Homeworking: useful online tools
This guidance aims to help people working from home during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Before using any of the online tools mentioned please refer to your department policies. Be aware that, unless your IT security team have advised otherwise, all content uploaded to the online tools discussed should be treated as if it is in the public domain.
|Publication date:||3 April 2020|
|Author:||Good Practice Team|
|Who this is for:||Everyone|
Meetings and presentations
Skype is used by many GSS departments. It is extremely useful for homeworking. Both video and audio conferences can be held internal to your organisation or across government departments that use Skype. Instant messaging is also an important feature, with many using this to get “instant answers” to their queries or general catching up between team members. Skype also has the functionality to co-author office documents, run interactive polls and share presenters’ screens to promote a collaborative space.
Chairing a meeting
- Set an agenda and be clear about the purpose of the meeting.
- If you use Microsoft Outlook you can take notes in OneNote (using the “Meeting Notes” button in the Outlook calendar). This will also automatically check off an attendance list for you.
- Ask everyone to mute their microphones when chairing a large meeting (over 10 participants).
- Address any issues of substantial background noise early on.
- See who has joined the call by opening the participant panel (a little logo of three people).
- Mute and unmute people using the participant panel.
- The chair should read out the list of people on the call rather than ask people to identify themselves individually (unless nobody knows each other – then, introductions can be useful).
- Check if anyone has any outstanding remarks or questions arising from the discussion at the end of each agenda item.
- Send out materials in advance to give people a chance to reflect.
- Invite individuals to comment – this will ensure that people stay engaged during the whole meeting.
- If it is a formal meeting, agree the order in which people can contribute their comments (e.g. alphabetically).
- Recap any key decisions at the end of the meeting – this makes sure that everyone is on the same page before signing off.
- If you’re in a meeting with a lot of people, and a small number are dominating the discussion with a lengthy topic that holds significance for only a few participants, ask them to have a follow up call after the conference call is over.
The lack of visual cues, such as body language, is perhaps the most significant barrier conference call participants meet when trying to communicate effectively. If you feel comfortable, consider using video. This will often encourage others to use their videos and break down barriers.
You can share your screen to give a presentation, but this does mean that you’re no longer able to access the Skype window (unless you have two screens). Consider whether this will affect your ability to effectively chair the meeting. If it will, ask a colleague to run the slides instead.
You can use tools like Slido and Mentimeter to get people to engage with presentations, particularly if you have more than 10 participants. Keep reading to find out more about these tools!
Dealing with silence
Silence is fine during an in-person meeting, but on a conference call, the quietness can lead to confusion. If you’re in a situation where a direct answer is forthcoming but not immediate, try to describe the actions you’re taking, e.g. “I’m just logging into my email now. OK. Searching for Karen’s email”. By narrating a small sequence of events, you can actively tell the other participants that you’re still engaged in the call.
Ending the meeting
Conference calls can feel quite functional, so it’s good to end on a positive note. Aim to finish the serious business with five minutes to spare and leave the team with something positive. In an ordinary meeting you would talk about your plans for the day, evening or weekend. Try and replicate this on the call.
Attending a Skype meeting
- Speak loudly and clearly.
- Use a headset if you can – not using one can create an echoey sound and allow a lot of background noise into the call.
- Be prepared to expect and embrace call disruptions – it is likely your call will be disrupted by children, dogs or the bell ringing – find a way to laugh about it!
- Put yourself on mute to minimise interruptions if it is a large meeting – but if it is a small meeting leaving yourself unmuted can help make the call feel more like a conversation.
- Maximise the Skype window so you won’t be tempted to multitask.
- Have a way to reach out to the rest of the team if the connection drops out or the Skype link breaks.
Mentimeter allows you to engage and interact with an audience. You can create a presentation using a mixture of slides, wordclouds, interactive quizzes, polls, and more.
You deliver your presentation via a video conferencing tool like Skype or Zoom and ask people to interact with the polls and quizzes via the Menti app or on the menti.com website. They just need to type in the unique code assigned to your presentation.
It is a great way to make presentations more interactive when everyone is working from home.
