Zoom tips: 6 ways to make meetings better

At a time when everyone seems to be spending a big part of their day in Zoom meetings and other online confabs, how many of those meetings are awful? Yes, we know most meetings are awful in the best of times, but online meetings can be even worse.
I have a few thoughts about how to make them less awful and more productive right now. Our tips from a few months ago on more effective online presentations still apply, but there is a difference between doing online meetings by choice and doing them by necessity.
Many people have never spent much time in online meetings: Their inexperience is showing.
During the pandemic, many people who have never spent much time in online meetings – or are used to being in the conference room while a few others attend remotely – are being forced online. Their inexperience is showing. This can lead to lots of unproductive time spent trying to deal with audiovisual chaos rather than getting work done.
Business and IT leaders should be patient with people struggling to learn, but they should also be aware of the tools available to help them take charge and run more effective meetings.
While I’ll be sharing Zoom-specific tips, many also apply to other online meeting environments, such as Microsoft Teams. For an open source alternative, you might try Jitsi, which could even open up possibilities for adding your own custom video experiences (see
But even if your workplace has a different favorite, you’re likely to find yourself sucked into Zoom meetings with customers or partners. Zoom has become enough of a dominant force in work, education, and society that The New York Times is publishing “We all live in Zoom now” stories. Friends who had previously used Zoom only occasionally are telling me they find themselves exhausted after a day of back-to-back Zoom meetings, many of which are poorly managed.
[ Culture change is the hardest part of transformation. Get the eBook: Teaching an elephant to dance. ]
Zoom tips to use in your next meeting
Zoom has many options that can be enabled or disabled; you need to know them.
Part of Zoom’s popularity stems from its reputation for being relatively simple and easy to use. But ease of use is one of the most difficult things to achieve with technology. Zoom has packed plenty of complexity into all the options that can be enabled or disabled to meet different business needs. You will need to decide how many of those choices should be left to the individual versus mandated using Zoom’s administrative controls.
Here are the six factors to consider:
1. Someone should be in charge of every Zoom meeting
Every online meeting should have a host, and large meetings should probably have a few co-hosts as well. I am referring to being in charge of the meeting controls like the eject button to kick someone out of a meeting if necessary – or more commonly, to mute their mic.
This rule is easy to violate when multiple people or teams are sharing an account. If it’s your account and you’ve logged into Zoom, you will be the host when the meeting starts. If you were sent a link to join the meeting by an administrative assistant who set it up using the boss’s credentials, and neither of them will be in the meeting, it’s possible that the meeting will have no host at all — no one in control.
This can be a recipe for chaos, particularly if you have a bunch of people in the meeting who don’t know what they’re doing. You could even run into issues with Zoombombing, the phenomenon of trolls intruding on online meetings and screen-sharing pornography or otherwise behaving badly.
Since we would prefer not to share passwords, a better option is to share a Zoom “host code” for the account with the meeting leader. If you have been given the host code, you enter that 6-10 digit number to make yourself the meeting host. You can then appoint one or more co-hosts who will have most of the same superpowers.
In this scenario, I’m assuming that you (as the account owner) have turned on a feature called “Join before host,” which is handy if you want to allow others to begin the meeting even before you arrive. You can give someone else the host code, but they need to be able to get into the meeting before they can claim control of it.
Of course, that raises other questions.
2. Decide how secure your Zoom meetings need to be
Turning on “Join before host” may be convenient, but is it secure? Nothing is absolutely secure, but in many cases, the “security by obscurity” factor of a coded link distributed to a limited number of people is good enough. Zoombombing problems are more likely to occur for online events for which the link is circulated widely, or even posted on a public website.
Consider adding a meeting password for attendees. Or turn on the “waiting room” feature.
When a meeting needs to be more secure, turn off “Join before host” and make sure the account owner or someone else who has been entrusted with that password will be available to start the meeting. Consider adding a meeting password that attendees must enter before they will be admitted. Or turn on the “waiting room” feature, which means those wishing to join the meeting will be held in digital limbo until the host admits them. Then tell people to make sure they arrive on time if they don’t want to be left hanging until the host can spare the time to admit a batch of late arrivals.
For very large meetings, such as company-wide town halls, it may be appropriate to switch from the Zoom Meetings client to the Zoom Webinars version. This lets a handful of presenters speak and present, but attendees can’t interrupt or screen share unless they are granted permission.
3. Control the audio
The single most important button you need to know how to find quickly in Zoom is “Mute All.”
Zoom is known for HD videoconferencing, but audio is at least as important as video to the online meeting experience – probably more important, or at least more damaging when handled badly.
The single most important button you need to know how to find quickly in Zoom is “Mute All.”
Click on the Participants button at the center of the row of buttons that appears on the bottom of a Zoom screen for a list of all the participants. You will see video camera and microphone icons next to all the names, and you can mute people or turn their cameras off individually. However, in large meetings where someone is broadcasting unwanted sound (or several people are), trying to find the right name to mic to silence can be a frustrating whack-a-mole exercise.
Mute All is a button at the bottom of the Participants dialog box. It’s the nuclear option that shuts up everyone other than the host or co-host who clicked that button. Attendees can then unmute themselves when they need to speak up for a legitimate business purpose.
The other thing that often goes wrong, often to comical effect, is that people who have been muted start speaking without remembering to unmute. The worst consequence of that is that you need to let them know you can see their lips moving but can’t hear them. In general, though, being unmuted when one shouldn’t be is a bigger problem than being muted when they shouldn’t be.
Consider turning on the Zoom setting that mutes the mics of attendees when they first join so if they’re joining from a noisy location, that default will be in place.
The host controls for audio are blunt instruments for enforcing order; a better long-term solution is to train people on online meeting etiquette. People should know to mute themselves when it’s not their turn to speak. If possible, the company should spring for good headsets to minimize problems with background noise and audio feedback, or reimburse employees for purchasing them. In a pinch, earbuds plugged into the audio jack of a laptop or phone will help.
Failing that, encourage employees to tune in from a quiet location where they will be able to hear and be heard.
Let’s examine three more important tips:

