A guide to better meetings in Teams

Microsoft Teams known not only for it’s modern work enabler, but also for fantastic modern meeting capabilities. What makes Teams the “tool” for meetings? Here is the short list of Team’s features that back it up

  • Works in almost any device. You can join into meeting using a Desktop client, browser (Chrome, Edge) or mobile app (iOS, Android).
  • You can join a meeting without Teams/Office 365 account using a anonymous link
  • Adding or changing devices while in the meeting works fluently
  • Sharing content like your screen, app, whiteboard and notes
  • Background blur (upcoming later: change the background)
  • Talk (chat) with attendees
  • Recording is cloud based, so once you turn it on you can even leave the meeting – and someone else can turn it off.
  • Upcoming: live captions

Better meetings 1: talk before and after the meeting (was: efficient meetings)

Efficiency is one of the buzzwords that is very often heard without any real meaning. Everything new is supposed to boost efficiency. Better meetings in this area don’t come automatically: attendees and facilitator must do their part. TANSTAAFL you might say.

  • Organizer shares the agenda and links to files into meeting chat. Usually these are in the meeting details, but in case they aren’t this is a good spot to think about the meeting and it’s goal
  • Organizer also share the meeting goal into the meeting chat and asks attendees to read relevant attachments if necessary and announces that everyone is free to ask questions / talk about the agenda. What usually happens is that this happens in either emails or in hidden private chat groups or 1:1 chats that don’t usually add value to the meetings, instead they will create different starting points to different attendees
  • Everyone should challenge the meeting agenda topics if they are too vague / unclear or overlap. Is some background information missing? Should that topic be in the list?
  • If there are decisions that can be done already before the meeting even starts: use this opportunity. It shortens the meeting.

Is that a lot of writing chat messages? Doesn’t that all consume people’s time that could be done in a meeting? The key is that these messages are written asynchronously – people don’t have to be online at the same time and yet they can share and receive insights and information. The only one who needs to do a lot more work is probably the organizer if the meeting is poorly prepared. Surely this requires a bit more from attendees as well: they must prepare to the meeting (read the background info, familiarize with topic, ask for clarifications) – but this should have been done even without Teams.

The actual meeting can then concentrate on those parts of agenda that benefit from real-time real discussion. The meeting is a good place for real-time co-authoring and for clear task assignments. Don’t just write them to memo for “later work”.

You can also continue to use meeting chat after the meeting. Was some issue waiting for more information? Was a confirmation still on the way? To make some additional decision you can use the meeting chat – you don’t usually need a another meeting in a world where it is difficult to find the same time slot available from everyone’s calendars.

Use Teams meeting chat. It will make your meetings better.

Better meetings 2: Use meeting recording

Do you have a technical topic? Do you need to create a better memo/report out of the meeting afterwards? Do you needs exact phrases? Record your Teams meeting to access it afterwards. Recording is easy – and if your meeting language is English (for example) it will be automatically transcripted in Stream.

Meeting recordings are also fantastic with active use of meeting chat and missing meeting persons. If you couldn’t attend the meeting live: watch the recording and write your opinions / insights into the meeting chat afterwards. Perhaps some decision was left to wait your opinions.

Recording can free your time. Not everyone must be online at the same time. In situations when 7/10 can participate – why not share the meeting with them? Meeting recording can also be viewed with accelerated speed to save some time..

And if you are giving a training – record it so attendees can review it later to check details.

Better meetings 3: Use OneNote for meeting notes

Have you been using Team’s automatic meeting notes? My advice, at this point, is: don’t. Let the feature cook a bit more and then re-evaluate.

Instead, did you know you can add a OneNote to all meetings? It is obvious for channel meetings (that happen inside a team) but you can also add a OneNote to private meetings. You can create a new OneNote book, select a existing one from the list or you can just paste the link to the book. Note: if you are meeting with externals – make sure you can share your book to them too.

There is no + sign in the usual place – instead you add OneNote via apps. Use the magic three dots (…) menu associated with the meeting.

After setup you can choose to

  • Create a new notebook
  • Select existing one
  • or paste a link

When you create a new notebook, or choose existing one you can also create a new section to that book. When you create a new notebook into a private meeting it goes to creator’s OneDrive (Notebooks folder) and it is shared with participants. Team channel meetings notebooks are created into channel files.

Note: if you add externals to the meeting they don’t get access to the book.. this works automatically only for the people in the organization. However – externals can click, on the error message screen, “Open in OneNote Online” button to get access to the book. And if that fails: add a edit link to the notebook and share it with participants to give them access.

After that you have OneNote in your meeting! Make sure you

  • write meeting notes there (don’t forget to use Insert-menu to add meeting details! )
  • Make a memo during a meeting – several people can write it simultaneously to save time (use chat to make people check that the memo is ok).
  • use OneNote as a whiteboard to do sketching , drawings, innovating and even paste pictures there if needed (that way everything is in one book )

Why not to use Whiteboard app? It is not good for memos, agendas and that sort where OneNote excels. Whiteboard is great if you have a Surface hub and you use it more for drawing. For majority of meetings OneNote is just more proper tool. You can use even both if you want to – Use Whiteboard to sketch and draw and paste a link to that Whiteboard into OneNote (or even a snip of the result along with the link)

Better meetings 4: Use video

You should always go to meetings with your video on. There are benefits for using video in meetings

  • You are more “face to face” / sitting in “the same table”
  • Your expressions on face matter too – the communication is much more personal than with just chat and voice
  • You focus on the meeting more, it is harder to multitask / drift away when you have your camera on
  • You will get to know each more better. The distance vanishes to some extend – you are a team / group people working towards the same goals. Not droids.
  • Use background blur to be ok with your less ideal background. And there have been other examples when something unexpected happens in the background – not all is revealed to other participants. There has been examples or kids running in, spouses walking unexpectedly and especially if the background is too alive (cafeteria, open office, ..) then it focuses participants on you – without letting the background disturb anything
  • The upcoming “change background” is going to be fun too. while not just masking the background (just like in blur) it can make you appear in the beach. No, it can’t be used to fool others but it is a fun element. And in some cases you could include information in the background too (company background, feedback url/QR, simple instructions,.. )

There is also a option to pin a single video to your screen. This is useful if you want to focus to specific camera (room, person) despite who is talking – especially if room camera is done via a different computer than the audio.

Yes, there are situations when use of video is not optimal (bandwidth for example) – but the mindset would be video is always on, exceptions can be made if necessary.

Better meetings 5: a bucket of little tricks

  • When there are more than 5 others in the meeting: mute your mic when you are not talking
  • If you are in a noisy location: mute your mic when you are not talking
  • Share your screen – not your app. That way you know better what is shared … and audience sees the share and not black boxes.
  • When you set up a new device between meetings: test your gear with test call (your profile picture – settings – devices).
  • Share files with links, if files already exist in some teams / SharePoint sites. Dont’ create copies with upload files into the meeting. (they end up in uploader’s OneDrive).
  • Sharing files with externals: Put the file into your OneDrive, create a sharing link and paste that link into the meeting.
  • Use channel meetings if the meeting concerns the team.

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