Optimizing Remote Meetings
by Chris Dyer
Many people, trying to get a foothold when the world first went remote two years ago, scheduled way too many meetings. The result was that employees spent more time in meetings than in doing their actual work, so they had to put in extra hours and simply burned out. Be judicious in scheduling meetings. For example, if the information can be shared through email or another channel, you may not need a meeting.
When meetings are required, keep them as small as possible by inviting only the direct stakeholders. As you schedule meetings, be sensitive to time zone differences. It may be 10 AM in Philadelphia, but in Seattle it’s I-haven’t-even-had-my-coffee. When regular meetings include people in other parts of the world, invariably someone is going to have to attend when it’s early morning or late evening for them. Vary the schedule so that the same people aren’t inconvenienced every time.
For most people, morning meetings are a good time for tactical, and operational topics and afternoons are more conducive to creativity and brainstorming. Meeting right after lunch, however, may make for drowsy participation. On occasion, you can make remote meetings special. For example, if it’s a mid-morning meeting, send some bagels and cream cheese to each participant in advance (mute when chewing, please!).
During the Remote Meetings
Set some guidelines for participants, such as requesting that they turn their cameras on for most meetings. Let people know that, occasionally, they can have a no-camera day, but seeing participants’ faces helps you monitor engagement and possibly spot potential problems. Leaders should pay attention to facial expressions to assess the group’s mental wellness. In addition, you might have a quick check-in to confirm this. For example, Traffic Light gives people the opportunity to share that everything is a go (green), I’m doing okay but could be better (yellow) or I’m stuck and not moving forward (red). The group may help with red and yellow light issues, or leaders may follow up one-on-one.
Interactive meetings are much more engaging than having one or two people present in a lecture style. Instead of waiting until the end of the meeting to take questions, pause at key points throughout the meeting for questions. Have an activity or two, whether it is an icebreaker at the beginning of a 10-minute brainstorming session in the middle.
Keep the meetings professional, of course, but don’t forget that some participants may be dealing with caregiving responsibilities and distractions. We’ve all heard stories of the spouse who walks through the background in their underwear — or worse. Set a process that enables someone to excuse themselves from the meeting to respond to a child’s request without disrupting the meeting, such as turning off the camera and putting BRB (be right back) in the chat.
Rather than chairing every meeting, leaders should let others lead from time to time. I call this the “show up and shut up” approach. It gives leaders the chance to listen more carefully and check people’s expressions for signs of stress. In addition, it gives others a chance to develop their leadership skills.
Reaffirming Culture in Remote Meetings
Meetings are about more than just sharing information. They also convey and affirm your company culture. One way to break up a meeting and affirm culture is to pause in the middle to recognize milestones and successes. Consider also whether your meeting is consistent with the culture you are promoting. For example, if you promote a collaborative culture, then remote meetings should be interactive rather than lecture style. If you want a culture that is upbeat and fun, then your meetings should follow suit.
You can demonstrate respect for your team in the way you handle meetings. Show that you know their time is valuable by starting on time and finishing five minutes early. Yes, that takes some discipline, but meetings that meander typically are unproductive and not engaging. Create an agenda and stick to it.
Face-to-Face is Still Valuable
While I am a strong advocate of remote work, I also believe that you should get your team together in person periodically. Handshakes, hugs, and high-fives give us the personal contact that’s necessary for strong human relationships. Consider meeting in person with your leadership team once a quarter and gathering the entire company once a year for an annual retreat or all-staff meeting.
If you follow this advice, also consider using CitizenM hotels. Recently I attended the reLead event hosted by RemotelyOne at the CitizenM Hotel in Washington DC. Their rooms are designed specifically for business travel, and they offer some incredible meeting spaces. With locations across three continents (and growing), they are my go-to destination for in-person team and client meetings.
Running effective remote meetings requires a deliberate approach and some planning — maybe even more so than in-person meetings. However, if you incorporate these tips, you’ll find that your meetings are productive, efficient, and — perhaps most importantly — engaging.
Chris Dyer is the founder of PeopleG2, where he managed 30 full-time remote employees and 3,000 independent contractors. PeopleG2 is routinely ranked as one of the best places to work and has been listed as one of Inc.’s 5000 Fastest-Growing Companies. Having made the transition to remote during the recession in 2009 with stunning success, Chris Dyer is now a world-renowned expert on remote leadership and productive company culture.