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7 tips for emotionally intelligent managers of newly remote teams

Many organizations and companies are coming to terms with the changes forced on them by COVID-19 and working out what it means to them, their employees and their work patterns. For many people who were previously in offices, it means working from home: See 9 tips for new home workers. If you’re reading this, then you’re probably a manager, working with people who don’t normally work from home – which may include you – so here are some tips for you during this time.
1. Communicate
As managers, we’re used to being (or at pretending to be) the most important person in our team’s lives during the working day.
Does that meeting need to be at 9 am? Do you need to have the meeting today – could it be tomorrow? As managers, we’re used to being (or at pretending to be) the most important person in our team’s lives during the working day. For many, that will have changed, and we become a distant second, third or fourth. Family and friends may need help and support, kids may need setting up with schoolwork, or a million other issues may come up which mean that expecting attention at the times that we expect it is just not plausible.
Investigate the best medium (or media) for communicating with each separate member of your team, whether that’s synchronous or asynchronous IM, email, phone, or a daily open video conference call, where anybody can turn up and just be present.
Be aware of your team’s needs – which you just can’t do without communicating with them – and also be aware that those needs may change over the coming weeks.
[ Do your employees feel psychologically safe? Read Crisis leadership: How to give people psychological safety. ]
2. Flex deadlines
Some people will be managing at best only “bursty” periods of work, at abnormal times .
Whether we like it or not, there are things more important than work deadlines at the moment. Although you may find that some people produce work as normal, others will be managing at best only “bursty” periods of work, at abnormal times (for some, the weekend may work best, for others the evenings after the kids have gone to bed). Be flexible about deadlines, and ask your team what they think they can manage.
This may go up and down over time, and may even increase as people get used to new styles of working. But adhering to hard deadlines isn’t going to help anybody in the long run – and we need to be ready for the long run.
3. Gossip has its place
This may seem like an odd one, but gossip is good for human relationships. When you start a call, set aside some time to chat about what’s going on where the other participants are, in their homes and beyond. This will help your team feel that you care, but also allow you to become aware of some issues before they arise.
A word of caution, however: there may be times when it becomes clear in your discussions that a team-member is struggling. In this case, you have two options. If the issue seems to be urgent, you may well choose to abandon the call (be sensitive about how you do this if it’s a multi-person call) and to spend time working with the person who is struggling, or signposting them directly to some other help.
If the issue doesn’t seem to be urgent, but threatens to take over the call, then ask the person whether they would be happy to follow up later. In the latter case, you must absolutely do that: Once you have recognized an issue, you have a responsibility to help, whether that help comes directly from you or with support from somebody else.
4. Accommodate
Frankly, this builds on our other points: You need to be able to accommodate your team’s needs, and to recognize that they may change over time, but will also almost certainly be different from yours.
Be more of a support than a hindrance to their (often drastically altered) new working lives.
Whether it’s the setting for meetings, pets and children, poor bandwidth, strange work patterns, sudden unavailability or other changes, accommodating your team’s needs will make them more likely to commit to the work they are expected to do – not to mention make them feel valued, and consider you as more of a support than a hindrance to their (often drastically altered) new working lives.
5. Forgive your team’s mistakes
Sometimes, your team may do things which feel like they’ve crossed the line – the line in “normal” times. They may fail to deliver to a previously agreed deadline, turn up for an important meeting appearing dishevelled, or speak out of turn, maybe. This probably isn’t their normal behavior (if it is, then you have different challenges), and it’s almost certainly caused by their abnormal circumstances. You may find that you are more stressed, and more likely to react negatively to failings (or perceived failings).
If you go into interactions with the expectation of openness, kindness and forgiveness, then that is likely to be reciprocated.
Take a step back. Breathe. Finish the call early, if you have to, but try to understand why the behavior that upset you did upset you, and then forgive it. That doesn’t mean that there won’t need to be some quiet discussion later on to address it, but if you go into interactions with the expectation of openness, kindness and forgiveness, then that is likely to be reciprocated. We all need that.
6. Forgive your own mistakes
You will make mistakes. You are subject to the same stresses and strains as your team, with the added burden of supporting them. You need to find space for yourself, and to forgive yourself when you do make a mistake. That doesn’t mean abrogating responsibility for things you have done wrong, and neither is it an excuse not to apologize for inappropriate behavior. But constantly berating yourself will add to your stresses and strains, and is likely to exacerbate the problem, rather than relieve it.
You have a responsibility to look after yourself so that you can look after your team: not beating yourself up about every little thing needs to be part of that.
7. Prepare for a new future
Nobody knows how long we’ll be doing this, but what are you going to do when things start going back to normal? One thing that will come up is the ability of at least some of your team to continue working from home or remotely.

If they have managed to do so given all the complications and stresses of lockdown, kids and family members under their feet, they will start asking “well, how about doing this the rest of the time?” – and you should be asking exactly the same question. Some people will want to return to the office, and some will need to – at least for some of the time.
But increased flexibility will become a hallmark of the organizations that don’t just survive this crisis, but actually thrive after it. You, as a leader, need to consider what comes next, and how your team can benefit from the lessons that you – collectively – have learned.
[ Read also: 3 mindfulness exercises to try when you feel overwhelmed. ]
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As you lead a newly remote team through these uncertain times, you may need to rethink communication, deadlines, gossip, and forgiveness, for starters

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