Optimizing Remote Team Meetings : Do's And Don'tsby@yelenevych

Optimizing Remote Team Meetings : Do's And Don'ts

by Alex YelenevychJuly 13th, 2023
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Every unnecessary meeting equals lost time and lost company money. One extra hour of a meeting becomes 10, 15, or 20 hours of lost productivity. If the goal of the meeting is to present something to employees, it makes sense to record a video and then schedule a follow-up call for Q&A.
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When the pandemic started, many businesses faced the challenge of organizing remote teams' work, but even skeptics discovered that people could be productive without direct supervision.

Many studies confirm this fact. For example, in a two-year study of over 800,000 employees, people reported stable or even increased productivity levels. And according to Fall 2022 Future Forum Pulse, employees with full schedule flexibility report 29% higher productivity and 53% greater ability to focus.

But what about the numerous, endless meetings that diminish remote work's benefits?

Over the last few years, my company became an expert in online communications—first, due to the pandemic, and then the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Today, our team is entirely distributed, with employees working from different cities and even countries. Still, we have been very productive, launching new products and exploring foreign markets.

Because of this success, I want to share my insights on organizing meetings in a remote environment in order to help other entrepreneurs understand what works and what doesn't.

To Meet Or Not To Meet

It turns out that trust doesn’t always come easily to managers. In a 2022 Microsoft study, 87% of employees reported they were productive at work, but only 12% of leaders said they had full confidence that their teams were productive. Because we don’t trust, we try to control—hence the manager’s desire to arrange too many meetings.

Every unnecessary meeting equals lost time and lost company money. Multiply the number of employees by the duration of the meeting, and you’ll get the “cost” of this meeting. One extra hour of a meeting becomes 10, 15, or 20 hours of lost productivity.

Because of this fact, and because meetings sometimes go astray, I realized we needed to change our approach. Once, after an hours-long meeting that never reach a solution, we started asking ourselves questions like:

  • What's the goal of this meeting? What outcome do we want? It should be clear and involve other people’s input. Otherwise, one-sided communication is enough.

  • Can this meeting be replaced by messages (for instance, in Slack or Teams)? Beware of prolonged texting: it may also steal your time. If you see that exchanging messages in a group channel takes more than 15 minutes, it’s likely better to schedule a quick call.

  • Can this meeting be replaced by one-sided communication? For example, a long, structured message from a manager covering essential points. Also, you can use screencasting tools like Loom to record video and screen simultaneously. If the goal of the meeting is to present something to employees, it makes sense to record such a video and then schedule a follow-up call for Q&A.

  • Who should be present at this meeting? Who is necessary to reach the meeting's goals, and who isn't?

Over the last year, we had to get creative. When part of the team in Ukraine was experiencing blackouts, employees couldn’t attend meetings. We recorded them, wrote notes and kept almost all communication written and asynchronous. Hopefully, you won't need to follow our example, but it’s proof that fewer meetings don’t mean less productivity. Despite these challenges, we launched several products over the last year, including in India, a new market for us.

Guilty Meetings: Common Mistakes

Improving the productivity of your meetings is an endless road: You may drive it, but it’s never over. You can always do better: Waste fewer hours and spend time more efficiently. It helps to notice mistakes and fix them. From my experience, every team should beware of these common mistakes:

  • Too many meetings. It's hard to know how much time people spend in meetings today, but a 2007 study discovered that managers now spend upwards of 23 hours per week at meetings—up from less than 10 hours in the 1960s.

  • Not enough meetings. Another extreme is not meeting at all. We are still humans and crave connection to others and a group, especially if this group (i.e., a company) has a compelling vision. Maintaining a sense of unity is one of the most crucial purposes of meetings.

  • No one is in charge. Like any other process, a meeting should have a “process owner” who will keep track of time, agenda, etc. Otherwise, you’ll likely repeat the mistake I talked about in the beginning.

  • No structure. The structure is a must-have for every meeting, no matter how few employees and how short the agenda.

The Do’s Of A Productive Meeting

Based on those common challenges, here are some of the most important things to keep in mind to optimize your meetings:

  • Have a clear structure. Set up a list of typical meeting structures for your company and use them when needed. For example, the whole team meeting to discuss the most critical updates or weekly project meetings for separate teams.

  • Set up a clear agenda. Before every meeting, I write a plan for it and then stick to it. If, while planning, I see there are several topics to cover, I arrange separate meetings for each of them.

  • Keep meeting duration under control. Avoid long meetings because people will get tired and stop paying attention. Although, making a meeting more dynamic may help. For example, instead of one person talking all the time, let the presentation parts and Q&A parts take turns.

  • Establish timeframes. For instance, 10 minutes per speaker, five minutes for questions to a speaker, and 15 minutes for Q&A. Make someone responsible for tracking time.

  • Try out a facilitator. Ask people’s opinions or ask them to share their experiences. It may help your team get the most out of the meeting.

With all of these best practices, I have found success in experimenting, and I suggest you do the same. Try new tools, new meeting structures, and new rules. Find what works for your company—every business and every team is unique.

Also published here.