Remote Meetings: Leader’s Guide to Successful Communication Online

PR & Marketing Manager with Attract Group

Meetings provide leaders with an opportunity to build high performing teams. The value of a good meeting simply cannot be discounted. Unfortunately, the practices that work in a corporate setting do not always lend themselves to remote meetings. Running an effective remote meeting requires a different mindset and focus.

Why Remote Meetings Matter

Companies have come to realize that technology can radically change the way they work. The current Covid 19 global health crisis has forced many businesses to embrace remote work as a new standard. Many businesses offer remote work to their employees and this trend is only increasing. When it comes to a job search, some employees consider remote work a pre-requisite when joining a company and in fact, 37% of employees say they would switch jobs if they obtained a role that let them work remotely

For international organizations, the ability to work remotely is a significant benefit. It allows businesses to source talent globally and does not restrict them to a specific location. But remote work does not come without some challenges and one of the biggest is communication. Within an office, it is not uncommon to get up and walk over to someone’s desk for help or information. With remote work – especially globally distributed – knowing when someone is available is often a battle. Remote working requires more planning.

However, this is where regularly scheduled meetings can make a difference. By involving your entire team in the meeting you can ensure that they are inclusive and empowering. In addition, they can become the perfect opportunity to define priorities and discuss new ideas. It is important however to ensure that you follow certain key criteria in your meeting if you want them to be successful.

Picking the Right Tools for your Remote Meeting

When picking a tool there are a couple of key questions you need to ask.

  •   What functionality are you looking for? Do you need audio only, or also video to see individuals? Remember that body language makes a big difference. According to Psychology Today, almost 55% of all communication is based on body language and only 38% is based on voice.
  •   Do you have a requirement for a shared workspace and collaboration? Consider shared drive folders or Wiki’s as a way of enabling communication and collaboration. What tool are you planning on using for your agenda, minutes, and task management?
  •   How many members of the team need simultaneous access? Apps like Facetime and WhatsApp are great for personal communication, but they are simply not robust enough for the corporate world. The tool selected needs to have the ability to scale based on your attendees.

Technology is only effective if it is the right technology for your needs. Any tool picked needs to accommodate your audience but also provide you with a simple and easy way of sharing information. Some tools have additional capabilities like recording which can make them even more effective and useful. However, the onus is on you to understand what you need going in, so you pick the right tool for your organization.

It is also possible to configure a mixed environment when considering your tools. You could use Zoom or Google Meet for example for the video element of your meeting. This could be paired with Google Documents or Microsoft 365 for online collaboration. A great way of improving communication and collaboration is through the use of chat tools like Slack and others. There are also other tools that you can use for time keeping, note taking and task assignment also so try to find the right mix for your requirements.

Why Timing Matters with Remote Meetings

If you manage or lead a global organization, one of your key challenges is timing. With employees distributed around the world, it can be difficult to find a time that is convenient for everyone. However, while there might be a requirement for some people on your team to work inconvenient hours, there are some ways you can minimize the impact.

1 Pick a Recurring Meeting Time and Date

Your goal needs to be minimizing the impact to the greatest number of employees where possible. To that effect, you need to ensure that you are reviewing time zones and also statutory holidays when picking a meeting slot.

Choose a meeting time that has the greatest amount of overlap in terms of your team availability and then make this a recurring meeting slot. This is very important as by scheduling a recurring meeting, your team can work around the schedule which helps with planning.

2 Meeting Length

Unless absolutely essential, try to keep meetings to an hour or less. Meetings take employees away from their day to day responsibilities and impact their ability to complete their job. At the senior level it is not uncommon for managers and leaders to go from meeting to meeting. Meetings that run too long can have significant impacts to other tasks.

When considering meetings there are some specific types to look at:

  •       Daily or Weekly Standup – These are short meetings in the range of 15-30 minutes. They are just a touchpoint and catchup and serve as an opportunity of identifying roadblocks.
  •       Monthly Meeting – A bit more structured, these meetings are generally scheduled for an hour. They are focused more on overall team goals and objectives.
  •       Brainstorming – You definitely want to consider the use of virtual tools like mindmaps or the equivalent for these meetings. While they are longer than daily meetings they should not be as long as a monthly meeting. A brainstorming session is a way of soliciting input from your team members about a specific problem or issue.

