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In the workplace, meetings serve a vital role in keeping everyone on the same page, but they can also be a painful experience owing to technical glitches, scheduling challenges and lack of focus. To streamline this process, enterprises have started adopting technology in meetings.
"Business meetings needing a makeover is not new news," said Trevor Schulze, CIO at RingCentral, a unified communications platform. "Most people feel like they're going from meeting to meeting and getting very little value out of them."
Here, we've listed eight ways companies are using tools and technology in meetings to improve the quality of connection, automatically capture notes, manage action items, streamline scheduling and share their thoughts.
Add space to shrink it
As more meetings are conducted remotely, the IT department will be tasked with finding ways to improve their quality. This will involve better conference room technology in meetings, improved mobile phone and computer conferencing, and ways of integrating the two.
The first generation of mobile conferencing applications mixed all the voices into one big pot and poured them out equally -- but in physical meetings, we are used to hearing people talking from a particular direction. Conferencing equipment vendors like Dolby and Sennheiser have been experimenting with adding 3D-spatial audio to their equipment to help mimic this effect for a couple of years. Now, Dolby is starting to bring similar capabilities to mobile conferencing apps through its acquisition of Voxeet.
Ron HoltdijkDirector of business communication, Sennheiser
"In the future, participating in conferences and collaborative discussions will feel the same virtually as it would in person," said Ron Holtdijk, director of business communication at Sennheiser.
Conference room software is beginning to use automation to reduce the technical friction associated with getting meetings started. For example, Richard Buxton, director of N4Engage, a unified communications vendor, said that the Cisco Webex Room Kit video can automatically detect meeting settings using calendar sync, identify the individuals in a room and provide a single button to click to start a call. "The room-based video solutions are extremely easy to use, have integration into the meeting platforms and offer very high-quality audio and video," he said.
Over time, he expects the automation to improve with the ability to use facial recognition to add virtual name cards and allow better interaction via voice commands.
AI is also being used to automatically transcribe meetings in new conferencing applications such as Otter and IBM's Watson Media platform for larger meetings. This can help provide a quick synopsis for individuals, generate captions for large conferences and index content for later search.
Chris Zaloumis, head of enterprise video offerings at IBM Watson Media, said that automated closed captions can enhance engagement after the fact. IBM is also working on tools and technology in meetings that allow business to track user engagement at specific points in the video and completion rates to provide feedback to managers.
Improve productivity with ChatOps
Technology teams have been adopting ChatOps to creatively combine text communication and operations management by using tools like Slack for years. These tools allow them to analyze, manage and provision technical infrastructure right inside the text conversation. Now, businesses are starting to use similar capabilities to streamline meeting with less technical participants as well.
Samantha Odo, COO at Precondo, a real estate service in Canada, adopted Slack integrations to streamline workflows that involve users across Jira, Google Docs and Standuply, a project management app. "This has led to making meetings more comfortable and productive," she said. Better integration into common chat tools provides a middle ground between users of different technical proficiency with a simple learning curve.
Actionable meeting notes
Businesses are also using new apps that bring similar capabilities to verbal meetings for the management of agenda items, notes, and decisions tools such as Notion, Hugo, Soapbox and Sherpany. David Pawlan, product strategist at Aloa, a software outsourcing service, has been using Notion to allow everyone to write out their agenda items ahead of and during meetings and assign action items to people.
"Everyone has to fill out their portion of the agenda before the meeting starts, making the meeting more collaborative and this way everyone has a personal investment," Pawlan said. Action items are also automatically posted to the appropriate people's dashboards at the end of the meeting.
Tools like Hugo can also push action items into the software applications where users need to complete them, which can reduce information overload, said Matt Renie, customer success manager at Zylo. He was concerned about the growing number of tools and technology in meetings making it more complicated for their users and believes that it is important that new tools fade into the background -- documents and email threads about specific accounts are all in one place.
Sherpany, a company in the development of innovative technology, is using AI to augment the tracking of time spent discussing agenda items by analyzing the meetings organized on the platform. It also includes tools that allow managers to identify whether certain topics are over- or underrepresented in meetings. Tobias Häckermann, CEO and founder of Sherpany, said they are also working on features to provide feedback on meeting performance.
"Booking meetings with people's busy diaries is a nightmare, especially for client or prospect meetings," said Henry McIntosh, director at 2112 Marketing, who has been using Calendly to make the process easier. Other standalone schedule automation tools include Doodle and FreeBusy.
"These platforms allow users to identify a time that works for most people and share important details about the meeting," said Amy Quarton, associate instructor for the online organizational leadership program at Maryville University.
Mark Webster, co-founder of Authority Hacker, an online marketing education company, said that the real power of these tools is the integrations with other applications. For example, when someone books a meeting, it can automatically update your calendar and generate a room code for a video conferencing app.
"This is fantastic for arranging one-on-one meetings such as performance reviews as it allows the employee to select the slot at their leisure from your available time slots and you don't have to keep going back and forth with them," Webster said.
Software tools like Slido allow employees to answer polls and questions before and during large meetings. This makes the meetings more interactive and allows a greater number of team members to participate, said Bruce Hogan, CEO at Software Pundit, a technology research service, who has been using the tool.
At his last company, they used Slido to allow employees to submit questions ahead of the meeting and then upvote their favorites. During the meeting, leadership was able to address the team's most pressing questions.
The biggest challenge of having technology in meetings work well was figuring out how to adapt it for their company and culture. To increase adoption, they posted the instructions for using Slido in the meeting invite.
Shared whiteboards provide a collaborative space where participants can post agendas, ideas and decisions during the meeting. Jovan Milenkovic, co-founder of KommandoTech, a technology review service, said this means that "people can track progress in real time without the need for further verbal explanation." His team has been working with Miro -- but despite the simplicity, he recommends everyone try it out before the first meeting, so it does not become a distraction.
Shayne Sherman, CEO of TechLoris, likes to use AWW App, which allows him to visually explain what he is talking about, and if someone disagrees, they can edit the same visualization. "I've found this to be incredibly helpful when keeping people on track," he said. It also offers a great avenue for a bit of lighthearted play during the meeting.
Torsten Volk, managing research director at Enterprise Management Associates, said that even something as simple as Google Docs can provide a collaborative experience with a tangible takeaway at the end. "You can think of Google Docs as the smallest common denominator that everyone can use anywhere and on any device, and basically without any learning curve," he said. Executives might just look at the document in read-only mode, while everyone else adds content and comments.
Volk finds that jointly working on a Google Doc instills a sense of shared responsibility, more collaboration and it leaves the team with clear action items and a detailed record of the overall meeting or call. And even better, using the Google Docs comment function lets everyone contribute at their own time, thus eliminating the need for certain meetings.
However, it's important to keep an eye on data compliance and user access rules, which can be a bigger issue when collaborating with outside parties.