It seems like there is still a lot to say about remote meetings. Most companies, at least from my experience, have tried to copy in-office meetings into remote ones by video applications. This can never work properly. Because of such bad habits, we now observe the so-called Zoom fatigue syndrome which is haunting us down as most people are overworked, tired and don’t want to spend time in front of their laptops anymore. This is the reason why, in this article I would like to share the best and simple practices about remote meetings, and how to make them productive.
In the past it was very simple to just have a chat with someone in the hallway or in a meeting room, exchange information quickly and everybody knew what had to be done instantly. Now we hear the famous “Let’s hop on a Zoom call” sentence because we’re trying to replace the in-office experience that we already know, and this is simply not the way to go. We can’t possibly communicate everything through video meetings. We don’t want to waste time on endless meetings speaking about different matters which in the end lead to no conclusions but just cause more frustration. That’s why we should centralize our entire workflow and try to perform more tasks asynchronously. The rule is simple: conduct remote meetings only when it’s necessary.
To make remote meetings super productive and meaningful, we definitely need to do our homework first and start with the planning phase by tackling several aspects:
- The essential why: Why are we conducting this meeting? What is the goal? Many teams tend to say that they’re scheduling a meeting “to discuss something” or “to check in”. What is the output? Is there a decision that we need to make? What exactly are we willing to achieve? We can’t be vague here. In other words, we ought to be as precise as possible. Once we respond to all these questions it may turn out that we don’t even need to schedule a meeting in the first place.
- The agenda: once we know what we’re willing to achieve during the remote meeting, let’s discuss the agenda. What will be the talking points? What is the introduction? At which stage are we willing to wrap up the remote meeting? Will there be any action items? Try to structure the meeting by imposing an agenda within a certain timeframe.
Make sure to be careful and don’t put too many topics into your agenda as then you will always run late.
- Participants: do you CC people when you schedule a meeting? Do you click “optional” in your calendar when you invite attendees? What does optional or CC mean in this case? What is the role of such a participant? We tend to let everybody know who may possibly be interested in what is being discussed. We just want to be on the safe side by adding random people to conversations that simply waste their time. So, now try to invite as less people as possible and determine their roles – who is joining this meeting and what is the person supposed to do? Who is going to take notes? Who is going to be the timekeeper? Who is going to lead the remote meeting? Which action steps will fall onto each participant, if any?
- The toolkit: “Hopping on a Zoom” or “Hopping on a Microsoft Teams” meeting every single time is not the way to go. Think about the purpose of the meeting. Whether it’s a creative one, it’s meant to check in a certain topic or share documents. Then choose the right tool. There are different ones to ensure online collaboration in real time. This way you not only engage all participants but you’re able to be super productive by creating solutions with the entire team. There’s nothing worse than having a video call and taking notes on the side, having to write an email to everybody about what was discussed in the meeting. Make sure to choose all tools that are going to facilitate the whole experience, try to automate as much as possible and focus on the output.
- Documentation: Have you ever had this feeling that people were not prepared while attending the meeting? Is it sometimes this way that people share a document in the beginning of the meeting and other participants are not prepared? This is unacceptable. When I work with remote teams, we have a rule that all supporting documentation to the meeting is being handed in at least 24 hours before the meeting date unless it’s an urgent situation. Then we have a rule of 4 to six 6 before the meeting. This way everybody is familiar with the entire background and we can get straight to the point.
- Wrapping up: Once you finish your meeting, make sure that every participant knows what they must do and by when, who is responsible for the action steps, who will measure progress and by when we expect the output? What will be discussed during the next meeting? Does everyone understand the expectations? Make sure that all this is clear to avoid a situation that attendees will claim that your instructions were not clear enough.
Optimizing all meetings
I strongly believe that the digital work era as well as the COVID-19 pandemic have created broad awareness on how we work and what our meetings look like in general. All these basic rules above should actually be adapted to the in-office environment as well. The reason why we have not seen this before is very simple: we could just quickly speak to one another and figure out what needed to be done, by when and communication was just easier. Now, although there are millions of possibilities to communicate in no time and from the most distant parts of the world, we need to make sure that our communication is meaningful. As time is money, we should value every second by not wasting our potential and design meetings with the use of Smart Tools and our preferences. That’s how we’ll truly boost performance.