Co-founder, Remote Tools & Remote Clan
FACT: Efficiency of remote meetings drop as you increase the number of attendees, and the meeting time. So, you should optimize to keep the participants and the duration to a minimum, ideally, i.e., not having meetings at all. But... How do you collaborate remotely then? Here's how: Have your documentation and asynchronous collaboration so solid that there's no need for a synchronous "meeting". However, having no meetings just isn't practical, right? So while you work towards minimizing the number of online meetings, let me share 10 things you should know to run successful remote meetings.
We are usually worried about not wasting others' time, sharing agenda beforehand, starting and ending on time when meeting with customers or key stakeholders. Often, we disregard this when meeting with our team or peers.
When you have a guardian mindset towards every remote meeting, you end up planning it right from start to finish. More importantly, once you have your choices decided & practised for remote meetings, it hardly takes you minutes to execute them regularly. For example, having video always on, establishing norms like everyone speaks in turns for X minutes etc.
Let me share two versions of opening an online meeting -
Case 1 - "Hey guys, I want to discuss ways in which we can leverage SEO for our content the same way <<competitor>> does. I read that they have been doing a lot of work around optimizing pages for SEO, actively getting backlinks etc. I want us to formulate a similar strategy for the long-term."
Case 2 - "Did you guys check out this tweet by <<competitor's CEO>>? They get 50,000 hits to their website organically by optimizing for SEO! I was shocked we missed such an obvious focus area. I dug much deeper and here's what I found out. About a years ago, <<competitor>> had 1000 organic visitors coming from Google. But they realised that for a lot of searches, they were ranking lower, beyond the first page, but they were RANKING. <<competitor's CEO>> immediately realised this is a huge area for improvement ... "
You can clearly see a marked difference between both the openings. I can bet that the 2nd opening gets the participants engaged and more inclined to participate.
Storytelling has many benefits -
You could chose to start with a story that's related to your meeting agenda or it could just be a social chat for e.g. narrating a funny incident that happened in your morning jog today. Either ways, it has a positive impact on your discussion.
In fact, in general, storytelling is considered to be super beneficial to build trust and psychological safety in a remote team.
It is common knowledge that the quality of meetings (and discussions) drops as the number of attendees increase, more so for remote meetings. Plus there is added hassle to find a common time that works for everyone across timezones.
As a rule of thumb, you should always optimize to have the least number of people attend a meeting. On top of that, you always have the option to record your discussions and store them in your central location (e.g. wiki) so that interested people can view it later.
You should ensure that the meeting time works for everyone in their own timezone. A good rule to follow is to make all meetings between a certain time range e.g. 10PM-8AM across timezones to be optional.
There are plenty of tools that help you choose the right time frame quickly, for e.g. World Time Buddy. If you are looking for a more advanced, automatic scheduling, you should check out Undock or TeamTimes for Mac.
Social loafing implies people putting in less effort on a task when working in a group vs working alone. The tendency to hide in a group increases in virtual meetings due to additional barriers in a remote scenario.
Inviting only the needed people for a meeting and having all of them to keep their video on helps tackle this problem. Additionally, video calls ensure that visual cues aren't missed, something as simple as a head nod.
Just a couple of weeks back, I spoke about the remote work anti-pattern: Wrong notion of time, where you believe that remote meetings usually take longer than in-office meetings.
On the contrary, people's attention span is much shorter in a virtual setting (meeting) and hence, you should ensure to keep the meeting time to minimum. There's no rule that your meetings should be at least half hour or an hour long - never hesitate to schedule a 15 or 20 min meeting.
In fact, studies show that reducing meeting time and creating a time pressure pushes groups to perform better with increased focus and motivation.
If everyone isn't aligned on expectations from remote meetings, there's always ambiguity and utter confusion in terms of actions. Something as simple as taking breaks or stretching isn't implicit and you should ensure to have norms set and conveyed along these lines. Setting mutual expectations like everyone gets a minute or two to speak in turns goes a long way in having beneficial discussions.
Being an active facilitator is also key and an extension to my first point about adopting a guardian mindset. As a facilitator, you probe and encourage others to speak up. For example, drawing out participants like 'What are your thoughts on the new guidelines, Mark?' as opposed to generic statements like 'Does anyone have anything to share?'.
You are already aware that success in any aspect of remote working depends heavily on technology and adoption of tools. So you shouldn't shy away from using tools not just for the very essential use-cases like video calls but also for specific ones like:
I already outlined this in my post on anti-patterns - every situation in a remote setting needs to have a fallback or Plan B.
Imagine if Zoom gives up on you just 5 minutes before the start of the meeting. Do you have a plan B for such situations?
Also, it helps a lot to know your tools well - things that work & don't work. For example, when you screenshare on Zoom, there's a visible lag you will notice when browsing the web. If you know this already, you can be better prepared by closing your usual set of apps and freeing up some memory.
Even if you have had a great meeting or discussion but don't end it well, you might have as well wasted everyone's time.
So what do I mean by ending a meeting well -
Sharing takeaways - Always helpful to reinforce something that's discussed verbally in a remote setting with a written note. When you have the takeaways stored in your central location (wiki), your teammates can easily refer them at a later point (in fact, much more helpful compared to storing entire meeting recordings).
Action items - Super critical because you don't want to end a good discussion with ambiguity on who is supposed to do what.
Asking for feedback - A quick survey (for a larger group meeting) or a small informal chat afterwards with one or more participants proves very helpful in improving your future meetings. After all, what's the harm in having extra feedback?
Previously published as a newsletter.