Build an Agenda and Stick to It

This rule applies to in-person meetings also but is even more important with remote meetings. By creating and sharing an agenda in advance of the meeting individuals can prepare in advance. Failure to do this often leads to significant time wasting as member discuss different topics that are often not relevant.

A good agenda has several key elements:

  •   The meeting purpose and talking points
  •   Time dedicated to each agenda item
  •   Expected team members and their function
  •   Associated documents and files

Agendas can help foster teams also as they can be created collaboratively. This helps ensure team members have opportunities to discuss issues and challenges that are relevant to them.

Improve Team Bonding

Teams when built from scratch commonly go through four different stages. These stages were initially developed by Bruce Tuckman in 1965[HM4]  and comprise the following:

1 Forming

The Forming stage is where people get to know each other. It’s an opportunity to learn the strengths and weaknesses of peers and learn about who can do what. In the forming stage, people are generally on their best behavior as they want to fit in.

2 Storming

The Storming stage of team behavior is when people start to push against the boundaries. It is common for conflict to develop here as different personalities clash.

3 Norming

The Norming phase is when teams start to develop cohesiveness. Team members start to look at compromises and sacrifices they can make to better the team goals.

4 Performing

It is only in the Performing stage that the team is working together like a well-oiled machine. The goals are well defined and clear, and all members understand their function.

As a leader, it is critical to move teams through the four stages as quickly as possible as the end goal is getting them to perform well. Some strategies to achieve this are by through the sharing of personal information. Teammates that share personal or funny stories about themselves are significantly more likely to bond.

A great way of helping lead teams in this direction is by including an icebreaker or team building activity at the start of the meeting. This will quickly help the team get to know each other and will further improve the bonds between employees.

Make Sure You are Keeping Minutes

Whether you are meeting in person or remote, keeping meeting notes is critical. It is impossible to remember all of the different action items or tasks during a meeting but meeting minutes can help. Not only are minutes a great way of keeping people on track, they can also be referred to in future meetings to help save time.

Along with meeting minutes, another key step is the assigning of action items. Meetings generally cover many different topics and during the course of the meeting, individuals are tasked with completing specific tasks. Without a list of these tasks and the associated milestones, it is easy for jobs to get missed.

Have Rotating Designated Roles

Team meetings require some regular defined roles to work well. These include the record keeper, facilitator, and timekeeper. However, having the same people do the same role each meeting is not ideal. By rotating the roles amongst the team you get everyone involved and ensure the meeting is more successful.

The facilitator for example ensures that the meeting is running smoothly and that everyone gets a chance to speak. They look after the meeting tools and technologies also.

Another key point to consider is when you have mixed meetings. These are meetings between remote employees and office staff. In these meetings its not uncommon for the remote members to contribute less. To rectify this, make a habit of soliciting opinions from the remote members.

Ensure Closure

Meetings are great for discussing work and brainstorming ideas. They are generally not the place where work is completed, however. As a leader one of the key requirements is the follow up you provide after the meeting. With remote teams and remote meetings, this is even more critical as while tasks and function might have been assigned, individuals often have other competing priorities. It is up to you as a leader to help them identify what needs to get done first and what can be pushed out to later.

While your meeting minutes and action register might have specific individuals and times called out, you need to work with your team to ensure that deliverables are completed in a timely manner.

One way of starting this process is through the use of recap emails on completion of the meeting. The recap email serves as a great way of summarizing the decisions taken but also talks to company messaging and team responsibilities. In addition to the recap emails, if you have the capability or recording the meeting, use that and share the recording with the team. This is great for team members that were unable to attend.

Another good best practice to consider is feedback from the team themselves. During one-on-one meetings try to solicit feedback from the team on what worked and didn’t work during the remote meeting. Track and collect this feedback so that you can look for patterns as the goal is to make each subsequent meeting better than its predecessor.

Conclusion

Remote team members attend more meetings than their in-office counterparts. In fact, according to an Owl Labs survey in 2019, 14% of remote workers dedicated time to more than 10 meetings weekly in comparison to only 3% of in-office staff. As a leader, it is critical to ensure that each of these meetings is effective and useful, otherwise, you are only wasting time and money.

 




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