Productive meetings are built on trust, and trust is built on effective communication. As how we live and work continues to change, organizations have no choice but to collaborate as remote workers across the globe.
But how do we make remote meetings effective and provide a quality experience for everyone involved? We'll review some key points around (1) making any meeting productive, (2) remote meeting basics and (3) etiquette and inclusivity for remote meetings.
Any meeting: Best practices for productivity
These routines are relatively obvious, yet easily forgotten with busy work schedules and back-to-back meetings.
Create a written agenda & meeting goal(s) in advance
Many topics are nuanced and it is important to "stick to the script" when prioritizing what should be discussed and which challenges should be resolved first. Aligning the entire group in advance around what exactly should be discussed will allow the meeting to flow smoothly and ensure everyone is operating with the same high-level information.
Moreover, beginning the meeting with a high-level summary can quickly remind others why the meeting is taking place, what the desired outcome of the meeting is and who will be tracking and clarifying next steps.
Review the attendee list
Key decision-makers or their delegates should be present. Attendees who are not required should firmly understand they can deprioritize their attendance for the meeting in question, if needed. The meeting host should ask meeting attendees if they know everyone participating in the conversation. If not, there should be a quick round of introductions (and maybe even an agile retrospective-styled icebreaker).
Focus on the meeting content & take notes for yourself
Everyone struggles with focus from time to time. Please be respectful to all participants by staying fully engaged during the meeting. This may mean intentionally hiding your phone from yourself, closing non-meeting-related tabs on your laptop’s browser, silencing all notifications, or even keeping your hands busy by taking notes. Taking notes can also be viewed as doing a favor for your “future-self,” the meeting's facilitator and possibly your entire team, while also freeing up some long and/or short-term memory space.
Call out time & off-topic conversations
It’s easy to discuss something you’re passionate about for an hour straight. Yet, if a meeting is purposed to solve several different challenges, then it may not be the best use of time to discuss one topic for the entire meeting. Everyone should feel empowered enough to call-out a time check or even poll meeting participants if you believe the group should move on to another agenda topic.
Utilize a “parking lot”
Speaking of running out of time and tangential topics being discussed, please consider parking various topics in a "parking lot" to be revisited later.
Generate action items & follow-up
Throughout the meeting, action items with clear owners should be identified, written down and summarized at the end of each meeting.
Remote meetings: The basics
Be audio aware
A microphone often picks up more than you realize. That private conversation you are having with the person next to you when leaning over a microphone was not actually a private conversation. Your chewing or breathing may not be private either—don’t eat or drink while unmuted.
Lastly, if a meeting has both in-person and remote participants, it’s important that the in-person participants not speak from the far end of the room while unmic’ed. This can be disruptive as it excludes remote participants from hearing their thoughts and this could easily devolve into a side-conversation.
Use video, when appropriate
Video can be used to your advantage when collaborating. Please make sure others can clearly see your face and you’re usually speaking towards the camera.
If you’re not speaking, leaving your audio on only invites unneeded background noise.
Ensure the best connection quality possible
Do use a “hardline” Internet connection whenever possible to ensure best connection quality.
Use grid view
Many remote collaboration tools have a "Brady Bunch," or grid view, which show all remote participants at the same time. Grid view is great because we communicate so much through facial expressions and body language.
Consider time zones
If you’re a meeting host, preemptively check time zone differences for all meeting attendees. No one particularly wants to join a meeting at 6 a.m. or 7 p.m. but some may still begrudgingly attend. If a meeting time is essentially being blocked by a few meeting attendees and no other reasonable timeframe is doable, reach out to the people in question to further coordinate before sending out the meeting invite.
“Can you hear me now?”
Recalibrate and check on your remote set-up frequently. Having a good headset and/or microphone will save you (and those meeting with you) a lot of pain in the long run!
Remote meetings: Etiquette & inclusivity
We want everyone to feel heard and appreciated during remote meetings. Some of the etiquette outlined below will assist with remote participant inclusivity.
Make introductions at the start
Matching faces with names is something all larger organizations struggle with. In our world of remote collaboration, we now may need to match faces, names and voices.
Intentionally pause to combat connection lag
Sometimes, there are seconds of audio lag. Intentionally pausing or specifically ask others for input at the end of your thought assists with meeting flow and combats several people speaking at once.
Indicate a desire to speak next
This can be done with your hands, using chat functionality within the remote tool of your choice or by using non-verbal "cue cards."
Let’s say you’re attending a remote meeting and would like to use visual gestures to indicate your desire to speak. One method would involve scanning the other meeting attendees to see if anyone has a hand or finger raised. Then raise your hand slowly as this is meant to be a non-intrusive indicator and not a desire to interrupt.
If others already have fingers raised, hold up the next number until you get to 5, and when it is your turn to talk, take your hand down. The person that was holding up 2 adjusts to 1, and so on. This is a simple visual queuing system.
Remote meetings generally should have a facilitator and/or a designated person leading the meeting. This helps with flow, since they can watch for indications of who wants to speak next.
Say ‘no’ to side conversations
Typically, having three different conversations occurring at once only confuses everyone involved. Devolving into side conversations during an in-person meeting may frequently happen and cause only minimal distractions. However, having side conversations during remote calls is simply not possible and will disrupt every attendee.
Intentionally encourage remote participants to engage
At times, several people will want to respond. When you are done speaking, encourage others to share their thoughts before moving to the next topic.
For large remote meetings
In larger meetings, consider only turning on your video and audio when you are speaking. A round of introductions and/or agile retrospective-styled icebreakers are most likely not appropriate, given the time commitment needed for these introductory activities.
To summarize, following typical meeting best practices with some minor adjustments is really all that's needed to take your meeting from wasteful to tasteful. Beyond meetings, we cover other tools and considerations for remote working in Four Ways to Enable the Remote Worker.