With the eruption of COVID-19 infections in the spring of 2020 and the subsequent work-at-home mandates, use of videoconferencing platforms such as Zoom, Webex, and Microsoft Teams shot through the roof.
Zoom surpassed 300 million daily participants as of the end of April, significantly greater than the 10 million participants indicated for December 2019 – despite widely reported privacy and security issues.1
Time will tell, but it seems some of our “temporary” ways of working remotely due to the pandemic may be here to stay. Without a doubt, there are advantages and disadvantages to working remotely.
The advantages include less wear and tear associated with commuting, as well as the associated time and cost savings of not going into the office. Additionally, there may be productivity boosts related to less time spent chatting about nonwork topics at the office. Some folks envisioned working remotely as a dream scenario, until they experienced it firsthand this past spring.
The disadvantages of remote work include less human interaction, potential technology issues, virtual meeting pitfalls (such as fewer nonverbal cues), a small amount of space on the screen to work and see others, less participant engagement (due to multitasking during meetings), and household interruptions.
The disadvantage of less human interaction is significant for several reasons. Face-to-face interactions with colleagues can be a large part of our support and social network. It can also be easier to work on projects and solve problems in person. Fewer impromptu networking opportunities could make it more difficult to achieve a promotion. It’s also harder to demonstrate leadership skills virtually.
As we move past the most restrictive days of the pandemic and we are provided more work options, the best path for many could be a combination of both remote work as well as time at the office.2
Since many offices will keep virtual work elements post COVID-19, below is a list of some remote work best practices.3
The Art and Science of Virtual Meetings
Remote meetings with colleagues can be challenging. Many remote meetings, in fact, are not very useful. Inefficient virtual sessions cost businesses $34 billion per year, and this was before COVID-19.4 Having a plan will make your efforts more productive and efficient. In this section, I look at the art and science of productive remote meetings.
The art of a productive meeting helps ensure proper participant engagement and a positive, productive experience.
- Focused participation – A big challenge of remote meetings is appropriate participant engagement. Some participants don’t engage enough during the sessions, and others engage too much. When someone introduces redundant or irrelevant content, it’s critical to keep the meeting on track while also being polite. Asking questions directed to a specific colleague is an effective way to ensure the person with the most applicable background and experience answers the item.5
- Encourage participation at the beginning – At the meeting start, have each participant briefly indicate their objectives for the meeting.6 This helps to energize folks and is an opportunity to work out technical kinks. The goal is a productive meeting with active participant engagement. People will leave the session with a definite sense of future-oriented momentum instead of thinking that the meeting was a waste of time.
- Collaborate on a virtual whiteboard – In Zoom, for example, everyone can annotate the same document on the screen in real time. This can help encourage participation and teamwork.
- Ask questions at designated intervals – Some folks may be waiting for an opportunity to ask a question or provide a comment. Sometimes it’s not easy to find an opening to talk without interrupting others.
- Have fun – Meetings can be productive and efficient while also adding a slice of fun. An appropriate joke or funny comment at the beginning of the meeting or during the session can lighten a serious or draining meeting and provide a mental break. It’s essential to bring the meeting back on track without too much delay, though, in order to finish the agenda items on time.
The science of effective meetings is managing the technical aspects of ensuring everyone received the invitation and agenda, can access the meeting, and are engaged in the next action steps.
- First off, it’s necessary to determine if a meeting is required.7 If an email or other communication can work, one of these may be much more efficient.
- Invite only necessary participants to the meeting.
- Ensure everyone has a muted microphone when not talking.
- Ensure everyone receives the meeting invite and agenda in a timely matter. The agenda should include items assigned to be discussed by others. Assignments help ensure participation.
- Send an email reminder to participants the day before the meeting.
- During the meeting, stick to the agenda as closely as possible.
- At the end of the meeting, ensure there are clear follow-up steps, action items assigned, and the next meeting date is planned.
- End the meeting on time.
- Have a backup plan for technology issues. Having an extra computer/tablet/iPad on hand will buy you some time as you wait for a computer repair. Also, make sure there is an ability to access the meeting by phone only, which allows listening to the meeting if a participant can’t access it via the internet.
Set a work schedule based on your productivity levels – If you are a morning person, it may be best to schedule your hardest mental tasks for the morning. Scheduling meetings in the afternoon can work better for the morning person if these sessions are less mentally taxing. Scheduling meetings in blocks is best for productivity and concentration instead of having them scattered throughout the day.
Be productive – Instead of trying to do everything on your list, follow the 1-3-5 rule instead. You can choose to complete one big task, three medium tasks, or five smaller tasks. This rule helps with task prioritization and time management. Minimize procrastination by focusing on completion of your most challenging task early in the day. Another tip is to use apps that help reduce distractions. Brain.fm has a variety of soundtracks that promote focus. Some tools facilitate the lockdown of your computer or selected websites, such as Freedom, LeechBlock, and Mindful Browsing.8
Set up a dedicated work space – A space just for work helps create barriers between work space and personal space, which will help keep you focused because a dedicated area can help minimize distractions from family members. Conversely, boundaries may also help those who suffer from working too much when doing so remotely.9
Switch it up and be social – As the lockdown orders are eased, it is essential to get out of the house for breaks and engage with the rest of the world. Working from a coffee shop or other place can lead to increased productivity due to a change in the routine. Ensure you make plans to connect with others regularly. Be sure to schedule social breaks in your calendar, such as lunch with friends. It’s essential to get out of the house for breaks and engage with the rest of the world.
It’s important to remember that virtual meetings are still relatively new for many people. Things will go wrong at times (pets will show up or kids will share their thoughts), so it’s best to react with kindness and a sense of humor. In another year, I suspect many of us will be very proficient in using remote working technologies.
1 Tom Warren, “Zoom Grows to 300 Million Meeting Participants Despite Security Backlash,” The Verge, (April 23, 2020). www.theverge.com/2020/4/23/21232401/zoom-300-million-users-growth-coronavirus-pandemic-security-privacy-concerns-response
2 Libby Sander, “It’s Not Just the Isolation. Working from Home Has Surprising Downsides,” The Conversation (Jan. 14, 2019). https://theconversation.com/its-not-just-the-isolation-working-from-home-has-surprising-downsides-107140
3 Jane Hurst, “8 Best Practices for Successful Remote Workers,” Glassdoor (Jan. 3, 2020). www.glassdoor.com/blog/8-best-practices-for-successful-remote-workers
4 Lights, Camera…Productivity! Your Guide to Better Virtual Meetings, Navigate. www.navigatecorp.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/sw.nav_.eBook_.NEWBRANDVirtualMeetings_200630.pdf
7 Jeff Love, “Remote Working Perils – A Collection of Helpful Information,” Cyber Lancers (April 1, 2020). www.cyberlancers.com/blog/remote-working-perils
8 Melanie Pinola, “The 7 Biggest Remote Work Challenges (And How to Overcome Them),” Zapier, (March 18, 2020). https://zapier.com/blog/remote-work-challenges
Christina M. Olear, CPA, is an accounting instructor, business department program coordinator, and project supply chain professor in charge at Pennsylvania State University Brandywine in Media, and is a member of the
Pennsylvania CPA Journal Editorial Board. She can be reached at email@example.com.