When an in-person meeting is going well, you can almost feel the good vibes spreading across the boardroom.
People are sitting up a little straighter in their swivel chairs. No one is hiding behind an open laptop. Everyone is making eye contact. They’re giving each other a chance to speak before jumping in. There are smiles and maybe even a few laughs.
There’s no reason you can’t have the same positive experience in a remote meeting. It’s just that they’ve gotten a bad rap.
For a long time, remote meetings primarily meant teleconference calls. Dial-in numbers would be lost minutes before things started. People got annoyed if those at home had dogs or kids making noise in the background. It wasn’t always clear if everyone was really listening and engaging.
The unspoken rules have relaxed a lot, however, and remote meetings are not always just an option but a necessity. You can blame the pandemic for this, but the impact hasn’t been all bad.
Today, many of us are now used to clicking through to a call directly from our smartphone or even a desktop via dial in numbers that become links. Instead of feeling limited to teleconferences, video calls are more common than ever. As for pets and children, they are not only tolerated but often welcomed if they make a brief appearance on screen.
Having to shift to working from home suddenly amid COVID-19 has made many of us a lot more understanding and forgiving if the setting for a remote meeting isn’t quite as professional looking as a standard board room. And meetings are still crucial to working together.
That said, there are still risks that remote meetings won’t be as effective or efficient as their in-person counterparts. Perhaps that’s just because the do’s and don’ts for running them haven’t been shared widely enough. This post will help with that:
Some remote meetings will be recurring events and some will be one-offs. Either way, team members will be more likely to show up (and more likely to participate better) when they know exactly what will be discussed, why and what they need to do to prepare.
For example, determine from the outset whether the meeting is to simply inform the team and gather their feedback, to make a decision or to solve a problem. These are all factors that can determine how long you’ll need, as well as who needs to be there.
Include (and call out) any links, attachments or advance materials that need to be reviewed prior to the meeting. Don’t assume people will look at or review anything unless you specifically ask them (they’re busy!).
It’s important in remote meetings to feel a sense of human connection — perhaps even more than during in-person meetings.
That means you can encourage a few minutes of open-ended greetings and conversation about something other than the meeting’s purpose. You might ask about everyone’s weekend if the meeting takes place on a Monday, for instance, or how people are grappling with the weather if a storm is underway.
The problem is that sometimes this chit-chat doesn’t seem to have a natural end. Without coming across as too officious, the meeting leader should be the one to bring things to order.
This can be as simple as, “Okay, everyone, since we’re already five minutes in and I want to make good use of everyone’s time, let’s dive into what we’re here to do.”
What’s left unspoken often leads to confusion, especially in remote meetings.
If you’re having the meeting over video, for instance, let people know if it’s best for them to turn on their camera or not. For some meetings this might not be necessary — like when you’re simply updating the group on the status of a project and confirming next steps.
If you’re having a meeting to discuss a new HR policy, however, people will probably understand if you want to see their faces and get a read on how they’re feeling as well as what they’re saying.
Even if it’s just a teleconference, let people know from the get-go (or even in the agenda) if they can or should stay on mute unless they’re presenting or speaking.
In a physical meeting it can be easy to get a sense if people understand what’s been discussed, if they’re motivated or angry. You need to bring the same sense of human empathy into remote meetings, which means being intentional about it.
Think about conducting periodic check-ins with people, even calling on them specifically, to see if they had anything to add or a comment. It’s easy to miss those opportunities or let them slip by when you’re on a call or videoconference.
You may wrap the meeting up earlier if you ignore silence or lack of reaction. If problems crop up later that could have been addressed, though, you’ll have to schedule another meeting, and many people will like to reduce the number of meetings they already have.
Hopefully you’ve taken an omni-channel approach in the way you market, sell and provide service to your customers. In remote meetings, though, it may be better to pick a few particular channels for what comes next.
If the meeting was recorded, for example, make clear how people can access it afterwards, whether that’s via a shared cloud-based drive or through a link that will be sent out in an email.
Depending on the action items, indicate how people should provide updates or other information, even if it’s just a group text or internal social networking application.
When remote meetings are run well, people appreciate the fact they didn’t have to go anywhere to attend. Instead, they feel closer to the team than ever before, and might even be quicker to RSVP the next time an invite goes out.