Over the past couple of weeks, all of us have found ourselves learning new ways to do the things we used to do.
That is certainly the case for how we meet and work together now.
Since schools closed, all of us have been scrambling to find ways to continue our collaborative efforts with colleagues and, also to understand how best to support each other during this great disruption.
Over the past couple of weeks I have leaned hard into using Meetings in Teams, a feature that is baked into Teams and available for you to use right now. It has become an invaluable tool in working with staff across the district.
Meetings in Teams lets you quickly get into a video chat session with other members of your team, and has features common to most video meeting tools, including screen share, chat, a whiteboard and presenter controls.
Over the course of the last week I participated in or led 18 actual Meetings In Teams and ran dozens of other practice meetings by myself or with colleagues. I led some meetings with as many as forty people and as few as two. Throughout those meetings, I participated on three different devices, including my mobile phone and was able to move easily across those the different platforms.
Why I Chose Meetings in Teams
I decided to use Teams for a few key reasons.
First and foremost, it is already available and provisioned for all of staff. All you have to do is log into Office 365, click on Teams and then create or join a team. Making Teams is easy and adding the members to the team is a snap.
Meetings in Teams works in all teams and is already enabled. When you start a meeting, everyone on that particular team is eligible to join the meeting (no invites necessary…but more on that in a minute.)
Another reason I chose Teams is that it lets users collaborate on the documents and files shared in Teams right in the same place as the video chat. I don’t have to open another application or come up with a different way for the groups I work to access those files. All I have to do is put them in the team with the meeting and we all have access to them.
Finally, I chose to use Teams because of safety and privacy concerns. Everything that happens in a Teams Meeting is happening inside of our Issaquah School District domain. Only members of our Office 365 tenant can participate in Teams.
What this means is that the only people who can show up are ISD employees and students. Zoombombing is a real thing on other platforms, and I didn’t want to risk the privacy of the teachers and staff I am working with.
My Experience with Meetings in Teams and What I Learned Along the Way
Even though the feature is baked into Teams, there are things to learn and better ways of doing things to make the experience smoother for participants.
Over the course of the last two weeks I’ve been experimenting with and refining my approach to scheduling and running meetings.
Here’s what I’ve learned.
Create Meetings Inside a Team
This sounds weird. What are you talking about Josh? I’m using Teams, so of course I’m creating a meeting inside a Team.
Well, that’s actually not the case. When you use the scheduling tool, you have to specify which team you want to hold the meeting in. If you don’t do that the meeting takes place outside of all the Teams you are a member of and in a space called private chat.
The problem with this is that private chat is turned off for our users, so users aren’t able to access private chat (even though they can attend the meeting.) This can make it hard for attendees to find the meeting and get to the right place. Another reason that it is problematic is that your group doesn’t have direct access to the files and conversations already in your team.
When you schedule a meeting to occur inside a channel of a team, everyone on that team can join the meeting and knows where to find the meeting. You can totally skip the Attendees field because Teams will automatically add the members of that team. And, the participants are also right where you are already working together. Additionally, the chat (technically it’s called a conversation in Teams parlance) is preserved right in the channel and with the meeting which makes it much easier to refer back to.
Establish Norms That Work for Your Team
This is just as true in the virtual world as it is in the real world. You’re going to need to organize people and make sure they understand how to interact.
Each group has different needs and different relationships, so the norms are going to vary. However, I found that the following norms are a good starting point, and easy for everyone to understand.
1.) If you are an attendee don’t start the meeting early (wait until the presenter has started it to join)
2.) When joining mute your microphone
3.) Keep the chat window open (click on the speech bubble to open it when you enter)
4.) Keep your microphone muted unless you are talking
Have a Copilot
There are a lot information inputs to take in when running a meeting on Teams.
You’ve got content you want to share.
You’ve got people asking questions and sharing thoughts in the chat.
You’ve got people that want to speak.
