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How to make remote meetings work during lockdown

remote meetings

Many people think because we’re an online business, with technology at the heart of everything we do, we’d be better placed than many to make the transition from in-person meetings to virtual meetings during the pandemic. Whilst we have made that leap and made it work well, it’s not because we’re au fait with tech and the latest tools, it’s quite the opposite. For me, it’s all been about forgetting tools and technology, and instead thinking about people and their needs.

The key is to stop thinking about it being a remote meeting; think about what things made meetings work when we were all in the office and try to implement them. I’m going to walk you through the best ways to create more efficient and effective remote meetings, whether they’re on Zoom, Slack, Teams, or by a simple old-school phone call, so you can get the most out of your time. 

Emphasising the importance of good mental health

We know that good mental health and support were vital during 2020 and with lockdowns in the UK and much of Europe still in place, we need a renewed effort on the mental health front for 2021.

Routine and structure are important, so our stand-ups happen each morning at the same time, and just as we would in the office, we make everyone stand-up and have their videos on.  I’ve heard in many companies meetings are simply audio, but with this, you lose that important interaction of seeing other people’s expressions, of getting visual cues and feedback, of knowing people are listening to you which are all vitally important.

Time management at home

In terms of managing time, we review every 3 months or so whether the regular meetings we have are still needed. Are they effective? Do they have a goal? Who should be at that meeting? We all want to avoid Death by Zoom – so no meetings should be put in the diary for the sake of it, or where they simply repeat other calls.   

So once you’ve decided a regular meeting is needed, as in real life, make sure everyone gets there on time. It’s important the etiquette that we have in real life is felt in remote meetings as well; the meeting should always start on time. So that means if someone is late, they’ll arrive with everyone having started. This tends to be more effective in stopping repeated lateness as it’s embarrassing to arrive when everyone has started, more than it is if your colleagues are simply waiting for you.  

Starting our meetings at odd times – e.g. 9.57am seems to be a really effective way of getting people to meetings on time. For whatever reason, it’s far better than 10am or say 10.15am!

Remote meeting goals and agendas

For regular stand-up meetings, we manage time by keeping it to 15 minutes only.  We change the leader of the meeting each time, and the person talking then passes the baton to the next person. Having the baton pass rather than sticking to the same order each time, encourages everyone to listen to each other rather than simply waiting for their turn. To keep the meeting effective we limit everyone to 1-2 minutes only, and everyone knows that they have to address the 3 questions – in a stand-up for example: 

  • Things I have done since yesterday’s meeting
  • Things I am going to get done today
  • Obstacles that I need someone to remove

As well as clear questions we also have a system whereby we challenge anyone, including management, if they go off on what I call storytelling or problem-solving.  If a 2nd person agrees then we move on. It’s also important in this way to quickly decide when something is off-topic or needs taking into another meeting. It’s the same should you wish to communicate a crisis during a stand-up, this might not need the whole team or department’s input so you should decide if this would be better placed in a different meeting.

Ad hoc remote meetings

In terms of ad hoc meetings these have to meet the same tests:

  • Is a meeting actually what is needed at this moment in time? Quite often when someone says they want a meeting it’s because they want to suggest or propose something. Can that be better done in an email?
  • Even where the meeting requester’s project is at a more advanced level and collaboration is sought, in the vast majority of cases a shared online Google Doc is far more effective both in time and in terms of getting where you need to get to so decide if this is a better way of communicating an idea
  • A meeting is probably most effective when you’ve got through steps: 1 (email background); and step 2 (collaboration), but still have open issues that you’ve struggled to resolve. Then a face-to-face can definitely help move it on, but no one should be going into the meeting without a set time (less is more!), a clear agenda and points for discussion, and importantly I’d suggest, nothing should come up in that meeting that is a surprise i.e. hasn’t been mentioned before! It’s the surprises that make meetings go on for a long time, and make them ineffective.

I hope these top tips for remote work meetings help you to become a more efficient and collaborative team! Remember to always plan ahead of meetings, have any data or reports you need to hand, remain enthusiastic and engaged and always create an environment where everyone feels able to voice their opinions, concerns, or ideas!

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