Effective Meetings on a Budget

As online project manager you should be using virtual meetings. The first reason is that it’s online and lets you manage the project, so it’s kind of exactly your job. The second is that it saves enormous amounts of time. The third and biggest reason begins with “r”, has nine letters, and rhymes with “Every economy in the world having a panic attack at the exact same moment-ession”. Since virtual meetings save money and time, and with the right tools, you can save even more.

1. TimeBridge – Getting the Meeting Together

The messiest and most mind-numbing part of any meeting happens before you even get there. Trying to organize an online meeting is a terrifying education in just how awkward and uncooperative a team of professionals can be while still getting paid. Part of the problem is psychological – tell the team to be in Conference Room A by 2 pm and they’ll likely show up. With virtual employees scattered all over the globe, though, that room would have to be the size of America. Going online, some staff see cyber-meetings the same as e-mail – something to be shuffled to whenever they feel like doing it.

A web project manager is not a secretary, and if you just laughed “Sometimes it feels like it!” then you are doing your job wrong. Your time is too valuable to waste chasing appointments and staring at schedules – live up to your job description and let the web do it for you. TimeBridge is an online application which sends out a mass mail to the attendees, collects possible times, then organizes the best window available. It’s automatic, it’s impartial, and it’s the perfect example of proper online task tools – you tell it to do something, and it comes back done.

2. Qtask – Getting Things Done

Once TimeBridge tells you when to meet, it’s time for some project management; use your Qtask Calendar to remember where and when you all have to get together. A single e-mail isn’t enough to ensure attendance, as even the most important meeting invite is invisible in a thousand-message-plus inbox. Uploading meeting information to Qtask means that everyone can always find out when it is and what it’s about, whether they’re checking at their desk or using mobile management systems to keep track. What’s more, Qtask automatically manages time zones so you don’t have designer in London logging into the meeting at 2 AM.

The convenient Qtask “Discussion” tab means that all the organizing is kept together in an easily searchable central location. No more digging through files and folders while others wait with idle connections, everything you need to know is in one always-accessible place.
You could have the best virtual meeting in the world, and if everyone alt-tabs out to FaceBook and sets “Thank god that’s over” statuses it was all for nothing. A productive online meeting sets strict time lines, tasks and who is responsible for completion, and those should be available online too. With Qtask there are no more “I didn’t get the e-mail!” excuses for urgent work – you can keep people accountable through this robust project management solution. After the fact everyone can see what’s expected of them, and when.

3. Skype Conference Call – Holding the Meeting

If you’re in online business at all you should already be Skypeing: a free telephone service between computers, and you can call almost any land line at local rates. We could explain how much money this saves, but we just wrote the word “free” back there and don’t want to insult your intelligence.

A few tips for Skype conference calls:

a) Stick to audio connections. Skype can handle video, but it doesn’t gain anything, we guarantee that people will waste time fiddling and testing it, somebody won’t have a camera anyway, and it will actually delay all your meetings. How? We don’t want to ruin the mystique of your elite global team of cyber-employees, but for some people coding the back-end of an SQL database is easy; shaving and wearing clothes is hard. They’ll connect to audio anytime, but try to get a video link and they’ll delay you by at least an hour.

b) Advise online employees to have a separate Skype account for business, or at least set a “Do not call” status message. The Saturday project report can take long enough to process without interruptions from fake_grrl15 halfway through. (is it fake_girl15?

4. DabbleBoard – Visually Collaborating During the Meeting

If the average person could truly and clearly express what they think in a few sentences, the only online managers would be those editing “Poetry of the Year: Volume XVIII”. A picture is worth a thousand words, and since those words are being paid for at wages per hour times the number of people at meeting, you want those pictures as fast and free as possible.

DabbleBoard is an easy online whiteboard which lets you scribble to your hearts content without ever even hearing the word “JPG”. It even recognizes basic shapes and cleans up the image, so your clever re-org proposal won’t be undermined by looking like a 5-year old got at the whiskey and crayons.

Protip: If using DabbleBoard, recommend that the attendees test the site before electronically arriving at the meeting. Many online employees customize their browsers, and web services like FlashBlock or AdBlock may interfere with the program. It only takes a minute to fix – but that minute right in the middle of a ten person meeting is approximately infinity hours long.

5. Your Thoughts

Because online meeting task tools can save you all the gas, tickets, phone bills and catering fees you want; the best way to save money is still to get things done on time. What are your best tips for holding effective meetings on a budget.

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