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How can we make online meetings more engaging?

Caz at her desk

A team that eats together, stays together…. And we’re doing the best we can.

Our office was an organised, structured, calming environment to work in. It was a place of achievement and friendship. We enjoyed being there, eating and working together; the space within those walls was loud with music, laughter, the coffee machine gurgling and on Mondays, the smell of bacon sandwiches. In the current circumstance, we know we made the right decision to leave the office and work remotely for the time being but there are always areas we can improve.

How we work has had to change this year, but we’re not about to change what our company strives for; to be an agency that clients love to work with, and staff love to work for.

Monday mornings have traditionally been bacon-filled at Brightec. Our team meetings at the start of the week are intentionally unbillable, and purely to the benefit of our team and the relationships that we have as friends and colleagues.

In-person these meetings felt natural and conversation flowed easily. Sat around a table, we could listen to others talk of their weekends and quietly whisper side comments to the person next to us; we could pass the ketchup and highlight half-helpfully when someone’s egg yolk dripped on their white t-shirt. We know that video calls aren’t the same but we’re trying to make them the best substitute we can. (Breakfast baguette deliveries would no doubt help.)

Pun-mentary

Josh has an anecdote for most stories. Elle is impressively quick-minded with puns. Steve has an embarrassingly quick wit for dad jokes. And Caz and Nick most likely won’t ever have seen the film someone watched on Saturday night. These are all examples of quirks and comments that are lost in online conversations.

But there is a hack. We’ve been encouraging people to use the chatbox on Zoom to share their side comments; the puns, jokes, extra details, friendly banter, questions and bizarrely related stories. Its a way to ‘interrupt’ without being rude or cut the person speaking off. Having that quick-fire flow of communication brings back the easy team bonding that this conversation is intended for.

Manners cost nothing

You wouldn’t have your laptop at the dinner table, so let’s not do it at work…
It’s easy to get distracted by emails and work when you’re sat in front of your screen. It is hard to ignore that virtual noise and concentrate on the conversation going on around you but if we were sat around a table the rest of the team would have our full attention, and they deserve the same respect online.

Sometimes we all need a reminder that our Monday catch up isn’t a chance to multitask and get ahead for the week while listening in.

Medal of Honour

Life is weird at the moment. Not all weekends are good… and you probably aren’t the only one thinking it. But shrugging your shoulders like a moody teenager doesn’t give us much leverage. We’ve found that nothing kills a conversation like ‘yeah, it was alright. I didn’t do much’. So we’re encouraging each other to say it like it is; if you feel comfortable.

In the office, we knew if someone was in a bad mood; the bags under their eyes gave away that the six-month-old was having a party until 3am and the third mug of coffee by 9.05am was a big clue that someone had stayed up too late song writing. Until one of us develops another sense or hones the art of mindreading, these clues are harder to spot online.

Being honest creates an opportunity for someone to show they care. Saying you’re feeling a bit fed up gives us an open door to drop you a message, and share a quick chat which could cheer us both up. Or at least remind us that we aren’t alone.

People want to help, if we let each other.

What else is on the menu?

The purpose of our Monday meeting is still relational and is now more important than ever. It is the only time in a week when we’re all together as a team. We’ve talked about other options (smaller groups, trying to meet in person or culling them all together - the meeting that is, not the team) but we think that getting better at this option is going to be the most beneficial route.

This is an interim… eventually we will get back to having breakfast together in person.

TLDR

We’ve spoken about the little conversations before. Working from home, or the micro office we’ve created since leaving the official Brightec Towers, means we’re not having the casual chats that we used throughout the day. Thus, we don’t know as much about each other and our personal circumstances as we did before. This can add to the Monday weekend catch ups feeling even more stilted; suddenly you’re packing boxes but no one even knew you were even thinking of moving or you’ve completed a virtual 10k when we thought you’d lost the motivation to run about two years ago.

How do we get around this?

Stay in touch. It does feel a bit weird to message someone and seemingly randomly ask how they are, or if they’d like to have a virtual catch up over coffee. BUT, you know you’d appreciate it if someone did it to you. So please do ‘throw the virtual ball’ and start a conversation.


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