When was the last time your remote meeting ran without a hiccup? If you can’t recall, then this blog post is for you.
Technology is changing the way we engage with each other. This is very true of meetings. Online meetings have become part of our schedule as our teams become remote. But this also brings challenges. There may be technological or connection issues that disrupt these meetings. Finding a meeting time that works for everyone is hard. The absence of nonverbal cues may also damage communication within the team.
Here is how you can overcome the problems associated with remote meetings.
Get the Right Tools
Running effective team meetings begins with choosing the right tools. Most meetings suffer from a few problems.
- Technical glitches, connection issues
- No real-time collaboration
- No feedback
To tackle this, you can make use of different tools for each function. For example, Skype or Zoom can be used to connect. You can use Google Docs for collaborating on documents. You can also use Meetric for meeting notes and tasks.
Find the combination that works for your team and put it to the test. Refine the combination if needed.
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. Dial in at least 5 minutes early in order to set up everything or shift to a back-up 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 plan for resolving conflicts.
Use Video to Enhance the Virtual Meeting Experience
Facial expressions are crucial for communication. Make use of 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. It also reduces the risk of misunderstanding. There are several video call tools that you can use like Join.me, Skype, Zoom, and Appear.
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 enough. Other teams 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 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 may result in more technical difficulties. 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 roles to them: leader, 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 is 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 Meetric and share them across the team.
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 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.
- “Two Lies and a Truth”: Each attendee 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. 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
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.
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 back-up 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.