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BusinessColumnistsJamie Herzlich

Small Business: Keeping employees engaged in virtual meetings

Vikram Rajan, co-founder of Kings Park-based phoneBlogger.net &

Vikram Rajan, co-founder of Kings Park-based phoneBlogger.net & Videosocials.net, works on a remote client call. Credit: Practice Marketing, Inc.

Virtual meetings were growing even before the coronavirus made it imperative for companies to operate remotely.

 The global video conferencing market -- for tech solutions like monitors, devices and phones -- was projected to reach $11.56 billion by the end of 2027, up from $6.12 billion in 2019, according to Transparency Market Research.

And as companies acclimate now, they shouldn’t toss some of the same sound principles that applied for in-person meetings, including trying to engage employees and build rapport, experts say.

“All the things that apply in the office when having a meeting should apply to a virtual meeting,” says Michael Maser, CEO of Plainview-based UOTech.co, which specializes in such IT-managed services as facilitating remote work.

For example, he says, basic best practices like having people arrive a few minutes early to a web/video conference is still practical to ensure it starts on time.

 He found the number of companies  using technology to hold virtual meetings was increasing before the coronavirus pandemic  , but obviously since the crisis began “it feels like its increased one hundred fold.”

One of the top reasons for holding virtual meetings before was to save on travel budgets, and for convenience in general, Maser said.

Sergio Saia, CEO The Executive Group Realty in Smithtown, also cites the convenience factor.

With his 20 real estate agents between Long Island and Manhattan, he said,  his virtual meetings, even before the coronavirus, have made it easy to stay connected.

“I think it’s fantastic,” says Saia. “It’s a way for me to be able to be in touch with all of my agents on a daily basis.”

He didn’t specify the platform the firm uses for proprietary reasons, but says it has video, voice and text capabilities.

“Most of the time we use video because we like to look at each other, and it’s a good way to determine the other person’s emotions,” he said.

Jason Sidana, CEO of Midknight Genius, a Farmingdale- digital marketing and web development agency, has  held virtual meetings with remote employees and clients for several years and said video definitely helps give a more in-person feel.

His virtual meetings usually last anywhere between five and 30 minutes, he said, and  they try to keep it natural,  with small talk at the beginning.

He uses either Google Hangouts or Zoom for most meetings.

 There are  other options,  including Microsoft Teams and Cisco’s Webex, and picking the right platform is important.

Another key factor is making sure all employees have the right equipment at home like a laptop and good communication tools, and a quiet room to work in, said  Jim Schanz, vice president, global integrated systems sales, at Shure in Niles, Illinois. The business specializes in professional audio products such as wireless microphone systems, earphones and headphones.

In a 2019 survey done for Shure and Illuminas market researchers, two-thirds of workers thought employers needed better technology for virtual meetings.

 It’s always important to give everyone a voice, said Schanz, and help  meeting participants engage by asking them questions so  they don’t feel left out. Also consider scheduling more frequent check-in meetings with your team.

To keep meetings on track, it’s helpful to have an agenda, said Vikram Rajan, co-founder of Kings Park-based phoneBlogger.net, a ghost blogging marketing service for attorneys and CPAs and co-founder of Videosocials.net, a platform for video blogging. He holds virtual meetings himself with remote staff and clients.

“All our meetings are very agenda-driven,” he said, noting they use tools like Zoom as well as Smartsheet, a cloud-based work management and automation platform.

All employees can access it, and it can be updated with pertinent information like what’s happening with each client, said Rajan.

It’s not a bad idea to set a time limit for your meetings, said Maser. Also help people feel comfortable with the format since many may be new to virtual meetings.

“One thing that happens is many people are afraid to have a dialogue and speak up,” says Maser. “You don’t want their ideas to be overshadowed.”

Fast Fact:

One of the biggest pain points to consider with virtual meetings is audio. A 2019 survey by Shure/Illuminas found that four out of five main frustrations with virtual meetings were related to audio -- background noise, echo, sound cutting out and not being able to hear the other meeting participants.

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