The best way to plan and manage remote meetings
If we looked at a ranking of buzzwords during the last year and a half, one of the top 3 would definitely be “distance”, both when it comes to safety as well as to remote work
By now, for many of us meetings and gatherings in person are truly a thing of the past, as we have all become used to “distance”. We have a new, complex and still-changing scenario, revised and corrected work organisation structures, and structural remote working; everything has cancelled or severely limited opportunities to meet the people in our own organisation and those with whom we interact, customers, suppliers, etc.. And yes, we do get used to everything, but we miss those coffee breaks, the desk-to-desk chats, and the sharing of work spaces.
Planning and managing meetings has tested us the most. By now, everyone, whether a leader/manager or another team member, has experienced what an undertaking planning meetings can be. Sometimes it is simply exhausting! You may have planned remote meetings that did not bring expected results, or maybe you have accepted an invitation and felt awkward and “out of place”… not to mention the days spent in the crossfire of continuous meetings, without no end in sight …
Is there a way to make the most of these meetings? Can we prevent meetings from being perceived a waste of time, rather as a time to work and an opportunity for a constructive discussion? Of course we can. Here are recommended directions and practical tips for an action plan that can make our meetings productive, participatory and sustainable.
Let’s start with some considerations on the value of remote meetings and their dual function: operational and social.
With remote meetings we can:
- share and exchange information
- make decisions
- work with people who work/live in other countries.
So, we all agree that remote meetings have true operational and functional value, and they are a great way to reduce costs, to promote the coordination of projects and initiatives that are internal/external to our market, to work in a global dimension, and to network. But meetings serve another function that is quite important. In these times of remote working, working from home and hybrid work, remote meetings help us jump back into the human dimension of work, which seems to be lost. Working alone, at home, can generate bewilderment, loneliness, frustration, estrangement and disinterest, especially when you are in remote for a long period of time. Therefore, long-distance meetings also have significant social value. When regular daily contact with others is lost, meetings become a key element in re-involving us in the human and social dimension of the work experience; the right channel for strengthening and building ties, creating the right climate, and fostering a sense of cohesion, belonging and identity.
In addition to the technical and logistical aspects, we have another element to consider: potential enemies … the killers of a successful remote meeting. Spotting them early is already a good strategy so you can avoid them! What are these killers?
- Disengagement. To avoid disengagement during meetings, we need to be able to clearly communicate the objectives, roles and contributions expected from participants in order to foster engagement and involvement.
- Lack of attention. Multitasking is an ever lurking enemy. How do we deal with it? We start by respecting netiquette rules. For example, you keep our webcam on, you close other windows during the meeting, you keep your microphone on mute if you’re not talking, and you mute your other devices. In short, these are tricks that allow people to stay focused (and respectful and attentive to others).
- Dispersion. Meetings that are too long, too frequent or too clogged up risk being futile. Let’s learn how to clearly state the duration, target and topics that will be discussed.
- Atmosphere. The “smile and serenity” approach is always a winner. A relaxed and informal ambiance, far from excessive formalism and tension, will avoid questioning our ability to put things into practice. It will help others give their best.
Some practical advice to coordinate and manage the various stages of the remote meeting
First – Preparation is the first step. The success of the meeting starts here.
What kind of meeting will it be? Start by focusing on the type of meeting that needs to be planned: the objectives, the participants, the context, etc. Not all meetings are the same and there is no “one size fits all” formula when planning them. The approach and any choices we make will be all the more effective if they are tailored to the right scenario.
Let’s get the measurements right.
- A) Planning: Time, duration and schedules are the central dimensions.
Scheduling. Unless emergencies or unforeseen events occur, we should schedule the meeting in advance and inform participants immediately.
Sustainable duration. With distance, 60 minutes is already an ample amount of time to work. Should the meeting need more time, we can split it into shorter, more focused meetings.
Global Mindset. If there are people of other nationalities, we should check the time zones and take them into account when choosing the meeting time.
- B) Tools for interacting and collaborating.
This aspect can greatly affect collaboration, effectiveness and productivity. We need to prepare support tools first, based on our goals. Let’s first check which functionalities the platform supports, and eventually integrate them with external environments. We can use tools/boards for brainstorming or group work, survey tools to ask for feedback/opinions, software for collaborative writing or mind map building etc.
- C) Target
Identifying the target audience is not always easy. Meetings that are too small risk being perceived as elitist; on the contrary, if they are too large people can get distracted. We need to identify an appropriate number of people to invite, and the role/contribution we expect from each one. This way they will be a resource and feel valued.
Meeting Agenda. A clear and shared agenda will make the meeting effective and efficient. What should it contain? Purpose, key points to be addressed, timing, participants, and any useful documents that people can consult before the meeting.
The ideal ambiance. As noted above, creating a relaxed and pleasant mood will help people work better. How?
- We won’t get into the nitty-gritty right away, but we should think about planning an initial “ice-breaker” moment, where people can indulge in some informal chit-chat and a little pre-work warm-up.
- Let’s make sure everyone knows each other; if necessary, leave some time for introductions. Let’s never forget a “How are you doing? How are you feeling?”. A small sign of caring and listening is always appreciated.
Netiquette and guidelines. If we share a few clear rules, it will give our meeting a boost. Before getting into the heart of the matter, it’s always good to go over some netiquette rules and guidelines on how to manage communication and turns of phrase.
Value people and their collaboration. The risk with remote meetings is that they create de-empowerment/social loafing phenomena. Not only that, managing a meeting remotely can be truly complex. So asking for others’ cooperation in taking notes, monitoring time, etc. will allow those leading the meeting to focus and others to feel useful and engaged.
100% involvement and participation. It happens in every meeting that some people are able to make more remarks because they are more exuberant. The risk is that these participants monopolise the discussion, while other people never get the chance to speak. Let’s commit to giving space to everyone, monitoring the level of participation, urging even the most introverted team member to voice his/her ideas and opinions.
Space for comparison and discussion. The meeting should not be a simple transmission/sharing of information by the person who planned it. The “50/50 rule” is useful. The leader makes a commitment to occupy up to 50% of the time, and leaves the remaining 50% to other participants.
To keep discussion lively, there are multiple channels that are available. For example, chat or instant polling tools get feedback, and give everyone the opportunity to ask for the floor, to ask questions, etc.
Recordings mantent (Recordings have staying power). If the meeting is particularly complex or noteworthy, let’s plan to record it. It’s wise because it keeps track of ideas and remarks, especially during extended and creative meetings. It also facilitates coordination/alignment with those who could not participate. In any case, it is important to always inform everyone that the meeting will be recorded, so as to respect everyone’s privacy.
Closing time. The end of a meeting must also be done the right way. Let’s avoid wrapping up in a cold and hasty way. Let’s dedicate the necessary time to go over the essentials, clarify tasks, next steps and appointments.
Feedback. Let’s listen to each other to make sure the mood is always positive and that we always have our fingers on the pulse of the meeting. By asking questions or having a round-table discussion, we are able to check for any unresolved points, or doubts that need to be clarified or investigated further. If necessary, we can then ask for structured feedback on the meeting, including using short instant polls.
It is always good to follow up after the meeting. We can immediately share the recording (if there is one) and a short recap with the main decisions that were made, the next steps and any correlated documents.
Next, we do a follow up to make sure everyone is moving in the right direction.