How to do remote meetings when I'm the only one who's remote
August 28, 2018 11:25 AM   Subscribe

I'll be out of the country this fall, and will need to remotely attend meetings of a small group I'm part of. They're not particularly tech savvy folks, this isn't an office environment with lots of tech resources available, and everyone but me will be on-site. There's a lot of crosstalk, and when I've done this in the past, both Skype and Hangouts' built-in noise cancellation make it hard for me to chime in easily without it automatically muting other speakers and causing me to miss important details.

What should I be doing differently, what Mac-specific software or fancy-yet-affordable mic or conferencing gadget should I buy to make this less onerous for everyone involved?
posted by tapir-whorf to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Whatever you pick, maybe make sure to connect more frequently than just meeting time, so they actually practice how to do it properly and it doesn't derail the meeting and look bad for you?
posted by turkeybrain at 11:35 AM on August 28, 2018

I have successfully used FaceTime (on a large iPad or macbook) for this purpose.
posted by saucysault at 12:01 PM on August 28, 2018

Ideally, if you're going to be remote (calling in/conferencing), then _everyone_ should be doing the same, even if they're all at their desks only a few feet away. This puts everyone on the same level. Otherwise it gets really easy for the people on-site to forget to dial into the conference call, talk over you (since you are a delayed voice coming from a tiny speaker), forget to share the presentation, or write on the whiteboard (which you obviously cannot see). There will always be someone slightly farther away from the microphone that will be too quiet and the closest person will be too loud.

It's possible that if you actually videoconference in, and everyone has to see you look back at the other people, it might prevent them from ignoring you, since you are an actual person again; I've never tried it.
posted by meowzilla at 12:02 PM on August 28, 2018 [7 favorites]

Seconding all the good suggestions above. I’ve used at work (participant not organizer) for this kind of thing. It is *super* easy for participants. The organizer creates a meeting ‘room’, sends a link, participants click on the link and they’re in. Done. And it’s free for small numbers.
posted by t0astie at 2:16 PM on August 28, 2018

Zoom works really well. We use it for entire company calls of 50 people and interviews where it’s just 3. Love it.
posted by sio42 at 3:04 PM on August 28, 2018

Unless you really really need visuals for something I would go with a speakerphone on their end and a phone on yours.

Nothing plays like the oldies.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 5:05 PM on August 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

A good speakerphone makes all the difference. A nice Polycom will make you sound much more present and allow you to hear what's going on a lot better. Someone's desk phone used as a speaker phone isn't likely to cut it. Basically, the way to solve this for groups of this size is a Polycom conference room IP phone on the table in the meeting room and you using a good headset and mic with a SIP soft phone, assuming good Internet is available.

If the office end has a landline, do yourself one better and use a POTS Polycom conference phone on their end and dial into that using whatever works best for you. The point is that a few hundred bucks spent on good conferencing hardware at the group end is what makes this kind of thing actually work. Video is significantly more expensive and rarely adds value without a lot of ancillary expenses beyond the basic videoconferencing hardware, at least in a group setting like you describe, so isn't really worth considering, IMO.

Otherwise, the best option is what others have said: Everyone participates individually in a group Hangout or Skype call or whatever you would normally use.
posted by wierdo at 7:10 PM on August 28, 2018

I do this several times a month, because I am the only one who is remote from my office. I also have 2-3 group meetings per month with subcontractors/committees scattered across Montana so basically everyone is “remote.”

For large group meetings, we put everyone in one office with a Polycom speaker phone and several microphones around the table. They call me at the appointed time. Documents are shared ahead of time. Changes to documents are either read aloud to the group (not just me) and available afterwards for correction.

For small meetings we use Go To Meeting with everyone at their own work station. We used to use Adobe Connect but GTM is much easier to use, swap screen control, etcetera. We screen share the working document in GTM with 1-2 people taking notes/making changes. Or we use Google Docs to share the working document so that everyone can make changes at any time to their portion of the document. (Basically, it’s a monthly report and To Do list.)

We don’t use the video function to see each other. We used to but after a while everyone ignores it. I once proved this by putting on a Halloween mask and it took 5 minutes before the last person noticed.

Crosstalk and The Quiet One: If I can’t find a way to chime in on the crosstalk I text one or two specific co-workers in the meeting and they will announce, “Wait. I Travel Montana has something to say.”

For The Quiet One, I will announce or text that I can’t hear them and that the microphone needs to be moved or they need to speak up.
posted by ITravelMontana at 7:20 PM on August 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

Are you using a headset? Wired or wireless is fine but absolutely use one. I spend a huge chunk of my week in GoToMeeting or Skype sessions, often as the only remote party talking to or presenting to a roomful of client folks, and we don't have the noise-cancellation issue you mention. I suspect it's because I'm using dedicated hardware (ie a headset).
posted by uberchet at 6:27 AM on August 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

Zoom with a headset works for me. Having everyone use the remote session is also great if you can manage it.
posted by harriet vane at 6:35 AM on August 29, 2018

A few things I noticed when working with an absolutely annoying colleague who was the only remote one:

- Do NOT be really loud and demand more attention to get your airtime in, in order to get through the crosstalk
- Message if you want to speak so everyone can listen and reply
- Follow a Google Doc agenda so it can be easier for everyone to update on both sides and keep track of what's being replied
- write down comments as the people in the in person meeting is speaking and then bringing up a point
- designate a person of the meeting to keep track of helping you be in the loop
- don't be demanding and then take up a lot of space and then ignore everyone else

You can tell I had a really bad experience but that was based on the colleague's personality. A more thoughtful and considerate person wouldn't have done any of these negative things. The other tips are to help make it smoother to communicate.
posted by yueliang at 9:46 AM on August 29, 2018

The "services" exit regime was a really striking difference to me. I really love that approach, but you do have to pay attention a bit more about planning stops.
posted by uberchet at 10:21 AM on August 31, 2018

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