tool supports?

Thankfully, these last-minute suprises are easy to avoid with a little forethought. Got a big meeting coming up? Do a dress rehearsal. Schedule a time – maybe at the end of the work day, when everyone is wrapping up their work – to get the same number of users online that you expect to have during the planned meeting. Invite a few friends if you don’t have enough people on your team to match the expected turnout. Get a feel for the limitations of the tool – does it slow down when new users are added? Is there a lag you need to be aware of? Does the tool have trouble accessing the computer’s microphone on some operating systems? Make notes of the issues you find, and be ready to address them when it’s time for the real meeting.

Also, plan a little leeway into the meeting schedule. Allow 10 or fifteen minutes for everyone to get connected. There’s always someone who has connection issues, or has to reboot for some reason – allow for this in the schedule.

Remember, as remote workers we are dependent on our tools, and as such, it behooves us to be intimately familiar with both their capabilities and their limitations. Give yourself the time you need to iron out the inevitable wrinkles, and things will go a lot more smoothly when it’s showtime.

Title image by Nic McPhee

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