Staying Connected During the Coronavirus Outbreak: Best Practices for Virtual Meetings

As the world responds to the growing threat of the novel coronavirus and the disease it causes, COVID-19, you and your organization may be considering shifting resources from in-person meetings to virtual meetings or relying more on conference calls. For the past 10+ years, RESOLVE has helped our partners work together virtually to accomplish their goals when they can't meet in-person.

We are sharing a few best practices for virtual meetings to help you and your organization as you're considering possible limitations on travel and gatherings. We hope some of these lessons we've learned over the years are helpful if you need to take an in-person meeting online.

Please note: When assessing whether you should move forward with or cancel an upcoming in-person meeting, we recommend you consider guidance from the World Health Organization (WHO) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) websites. These sites also include tips for keeping participants safe and healthy when you do hold an in-person gathering.

We're here to help. We can advise you on technology selection and use, meeting planning, and if you're facing a particularly complex meeting that's gone from in-person to virtual, we can help you facilitate.

Select the right tool for the job
There are many web conferencing services available, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. The tools we use most often at the RESOLVE offices include Adobe Connect, GoToMeeting, Zoom, Skype, and Google Hangouts. Factors influencing which tool we use include:

  • Number of participants;
  • Presenter and participant internet speed and reliability;
  • Facilitation needs (i.e., would features like a hand raising function or the ability to mute participants be beneficial?);
  • Whether participants need to download software to join the meeting;
  • How intuitive the service is for users;
  • Audio connection and quality (e.g., is audio over the phone, VOIP, or both?);
  • Whether video or screensharing capabilities will add value to the meeting;
    Budget; and,
  • Whether the meeting participants (and organizers) are already familiar and comfortable with a specific web conferencing service.

When selecting the right tool for your meeting, consider the different services, your meeting needs, and the tradeoffs between the different programs. And remember, sometimes the right tool might be a simple phone call!

Take time to prepare for the meeting
Just like preparing for an in-person meeting, spending time preparing for a virtual meeting is essential. Test out the software in advance with a colleague - especially the audio connection - so you understand its functionality and how to troubleshoot. If there's time, we highly recommend inviting presenters to test-run their slides in advance as well.

Take time to organize any materials you'll be using during the meeting so they're easily accessible. You may want to consider creating an online file sharing space for your meeting, such as a shared Dropbox or Google Drive, so that your participants can easily access materials while online. If the group will be reviewing multiple documents or presentations during a meeting, we often like to use Adobe Connect, which allows you to pre-load materials to the platform so participants don't have to watch hosts search for and open documents. If you'll be live editing a document with a group, make sure you are familiar with the service's screenshare capabilities and know how to avoid showing your inbox to everyone in the meeting.

Facilitate the conversation and the technology
To support a productive meeting, we highly recommend using the web conferencing software features that help meeting hosts facilitate conversations. These include:

  • Features that allow participants to "raise their hands" or notify others when they want to make a comment, which can help prevent people from talking over each other;
  • Chat functions that allow participants to broadcast comments or questions to everyone or send a comment or question to one individual;
  • Polls and/or voting features to allow for quick assessment of where participants stand on an issue; and,
  • "Breakout rooms" that allow small groups to work together in a separate virtual space.

We also recommend clearly delineating roles among your team, including a facilitator who can manage the conversation. The facilitator would generally be responsible for calling on people to speak, introducing presenters, and checking whether people who may be on the phone line but not in the virtual meeting platform want to contribute to the discussion. Another person on the team should be available to manage the technology and help participants troubleshoot any issues that come up. To support this coordinated team approach, we recommend taking advantage of the presenter only spaces or other features that allows organizers to chat privately about any issues that arise during the virtual meeting. Similar to what we would recommend for in-person meetings, consider whether bringing in an outside facilitator will improve your ability to focus on the issues at hand and accomplish your goals.

As COVID-19 impacts our communities and our work, worrying about whether you can conduct your business virtually should not be a concern. We hope some of the best practices we've shared ease any transitions to virtual meetings and are available if you have any questions or need help.

RESOLVE's Collaborative Technology Leads:


Maya Breitburg-Smith
Senior Mediator, RESOLVE
March 4, 2020


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