When was the last time your remote meeting ran without a hiccup? If you can’t remember then this blog post is for you.
Technology is redefining the way we engage with each other and collaborate. This is especially true of meetings. Online meetings have become part of our schedule as our teams become remote. This brings both benefits and challenges. Remote meetings connect dispersed workers and bring everyone up to speed. It also offers a higher degree of work flexibility and allows companies to hire talent from across the globe. Remote meetings also save time and cost for organizations when compared to traditional face to face meetings. However, there may be technological or connection issues that disrupt these meetings. Finding a meeting time that works for everyone is difficult. The absence of nonverbal cues may also adversely affect communication.
Here is how you can overcome the problems associated with remote meetings and empower your team to run effective meetings.
Get the Right Tools
Running effective team meetings begins with choosing the right tools. Most meetings suffer from the following problems
- Technical glitches, connection issues
- No real-time collaboration
- No feedback
Use a combination of tools, where each tool performs a certain function. For example, use
- Skype to connect
- Confluence for team document collaboration or MeetNotes for meeting notes and tasks and,
- chat or poll to gather feedback.
You can also use Google Docs and Hangouts. Find the combination that works for your team, put it to the test and refine the combination if needed. If you want to run a productive teleconference, Greg Digneo from Time Doctor offers actionable advice in his blog 10 Smart Tips for Running a Productive Teleconference.
Understand the Drawbacks of Remote Team Meetings
Nothing can be as effective as a face to face meeting. Spend some time understanding your remote meeting tools. Develop contingency plans based on the technological shortcomings. Dial in at least 5 minutes early in order to set up everything or shift to the contingency plan when a problem arises.
Getting key information across without visual cues is another difficulty that is encountered. To overcome this, try using descriptive words to explain how you are feeling, such as excited, surprised, etc. Along with contingency plans, you will also need a documented plan for resolving conflicts and other issues that have an emotional undertone.
Use Video to Enhance the Virtual Meeting Experience
Facial expressions play a crucial role in communication. Leverage video to make your virtual meetings more meaningful. You can understand the inflection, tone of voice and the reason for a pause. This improves communication and collaboration and reduces the risk of misunderstanding. There are several video conferencing tools that you can use like Join.me, Skype, Zoom and Appear. Video conferencing doesn’t just improve meeting productivity. Here are some interesting statistics.
Account for Different Time Zones
Plan your virtual meeting by considering the different time zones. See what works best for all team members and setup the meeting accordingly. Every Time Zone is a handy tool you can use to get a snapshot of times all over the world. This way you will never schedule a meeting when one of your colleagues is in deep REM sleep!
Determine the Time and Frequency for Remote Team Meetings
For some teams, a weekly meeting may be sufficient. If your team is following agile practices, then you may need to conduct a 15-minute daily standup. Find out what works best, keeping in mind the projects that your remote team works on. While deciding the frequency, ensure that meeting overhead is kept to a minimum.
You can choose to start the week with a morning team meeting. Teams may even benefit from a midweek meeting. You could also choose to close the week with a meeting where you can discuss progress achieved and plan ahead.
Don’t Invite Too Many People
Having too many participants in a remote meeting increases the technological requirements. Most attendees will be forced to remain silent and conversation may become difficult. 1-10 attendees is an ideal number. Make each attendee responsible for at least one agenda item, this way they will not consider the meeting as a waste of their time. You can also assign the following roles to them- leader or facilitator, timekeeper and note-taker.
If you are still confused about how many people to invite, use Jeff Bezos’ two-pizza test. If the meeting attendees can’t be fed with two pizzas, then you have invited too many people. Just ensure that the pizza is the right size! If you are a startup, then two 8” pizzas should suffice.
Prepare in Advance
Don’t let your virtual meetings be swallowed by status updates. Ask each team member to prepare a short note about what they have accomplished and what’s in their weekly plan. This includes:
- Tasks planned for last week and results
- Important issues that arose
- Tasks lined up for next week
You can write these notes using MeetNotes and share them across the team. Zapier follows this model. During the meeting, the first 10 minutes are spent in reading these notes. Discussion starts only after this exercise is completed.
Ensure that all supporting documents are shared in advance along with the agenda, never share new material during the remote meeting. Often meeting attendees may be involved in preparing their own presentations or rehearsing what they will say, instead of paying attention. Prepare your presentations in advance, read up on supporting documents and bring relevant questions to the meeting.
Start with an Ice-Breaker Session
People work better as a team when they get to know each other. An informal ice-breaker session can help the team collaborate and communicate with each other better. This strengthens relationships among team members and builds rapport. There are numerous ideas for ice-breakers such as
- “Take a Picture of Your Shoes”- Ask attendees to take a picture of their shoes and upload it before the meeting. Ask everyone to narrate the story behind the shoe.
- “The Personal Question”- Find out more about employees interests outside of work. Where they would like to vacation or their favorite food.
- “The Time Machine”- Get every attendee to answer this question: If you were able to travel back in time where would you go?
- “Two Lies and a Truth”- Each attendees shares three facts, others have to guess which facts are true.
Plan for Shorter Attention Spans
In this age of information overload, our attention spans are becoming shorter. Break your virtual meeting into 10-minute sessions with breaks in-between. You can keep distractions away and your team stays focused. Another way to keep everyone engaged is asking for input. During weekly team meetings, attendees may resort to multitasking and not be fully involved in the discussion. Counter this problem with active participation from everyone.
Work Together to Solve Problems
Working collaboratively, teams can find innovative solutions to business problems. As a result, the team becomes a cohesive unit. Ask team members to bring an issue to the meeting. Allot time to explain this issue and allow other team members to ask questions in order to understand the problem better. Then, encourage everyone to offer suggestions on how the problem can be solved.
Keep Meeting Discussions on Track
Once the prepared notes from each team member have been read, open the floor for questions. Allocate a fixed time for each person to ask questions. This ensures that only the most important issues are addressed during a remote meeting. If the discussions consistently run longer than planned, you can :
- Move the discussion to a parking lot.
- Examine the prep notes and add sufficient details for the next meeting.
- Ensure that each team member is timed, designate a time-keeper for the same.
The order in which team members ask questions should be consistent but it can be rotated. Working collaboratively, teams can find innovative solutions to business problems. As a result, the team becomes a cohesive unit.
Resist the Urge to Use Mute
Using a virtual meeting to catch up on email or engage in other work is unethical and disrespectful. This leads to unproductive meetings and you cannot achieve your meeting goal. To determine if a behavior is acceptable, ask yourself if you would do it in a traditional meeting room. If the answer is no, then don’t do it.
Gather Feedback After the Meeting
After the meeting ends, ask participants to rate the meeting. Take time to understand their frustrations, their concerns and issues. Ask them how the meeting could have been conducted differently and use their ideas in the next meeting. This will establish a culture where remote workers feel respected and heard.
Finish that Unfinished Discussion
Certain discussions may have been pushed to the parking lot for lack of time. Schedule a time for these discussions with the participants concerned. Also, plan for follow-up of tasks assigned during the meeting.
It is easy to get discouraged when virtual meetings suck time and energy instead of being productive. Instead of giving up, focus on meeting preparation and developing contingency plans when things go south. Stick to the meeting etiquette and actively participate. Your remote team meetings will become a channel for generating creative ideas and collaborative problem-solving. Need more tips? Read about these 7 companies that make remote teams work efficiently.