Having a second presenter to monitor the chat and to jump in with things you forget is really helpful, especially during the first few meetings you run. This is obviously not as important in a small, collaborative meeting but if you are working with a large group it is essential and will make the whole process smoother.
Have a Plan for What’s on the Screen and When It’s On the Screen
When you run a meeting in the real world, you probably think carefully about what you are going to say, and you also probably take time to think about what you are going to show and when.
It’s the same in virtual meetings, except that you have to be even more intentional about what you are going to show. This is due to the nature of running visuals inside a visual medium. Very meta.
By default Meetings in Teams will show four thumbnail video feeds and then adjust those based on the engine’s best guess at who is talking and presenting.
This is fine, but if you are trying to communicate complex ideas to people it works much better if you have visuals, and thankfully, you’re already presenting from a computer, so you know, you have a lot of options to choose from.
Meetings in Teams makes this pretty easy and gives you a number of screen sharing options, including the ability to broadcast a PowerPoint to the participants.
One cool feature of the PowerPoint tool is that you can give participants the option to work their way through it at their own pace or you can keep them on the same slide you are presenting on.
Another facet of screen sharing is that you have to pay careful attention to what you choose to share. There are a number of options.
If you want to make sure that attendees see your screen no matter what window you are in choose Desktop. This will follow you as you toggle through windows and ensure that participants see your screen.
If you want to be able to look at other things on your computer (like that Fred Meyer pick up order you’ve been working on) but not let attendees see them you can choose Window as an option. Here you click on the thumbnail of the window you want them to see and the screen share will stay on that window even if you toggle away from it.
Taking some time to think about the ‘when’ is also important. Do you want attendees to follow you through some steps to get to a place in teams? That’s a good time to choose Window and show them your Team. Taking a few minutes to plan the when will help a lot with keeping participants engaged.
One last tip.
There will be a thin red marker box around the window if you are sharing that window with attendees. This is a quick and easy way to ensure that you know what they are seeing.
One area that Teams suffers a bit is in presenter controls. This is a legacy issue due to the fact that Teams was created for collegial collaboration and assumed that all participants were equal presenters.
They have added a few things to help a presenter rest a little more control over the process though.
If you schedule a meeting (do it from a specific team though) and then go back and click into the Meeting Details (click on on the purple bar that appears) you will notice a small button called Meeting Options has appeared near the top the screen.
Clicking on this button will open the following screen in a browser. Once there you will see that you can control who the presenter in a meeting is.
Why would you want to do this?
When only you (or a small group) are the presenter, everyone else is considered an attendee.
This limits their participation in some important ways.
Number one is that they can take control of the screen without your permission. If you want to hand things off to an attendee you still can but it’s under your control.
Another benefit is that you can mute everyone with a click of the button through the participant window (button on the tool bar that looks like a couple of people.)
One final benefit is that you will be able to push out closed captioning to all the participants.
Include System Audio Is Pretty Sweet
Hidden in the Share Screen Tray, is a little toggle called include system audio. Toggling this on will pull whatever audio is coming from your computer into the meeting. I was a little skeptical at first but in our testing the sound quality was pretty good.
I like this little trick because it gives the option of playing some music while people are joining the meeting or showing a video that everyone can watch in meeting.
This whole running a video meeting is something new for most of us.
Consequently, it makes sense that you’re not going to be a super star at right out the gate and probably won’t be comfortable with it for a while.
I spent a lot of time this week just trying things out in practice meetings with team members and colleagues. We tried out different scenarios, posed what if questions and honestly, tried to break things (I’ve always been a little hard on things…sorry mom.)
This time was immensely helpful in helping me understanding the dynamics of the tool and to grow my understanding of operating in a new mode. It also allowed me to retrofit and retool my teacher/presenter tool kit.
All the time and practice also allowed me to get super comfortable navigating a new modality of presenting that while not a replica of what I can bring in the in person, turns out to be a powerful medium in its own right.
Some More Teams Resources
Here are some more resources for getting going with Teams.