The free version of Mentimeter allows you to present to an unlimited audience size, but you can only have up to two open-ended questions and up to five quizzes per presentation.
In the paid basic version, you can have unlimited questions and quizzes, and it also gives you the functionality to import PowerPoint and Google presentations into your interactive slides.
Slido is great tool for engaging with your audience. You can create polls, brainstorm ideas and run question and answer sessions with participants. It’s suitable for team meetings, webinars, and presentations. It also works well alongside video or telephone conferences.
As with Mentimeter, you create a unique code for your event and share this with attendees. They then input this code into the Slido website or use the Slido app. From there, they can send questions, ideas or respond to polls. The Good Practice Team (GPT) have used Slido to make champion network meetings more interactive by asking attendees to submit questions via Slido.
The free version of Slido has some restrictions, but it does allow you to crowdsource questions. This means all audience members can see the questions that have been sent and then they can vote on which questions they most want answered. It also allows you to run up to three polls for up to 1,000 participants. Slido sessions can be integrated with Google Slides.
The paid version offers more options, such as surveys, question moderation and embedded videos.
Best Practice and Impact division (BPI) host regular sharing webinars which are open to all government departments. Currently these webinars are streamed live on YouTube. To set up the stream, Streamlabs OBS software is used which enables PowerPoint presentations to be broadcast as well audio from presenters. Examples of previous sharing webinars can be found on the BPI’s YouTube channel. Further information on streaming via YouTube can be found on YouTube help.
Trello is a project management tool that allows users to create virtual noticeboards. They can then add lists and tasks and assign people to tasks. The free version of Trello will probably be enough for most users but there is a pricing plan depending upon your needs.
Trello itself has some excellent help and guidance pages.
If using Trello for work, please remember that even if your board is private and locked down to certain members Trello is not a secure platform and is hosted outside the United Kingdom. Trello can mine the information posted to look for insights and operational performance. This means you should always be aware of the potential risk for operational and reputational damage from the information posted.
Google Docs is a free, web-based word processor. It is useful for collaborating with others on word documents as you can create documents and share them with others. Any changes made to files are automatically saved and reflected in real-time online. All changes are tracked, meaning there is a full history of edits and who made them. You can use Google Docs either through your web browser (Chrome, Internet Explorer etc) or the Google Docs app on your phone or tablet. Google Docs is compatible with Microsoft Word.
Google Docs is part of a wider suite of web-based applications and file storage services from Google, called Google Drive. The other apps which might be useful are Google Sheets (spreadsheets) and Google Slides (presentations).
SmartSurvey is an online survey tool. Through the SmartSurvey website, users can create surveys and forms from scratch or use templates provided. There are lots of different question types to choose from and you can preview the survey before it goes live. The free version allows users to create an unlimited number of surveys, but there are limited features such as a maximum of 15 questions per survey and a maximum of 100 responses per month. To use features like “skip-logic”, exporting data to Excel and creating cross-tabs, you’ll have to pay. Paid versions start from £35 a month.
Staying in touch
Slack is great tool for conversations You can access it using an internet browser or through Android and Apple apps.
The app may be useful in government departments that block Slack on work computers – but check with your department on their policy first. Also, please remember that Slack is not suitable for all work conversations as it is not secure. All content posted on Slack should be considered to be in the public domain. OFFICIAL content should not be posted unless it is already published and OFFICIAL-SENSITIVE and higher content should never be posted.
Slack allows users to discuss specific topics, sorted by channel. These discussions are visible to everyone in that channel, reducing the need to use emails to share information. This is particularly useful when flexible working patterns and homeworking are commonplace.
Documents, polls and links can be included on the channels, as well as the ability to connect other forms of software (e.g. Twitter). This way, all communications are in one place, so that everybody can use and view them.
You can also use Slack to discuss things not necessarily work-related, that could help to improve the overall wellbeing of the team. Whether this be pictures of dogs, cats, or spots on lunch break walks, it allows teams to build a solid team spirit in a homeworking environment.
This guidance will be reviewed and added to when appropriate.