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The new norm – distributed meetings. And not just due to Covid-19.

20 March 2020
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Reading time: 4 minutes

We have strategic goals at Zuhlke, one of which is to facilitate the closer integration of our operation across the countries and continents we are based in.

We do this in many different ways:

  • The evolution of our software engineering capabilities and skills is commonly managed across all 15 offices of the Zuhlke group.
  • We work on similar industry verticals across Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Singapore, Hong Kong and the UK. Trends and insights into these industry verticals are shared across distributed business development teams.
  • We have global clients that we serve from multiple Zuhlke locations and the engagements need to be run in a distributed manner.
  • We have a global delivery centre that is itself distributed across Belgrade, Sofia and soon Porto. Zuhlke’s delivery centre works with clients in many countries and provides development capacity to projects that run from a number of other offices.

All of these initiatives require meetings, and the global nature of our business means it is rarely possible to have these in person. Instead we have, over the last three years, adopted virtual meetings. The result is we save time, cost and the environment.

This year an imperative new reason to meet online has arisen. Covid-19 hit us first in Hong Kong and Singapore. Now it is casting its shadow over Europe and we are asked to limit contact, if not ‘isolate’ ourselves from our colleagues.

At Zuhlke we find ourselves in a fortunate position. We are well prepared for this as we’re entirely used to operating in a distributed way. But we have clients and other connections who have been forced into rapidly adopting remote methods of communication.

There are a number of important lessons that we have learned over the years about how to hold truly effective virtual meetings. We would like to pass them on.

  1. Audio is more important than video.
    If you have bandwidth limitations, switch video off to protect the audio quality. Provide your staff with headsets or echo-cancelling speakers (such as Jabras) in order to improve clarity of sound. We have found that the video conferencing codec deployed into Microsoft Teams is much better than Skype or Lync and we have successfully held Team meetings with more than 100 participants.
  2. Screen sharing is more important than video.
    When our software engineers work across countries, they find effective screen-sharing and clear audio much more useful than their ability to see each other on a video feed. The same applies to meetings, where presentations or documents are shared. This takes precedence over seeing all participants.
  3. Do not disadvantage remote participants.
    In some meetings, there may be two or more participants in a room, collaborating with others who are connected remotely. It’s important the co-located participants do not fall into the trap of using physical tools that disadvantage those not actually there with them. For example, writing on a whiteboard during a discussion, or using a laser pointer to highlight aspects of a presentation. This can make it difficult for remote participants to follow the thread of the meeting. Instead everyone should use the same collaboration tools whether they are remote or not.

We use remote collaboration platforms, such as Miro or Mural, for brainstorming or story mapping and retrospectives. These enable all participants to contribute in an equal manner.

In summary, it is fortuitous that this pandemic has occurred at a time when we have technology available that allows many of us to carry on working. It’s not ‘business as usual’ – it’s ‘business as it could be’.

Coping with your ‘new normal’

We would really like to learn how this situation has affected you. The more we can learn from each other in this unusual time, the greater the benefits we can create.

We cannot tell how long this crisis will dominate the personal and business landscape, but we will remain fully available to you in the coming weeks and months by all the usual channels.

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