It is becoming increasingly popular for businesses to have remote employees. The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in lots of people...
The 5 best practices for remote meetingsStijn Schutyser
Remote meetings are a big part of a lot of people’s’ professional lives now. It’s no different for us here at ACA! While we have quite a lot of experience in successfully meeting remotely, we find that not everyone is so fortunate. And it’s no wonder: remote meetings are sometimes difficult to handle and can be frustrating timewasters. In this blog post, we outline 5 best practices that will help you successfully set up and hold remote meetings.
1. KISS (Keep It Short, Stupid)
Sorry, I didn’t mean to call you stupid. But hopefully, it’s caught your attention and allows me to make my point: keep remote meetings short and sweet. First, make sure it’s actually necessary to meet. Consider whether you could achieve the same results asynchronously through email, Slack, or your team’s collaboration platform of choice (e.g. Confluence).
Next up, when you’ve decided that it’s indeed necessary to meet, only invite people that really need to be there. You should know exactly why each invited person is there, and they should know too. If you have a work culture in which everyone has to be included, think about sending out a recap to key people after the meeting instead of requiring everyone to attend. Not only will this save your company a lot of time, it’ll speed up the pace of the meeting as well. Additionally, if you need someone for only part of the meeting, invite them for just that part of the meeting or set up a separate short meeting with that person.
As a standard, try to make your meetings 30 or 45 minutes long instead of the standard hour long one. To make sure you can communicate as concisely as possible, share the meeting’s agenda beforehand and –that’s the kicker– stick to it, so people know what to expect and come prepared. Make sure you and everyone else knows what you’re trying to accomplish with the meeting, and when you’ve accomplished it, say goodbye! 👋
2. Set an agenda and agree on remote meeting guidelines
If you want your scheduled remote meeting to be efficient and successful, you need to plan your agenda. The best remote meetings have a session agenda set beforehand so that people come in knowing what it is they will be talking about. If the meeting doesn’t have such an agenda, you’ll probably lose some time just figuring out what it is you are even trying to do.
For every virtual meeting, it’s important to create a clear meeting agenda that includes:
- Key talking points
- Meeting structure (for example, when and for how long you plan to discuss each talking point)
- Team members/teams that will be in attendance
- What each team member/team is responsible for bringing to the meeting
- Any relevant documents, files, or research
Just as important as the meeting agenda are the meeting guidelines: the rules and expectations of how the team is expected to contribute to the remote meeting. You want to make sure that meeting participants enter with clear guidelines and expectations. In order to do so, clarify whether everyone can speak freely or the team leader will call on someone when it’s that person’s turn to contribute. Does everyone need to have their camera on at all times or just the presenter? Should people mute their phones/mics while others are speaking?
Setting a clear meeting agenda and guidelines (and sending them to the team at least 24 hours in advance) will help ensure that everyone is on the same page before the remote meeting takes place.
3. Assign a facilitator and make sure they understand their role
It’s usually harder to manage a remote meeting than an in-person one. It can be helpful to assign a facilitator to guide the conversation, allowing the other participants to focus on the content. The facilitator can also use a polling system to see what’s on everyone’s mind and ensure that all voices are heard.
And all voices should be heard, just not all at the same time. Getting everyone to participate without talking over each other is one of the more challenging aspects of running a remote meeting. The facilitator can periodically call on individuals to speak or virtually ‘go around the table’. Some software packages, like Zoom, allow attendees to virtually raise their hand. This can help the facilitator drive closure without the risk of excluding an introverted participant’s views.
At the end of a meeting, it’s also the facilitator’s job to make sure that every person walks out with a clear objective. The key things everyone needs to know are:
- what the next steps are
- deliverables and when those are due
- who’s responsible for following up on each item or task
- when the next meeting or check-in will be
Do you want to facilitate a remote meeting yourself, but not sure how to handle things on your own yet? You can download the template below to get you started on creating a clear agenda before your meeting starts. At the end of your meeting, you can also use it to fill in the next steps.
4. Understand that you’re meeting and focus on that
A lot of people across industries would probably agree that conference calls aren’t the best use of their valuable time. One published survey shows that only 23% of managers gave their full attention during conference calls, while 25% dealt with their email, and 27% did other work. This level of distraction is much higher than in face-to-face meetings. Why is that?
Well, remote meetings allow people to do things on the side while other meeting participants might not immediately notice they’re not paying attention. And since participants are using their phones or computers to attend, they can be easily distracted by things such as other work, their email, Slack, or –gasp– things not related to work (I’m looking at you, Facebook).
So how do you combat this? One way is to use video to make everyone feel included and as if they’re all at the ‘same’ meeting. Like we discussed earlier, the facilitator can also help with increasing engagement by asking questions, going around the table, and so on.
5. The foundation for a successful remote meeting is laid before the meeting starts
When you work with an in-person team, there are plenty of opportunities throughout the day to stop, chat, and connect. Those informal conversations and connections help build a rapport that carries over into meetings, making people feel more engaged and perhaps more comfortable voicing their opinions or offering critical feedback. One study found that workers who shared a funny or embarrassing story about themselves with their team produced 26% more ideas in brainstorming sessions than workers who didn’t.
But remote team members don’t necessarily have those opportunities, which is why you’ll have to create them. If most team members haven’t spoken or met before, they’ll likely be reluctant to share or debate ideas in front of others. So before making virtual meetings a regular part of your team’s workflow, it’s important to get everyone comfortable with communicating with each other.
A great way to do that is to build a communal place online where team members can get to know each other and connect outside of structured meetings. Additionally, a few minutes of friendly interaction before diving into a meeting can really build the necessary rapport for a successful sit-down and keep the team engaged when the conversation jumps to business talk. A great way to do this is asking some opening questions before getting to the ‘real stuff’. Here are some examples:
- What is something you’ve read, watched, or listened to lately that you’d recommend?
- What is something that made you laugh this week?
- What were you really into when you were a kid? (Or: what they are into now)
- What would you be doing if you didn’t have this job?
- What superpower would you like to have and why?
Remote meetings are now more than ever a fundamental way of getting things done for many people. However, not every remote meeting is as effective and successful as it could be. With a little thought and preparation though, they can be made both effective and efficient.
Interested in better, faster and smoother teamwork? Check out how we can help you!