The solution to holding the most productive remote meetings you can is easier than you think; it all comes down to having the right mindset
You’ve just finished a killer presentation; probably the best use of powerpoint the world has ever seen. Very classy, no stock 2-tone backgrounds. The bee’s knees. Top of the line. Something that’s sure to motivate your remote employees who have been feeling the strain of working from home.
The lights go on, you pause for dramatic effect and… Nobody’s paid attention. Michael’s asleep, Sharon’s contemplating what shade of beige the walls are and Paul has just finished level 1500 of Candy Crush. In short, your meeting was a waste of time, but you’d be surprised at how easy it can be to fall into this trap.
In-office meetings are hard enough to take full control over, but you have the immediate physical connection which makes your team more self-conscious and therefore more likely to pay close attention. Remote meetings are even more awkward due to the lack of this, and sometimes you’re even required to flex your muscles in keeping everyone engaged using audio alone.
Thankfully, the solution to holding the most productive remote meetings you can is easier than you think; it all comes down to having the right mindset. You need to think of what the meeting consists of from every one of your employees’ points of view. They’re the ones you need to keep engaged, and by enacting the following practices, you can see a huge boon to your remote team management.
Have An Agenda
First up, you need to go in with a plan – if you keep everyone there for any longer than they need to be, it’s pretty much inevitable that they will start daydreaming. Short and focused is the key, and to this end you should draft up an outline of the vital points the meeting needs to cover. Go through what needs to be done, and cut out everything which can afford to be lost.
Now, that doesn’t mean that you should be robotic about it; it’s still a good idea to spend 5 minutes or so at the beginning to set the tone of the meeting, but you need to be sure that you’re not straying off onto a tangent for too long. Also, although setting a more casual tone with some chit-chat at the beginning can be great for encouraging people to speak up when they feel the need to, take a moment to think about the tone the meeting should have. The more serious the meeting needs to be, the less fluff you should be adding in order to reinforce the mood.
Invite The Right People
Whilst this should go without saying, there’s no point in inviting someone to a meeting if they are not 100 per cent relevant to the topics, practices or projects you’re going to discuss. If you invite the lead developer to a new sales employee onboarding session, chances are that you’re wasting both your and the employee’s time. Beyond that, they are pretty much guaranteed to zone out after the first 5 minutes; even if you wish to convey information which could be relevant to them, inviting them to the meeting will just cause them to miss it.
If you need to convey information, an idea, etc, to an employee who will not gain anything from being there live, consider recording the meeting or having several team members take notes. Once you’ve got the information documented, you can either relay the whole thing to the respective employee or take the snippet you wish to convey and send them it separately. Everybody wins, and no time is wasted.
If all else fails and, for whatever reason, you have to invite someone into your remote meeting when they are not relevant, make the extra effort to draw them in and make it relevant. Keep them engaged by putting a spin on the topic which relates back to them, or kill two birds with one stone and simply…
Get Everyone Involved
Let’s be honest; we’re only human. There’s no secret to limitless energy or an infallible attention span. If you call your team together just to listen to your voice for an hour, you’re screening a monologue, not hosting a meeting.
The best way to keep everyone engaged is to get each and every party talking and make them present their own points. This also doubles up as a great way to ensure that you’re staying on topic and keeping things focused, as each topic is presented by the party it is most relevant to and who knows the most about it.
Another way to get the whole team involved in your remote meetings is to ask them to present their points (eg, links to items that need reviewing) in a group chat session before the call starts.
Back at Process Street we use a group Slack channel, but most call services like Skype and Google Hangouts have their own chat which works just as well. Having everyone present a list of their points not only encourages your team to stick on topic (giving a pseudo agenda to everything) but it allows everyone to follow what is currently being talked about visually. If a specific post is under review, the whole team can open it to see the feedback being given in real time and perhaps even contribute their own to the mix.
Feedback, Feedback, Feedback
Last, but most certainly not least, you need to constantly improve your meetings by getting feedback. This could be small things, such as changing your tone in order to engage your team more, switching to a video chat if they are still disconnected, or larger measures such as fixing a broken communication cycle in your remote workforce.
If you notice that someone wasn’t speaking out, message or call them once things have finished up in order to see why. It could just be that they didn’t have anything to add to the topic, but they may have felt uncomfortable with speaking up or fielding questions. If that’s the case, you need to put them at ease and encourage them to voice their opinion and ask any questions; remote teams live and die by their communication flow.
Alternatively, a member may not be speaking up because they aren’t relevant to the topic or meeting. If this is the case, chances are that you should consider leaving them out of the next one.
Do yourself a favour and give your remote meetings a boost. Let your employees talk rather than dominating the meeting, have both you and your team draw up an agenda to follow and, perhaps most importantly of all, make sure that you listen when someone else is talking (or even when they aren’t). At the very least, make them more appealing than level 1501 of Candy Crush.
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