To paraphrase a popular nursery rhyme—when remote team meetings are good, they are very, very good. But when they are bad they are horrid.
Meetings are a double-edged sword for most organizations. They’re often necessary, and they can result in a kind of rapport, synergy, and team-building that you can’t achieve through email. However, they are also time-consuming and can disrupt workflow and slow down operations significantly.
Here’s an interesting take on the actual time investment that meetings require:
“If you’re going to schedule a meeting that lasts one hour and invite 10 people to attend then it’s a ten-hour meeting, not a one-hour meeting. You are trading 10 hours of productivity for one hour of meeting time.”
– Jason Fried, author of Rework and Founder & CEO of Basecamp
In other words, meetings are costly. So it makes sense to get the highest return possible from the time investment.
All of the pitfalls of team meetings that take place in person are even more prevalent for remote team meetings: disorganization, disengagement, lack of a clear objective, derailing side conversations. To make a remote meeting work, you have to go in with a plan.
7 Ways to Make Your Remote Team Meetings More Effective
Make Sure You Really Need to Have a Meeting
Remote meetings can be a fantastic way to get your team on the same page, gain consensus, and build momentum around a project. But only if the meeting is structured, well-managed, and truly necessary. Before scheduling a meeting, ask yourself two questions: 1.) How many people need to be involved in this discussion? And 2.) What is the objective of this meeting?
The ideal number of participants for a remote meeting is 4 to 7, especially if the goal of the meeting is to reach a decision or have a problem-solving discussion. If you need feedback and input from more than 8 people, consider sending around a survey to everyone, asking team members to discuss the issue with their team leader beforehand and then scheduling a meeting with only the team leaders, or asking team members to post updates and feedback in a shared document. Having too many participants in a remote meeting is a sure way to be inefficient and to create disengaged, frustrated team members.
Secondly, make sure that your objective is clear and concise before scheduling a remote meeting. If your objective is still vague and uncertain, you need to do more planning and thinking before you get everyone’s schedules lined up for a remote meeting.
Post an Agenda or Outline
Of course, creating an agenda is important for real life meetings, too—but agendas are absolutely critical for keeping participants engaged and on-task during a remote meeting. Not only do agendas create a clear plan for the meeting, ensure that no important business gets missed, and help the meeting organizer better control the time investment, they’re also a great tool for participants. If the call quality is compromised or the video feed drops out, an agenda makes it easy for the participant to catch up.
Start Strong, Finish Strong
Nothing drains the energy from the virtual room of your remote meeting like waiting to get going, false starts, or confusion at the beginning of the meeting. Posting an agenda should help start the meeting off on the right foot, but try to eliminate lost time at the beginning of the meeting by having your opening remarks prepped in advance.
One way to make sure your meetings start off strong is to use virtual meeting tools and video conference platforms that offer simple connectivity to multiple devices. We’ve all been in that remote meeting that takes forever to get started while the organizers look for cables, try to get the technology working, and help participants connect. Don’t be that meeting.
Similarly, decide in advance how and when the meeting will end, and don’t let it drag out. In real life, we call this inability to say goodbye threshold paralysis. We’re not sure what you’d call it in a remote meeting, but there is a tendency for some participants to linger to make final remarks or ask unrelated questions. Be sure to come to a clear, firm conclusion without shutting down your team members—offer them an easy way to provide feedback or ask follow-up questions after the meeting, instead.
Establish a Clear Leader
Sure, you promote your flexible work space and value all of the creativity and productivity that flexibility brings. But a remote team meeting is a time for rules and structure or the conversation will quickly become chaotic. Before the meeting, be sure to make it clear who is leading. The meeting leader doesn’t have to do all the talking or even drive the conversation—he or she should operate more as a moderator. Guiding the discussion, bringing participants back to the agenda if they get off track, monitoring participation, and managing those subtle and tricky transitions from point-to-point.
Get Everyone Involved
One of the main tasks that the meeting leader should take on is making sure that everyone stays engaged or participates to some degree. Studies show that in meetings of 6 or more people, 3 of those people do 70% of the talking. While this may be OK in face-to-face meetings, and while there is value to listening, uninvolved remote meeting participants are likely to check out.
Some strategies to keep participants engaged include asking everyone to state their name and position on the project at the beginning of the meeting by way of introduction, or asking everyone to write one sentence about what they’re working on and the status of their work to read before the meeting starts. The meeting leader should also remember to direct questions to specific individuals instead of open questions to the group at large. Open questions often result in zero responses since, without the aid of body language or facial cues, participants are worried about talking over each other or cutting each other off.
Remote brainstorming sessions aren’t impossible—but they are difficult and unlikely to produce many good results. In fact, in a Yale study, researchers found that people who brainstormed individually came up with nearly two times as many solutions as those who brainstormed in a group. The solo brainstormers also came up with more innovative and workable solutions than the group brainstormers.
This doesn’t mean that you should ditch brainstorming. Just that you should approach it differently, especially for a remote team meeting where participants won’t necessarily feel that same in-room chemistry. Instead of brainstorming during the meeting, ask participants to spend 15-20 minutes brainstorming before the meeting and then present their ideas to the group. This method is also a good way to get everyone involved in the meeting.
Use the Best Tools
If you manage a remote workforce and are going to need to have regular remote meetings, don’t skimp on your software and hardware. Choose a comprehensive, all-in-one teleconference platform that offers easy screen sharing, wireless connectivity, and video presentation and collaboration capabilities.
The Clear Touch Interactive® display for business features large screen sizes, video capture, and a robust software suite that’s ideal for remote meetings. Our walk-up ready, software agnostic panels also easily integrate with existing conference room technology and run all of your favorite video conferencing programs, including Skype for Business, Google Hangouts, Join.Me, Webex, and more.
By following these 7 tips, you can rescue your remote team meetings, making them more efficient and effective. You and your team might even begin to look forward to these moments of connection and inspiration—or at least feel like the value they bring is worth the cost.