7 Things We've Learned After a Year of Online Meetings

Annalena Simonis, Thursday 21 January 2021 | Reading time: 6 min.

Online meetings have become more important since the Covid-19 pandemic broke out due to increased level of collaboration among distributed teams. But not everything always works out the way we want it to. In this post, we share our personal experiences and stories about online meetings.

For almost a year now, the Corona pandemic has determined our daily lives. The consequences also turned our working lives upside down. Last year, many employers around the world had to change their work culture from working in the office to working from home. One of the greatest challenges since then: online meetings. We’ve taken a look back at the past months and here’s a summary of our most important and funny experiences, insights and anecdotes from one year of online meetings. Some situations may sound familiar, others can be used as an incentive to liven up your next video conference.


#1 Missing eye contact

Do you look into the camera or at the screen when you’re in a virtual meeting? You may have had this problem as well. Eye contact with your colleagues is not possible in the virtual room. You either look into the camera and give your audience at least the feeling that they are being looked at directly, or you look at the person's video image, who is certainly looking somewhere else at the same time. Either way, the lack of nonverbal communication can cause you to miss important nuances of the conversation. You may not realize until it is far too late how your presentation is really received by the virtual audience. In such cases, an approving smile or nod from a colleague can be a welcome assurance in the situation.


#2 Unexpected meeting participants

We can probably all agree on one thing: nothing lightens the mood more than when the boss's cat sneaks into the picture and sits down on its owner's keyboard with an air of entitlement. At our weekly marketing jour fix meetings, we also had one or two surprise guests who just had to be part of the conversation. Pets probably became the most favorite uninvited guests of chewy meetings during the pandemic. Dog, cat or bird - our animal roommates couldn't care less whether we're giving a crucial presentation or the supervisor is announcing important decisions. This is also proven by countless Youtube videos in which, for example, members of parliaments had to apologize for the unavoidable urgings of their four-legged friends during important meetings. However, in most cases these little incidents and distractions are taken with humor, because if we are honest, the affection of a cat simply makes any boss, no matter how professional, seem human and lightens the mood in meetings.


#3 Sound effects instead of icebreaker games

Many articles about online meetings suggest short games or collaborative air guitar solos by all participants to break the ice and give the meeting more energy. In the InLoox development department, a different icebreaker has caught on. There have been many laughter-filled meetings caused by the perfectly timed use of funny sound effects. For example, when there are delays due to technical problems, a classic cricket chirp bridges the unwanted silence. And the iconic Jeopardy! think music is perfect for situations when someone takes too long to answer. Every now and then, when our boss makes a surprise appearance at an online conference, his entrance will be accompanied by Imperial March from the Star Wars soundtrack. Of course, such jokes are not appropriate for all meetings, but they can strengthen team spirit at internal daily meetings.


#4 Throwback to school days

In school, we were taught that you are not allowed to speak until you have raised your hand and then been called on by the teacher. In online meetings we experience again how useful this rule can be. When there are a certain number of participants, it can get confusing as to who should be the first to answer the question "What is your opinion?". It is not unusual for this question to cause confusion and a hubbub of voices, and it is easy to lose track of what is being said. The following "No, you first, please" from several individuals is usually followed by an embarrassed silence from everyone. If a participant always answers with a time delay, because of technical issues, this pause is filled by a belated "You start". For us, too, it was and is one of the biggest challenges in online meetings. The principle of raising hands may bring back unpleasant memories of school days for many, but it prevents participants from inadvertently interrupting each other on a regular basis. This also helps to avoid misunderstandings that arise when you have the feeling that someone is constantly interrupting you.


#6 A change of scenery with creative backgrounds

Various providers of online meeting platforms allow participants to set their own backgrounds for video conferences. With this feature, employees can maintain a little privacy if the study was the only place to put your laundry rack – we’ve all been there. But the exchangeable backgrounds can also provide a lot of fun in meetings. From a white sandy beach in Hawaii to the Iron Throne in King's Landing - InLooxians are very creative when it comes to finding the right background for meetings. So instead of the normal InLoox developer team, sometimes the crew of the Starship Enterprise holds a retrospective. And when there are breaking news, such as the inauguration of the U.S. president, some team members even report “live” from the Oval Office.


#7 Digital Holiday party, yes or no?

If regular online meetings are already a challenge, how difficult do you think is it to host a casual team event via video conference? Despite corona-related restrictions, many companies took a chance on the informal celebration last December. The main argument: it goes against corporate culture to miss out on the fun atmosphere of the annual Holiday party at such a difficult time. But is it even possible to create a relaxed and festive atmosphere at an online meeting, when in the end everyone is sitting alone in front of their computer with a Christmas hat and a drink of their choice? The risk is that employees will perceive what is actually an out-of-office event as just another mandatory meeting. To counteract this, many employers got creative last year. Surprise packages filled with Christmas snacks and drinks were a way to send the missing Christmas spirit home to their colleagues. InLooxians also received a surprise chocolate box  from management – as you can imagine, most boxes didn't survive until Christmas. How well the rehearsed singing performances or poems of individual employees were received is probably up to each person. The fact is that the 2020 digital Holiday parties showed that it takes a particularly strong corporate culture to create an honest and relaxed atmosphere even under such circumstances. But it is definitely possible!


Online meetings will be part of our professional lives for quite some. Even after the Corona crisis, they will continue to make a stronger impact on us more than ever before. Due to external circumstances, many companies have been forced into a previously postponed digital transformation. But perhaps we can also see these new possibilities as an opportunity. It will be exciting to see how virtual collaboration will develop in the coming years and what anecdotes and experiences we will be able to relate then.


You want to know how you not to lose your workflow despite working in distributed teams? Read our related blog posts to find out:

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