12+ tips to make remote meetings more effective

Are you drained by constant hours-long Zoom meetings in which everyone speaks but nothing seems to happen? Try a new approach.

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We know remote work can get lonely sometimes. We also know that online collaboration can unleash organizational talents you weren’t exploiting previously, as some people who are talented but quiet at in-person meetings can shine when working virtually.

Sheela Subramanian, vice president, Future Forum, stresses the need to manage events in a way suitable for the way we work now, not the way we used to work. Some companies have changed where work happens, but remain stuck in antique patterns of how work takes place, she warns.

“Managers should focus on outcomes over activity and presenteeism,” she says.

What does this mean for managing remote meetings?

Use reliable technology – and use it well

How many meetings are punctuated by technical flaws caused by participants not knowing how to use the technology? How many minutes have been wasted while people attempt to share their screen?

It behooves management to spend as much time as it takes learning how their chosen collaboration tool works — and sharing that information with workers. Not only does this knowledge make time more productive, but it allows everyone to learn over time. The best tech choices will always be the ones employees already use: Zoom, Teams and Webex. It probably still won’t be FaceTime.

[Also read: Enterprise resilience: iOS, Mac tools for remote collaboration]

Consider the content

Think things through.

“All meetings are not created equal. Each type of meeting requires a different approach,” Gartner states.

That’s true. Focus is hard to maintain at the best of times and harder again when working remotely. If your meetings require the use of slide decks, it makes sense to avoid content-heavy presentation slides and do whatever it takes to simplify your presentation.

Five slides that resonate will always be better than five that confuse.

Open up the channels

Thinking also extends to what you do before and after meetings.

Some companies create Slack channels participants can use to flag ideas, issues, and concerns before meetings and to capture any thoughts that may emerge afterwards.

Someone must be responsible for capturing and distilling useful insights from that (or any other chosen) channel to reveal additional insights and action points.

Don’t forget to record action points as they are agreed on during meetings. Many organizations think memory will suffice and then wonder what went wrong when memory inevitably doesn't. Recognizing, agreeing, and achieving concrete goals is fundamental to remote work management.

Who's on the list?

Asynchronous remote collaboration meetings work better if they are focused.

When deciding who should attend a meeting, also consider each person’s role and contribution and ensure this is known before the event and that contributions made are recognized.

It's also more productive to run a series of smaller, shorter meetings than one vast all-hands affair. Not only can meeting content then be pruned to the skillset in each group, but engagement might improve.

Adobe’s Future of Time report pointed out that half of workers felt under pressure to be always reachable, and most found it challenging to maintain boundaries between work and personal time. Gartner also notes the need to eliminate meetings in which everyone discusses a problem extensively, but fails to actually agree on a positive solution.

Make time for personal

If someone has been sick, let them talk about it. Make space for the people, not just the function. Soft skills are even more important when interacting on video and a few moments bonding may help hold your team together.

Shake up the schedule

Remote working means teams often work asynchronously. But what you don’t want to happen is to lose team cohesion when certain people regularly can’t make a meeting time because of work or personal commitments in an asynchronous world.

Rather than insist on meetings at regular times, shake up schedules to enable more of your team members to take part at least some of the time.

“93% of workers want flexibility when they work,” says Subramanian. Gartner also recommends using unconventional meeting lengths. They think 50-minute and 10-minute chats can effectively replace some longer sessions.

Loosen things up

At Orange Business Services, employees were given the chance to use company collaboration tools for personal interaction during the pandemic.

While this kind of ad hoc interaction may end up revealing problems within your company, it should ideally help build team cohesion and maintain morale. A switched-on company leader wants to solve HR problems, not suppress them.

Make time matter

Every meeting has talkers and whisperers. Talkers tend to dominate the time, while whisperers may say few words but still need to be heard.

There are multiple approaches to this, but one thing that does work is to ensure meeting objectives are clearly defined before the event, and to chair the interaction to ensure everyone gets a chance to speak and decision-making is done within a defined budget of time.

Got three decisions to make in a one-hour meeting? Then the maximum discussion will be 20 minutes each.

If a decision can’t be reached in that time, spin it out for review or move on to the next topic to return to that discussion at the end.

Remote video-based collaboration can be draining, so it makes sense to manage time effectively.

Manners matter

It’s also important to agree on a clear code of meeting etiquette designed to give all parties some chance to express themselves, while applying some constraints to those who like to dominate discussion.

I’ve worked with some voluntary organizations that impose "time budgets" to achieve this goal. Those allotments could be a requirement to confine contributions to, say,  30 seconds each, for example.

Make time matter less

There’s a second approach that can also work: some organizations maintain a kind of open meeting chat, holding lengthy unstructured video meetings with no agenda or expectation.

These may become virtual drop-in sessions during which your teams can continue to engage in the work they need to do and occasionally pop in to ask for help, advice, or just for some human interaction.

Applications such as Teamflow or Asana can also help create this kind of space.

One dials in, all dial in

Stigma against remote working continues to stubbornly prevail as management grapples with the new reality that the future of work is based on achievement rather than presence.

What this means in practice is that those who show up in person for meetings in hybrid work environments end up gaining advantages in comparison to those who remain remote.

One way around this is to agree that when one team member must dial in to the meeting, all members should do so, too. This helps reduce such stigma and puts participants on a more equal footing.

Keep it simple

How many applications are you asking employees to use for collaboration?

That Future of Time report from Adobe reveals that using too many apps can generate stress and burn out. “We can easily feel inundated by the number of channels and platforms we're expected to interact with in a remote world,” Menlo Ventures partner  Naomi Ionita told me.

How are you making your remote meetings more productive and less onerous? Let me know what works for you. 

Please follow me on Twitter, or join me in the AppleHolic’s bar & grill and Apple Discussions groups on MeWe.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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