Managing remote meetings
Managing meetings can be an art – all those personalities, chafing against the agenda, some desperate to push their personal hobby-horse, others equally desperate to be anywhere but there… Okay, that’s a negative view, but we’ve all been there. Now add the complication of none of you being in the same room; the only window into the shared, non-tangible meeting ‘room’ is on the screen in front of you.
Prior to 2020, video-conferencing and virtual meetings were already commonplace; they saved both time and expense and while there may be drawbacks, apps like Zoom and Google Meet had their advantages.
Cue the pandemic and distributed teams were the norm and remote meeting apps are nothing special anymore, just how the team meets. For managers, or anyone else who has to chair/steer/facilitate a remote meeting, the goal is still the same (a productive meeting with clear outcomes) but the environment has changed; hence the following tips and suggestions…
Use the right tool for the job – Not all comms apps are created equal and the right one depends on the nature of the meeting. Will it be just talk? Will there be a presentation, a slideshow? Do you need a mechanism for people to comment, contribute, brainstorm? The equivalent of breakout rooms, maybe? Are there documents you need to share… There’s a wide variety of apps; choose the right one for your meeting. While you’re at it, does everyone attending the meeting have the equipment they need? Even if that’s just a screen, speakers and functioning microphone. And equally important to having the right tool, is that everyone knows how to use it!
Be clear on the subject and goals of the meeting – This is best practice anytime, but when the quality of the communication and interaction is reduced, it’s important to keep everyone focused. With face to face meetings, it can be easier to ‘wing it’ but here you need a precise agenda with anticipated timings for each item, the responsibilities for each; maybe there’s some relevant pre-meeting reading to do…
In a face to face meeting, the meeting is pretty much the whole environment for everyone; a shared environment. In a remote meeting, each attendee’s environment is their own, unique and personal, with just a screen-sized window into the shared meeting space. In other words, the scope for distraction has exponentially increased. Agenda.
Visuals – Likewise, presentations and images can aid understanding of the topic, but also serve as another way to engage the meeting as a whole; keeping them focused and on-topic.
Icebreakers and ‘fun’ activities – Maybe it’s a routine meeting and you don’t normally need to bother with a bit of fun to get people on the same page, but… the ‘ice’ is thicker thanks to the distance; plus, if this is a team that used to meet face to face, you can bet they’re not as close as they once were. Even if everyone knows everyone, consider space a brief icebreaker or puzzle to get people talking.
Minimise distractions – Yes, it’s better if everyone is calling from a secure or private space with few distractions. Ensure everyone’s space is as private as it can be; switch phones to silent, etc. But equally, don’t freak out when interruptions happen, people in remote or temporary accommodation are more likely to be interrupted (remember Dr. Robert Kelly on the BBC News a couple of years ago? Or more recently, SNP Rep. John Nicholson and his cat?)
Have a chair/facilitator/moderator – Again, useful at the best of times to keep the meeting on track, but more important than ever when remote; especially if any of the team are new to the technology or remote meetings in general.
Be patient – If you’re a team used to rapid-fire discussions, be aware that doesn’t work so well via a video-meeting app. Multiple voices can create confusion, so respect whoever has the floor a bit more than usual: listen, wait, reply. If you’re asking a question, expect a pause before the answers begin. If you want to speak/interrupt/add something, get the meeting’s attention first and wait till you have the floor (it can be useful to agree a signal beforehand – raise your hand? simply say, “Question.”…)
Remember that everyone can see you – Be aware that you’re on display to the rest of the meeting, pretty much constantly except for time spent on slides or other shared documents. Remember that if other people are not looking at the current speaker, they’re looking at the other faces on the screen. Ironically, you may be more physically distant but you’re also more visible. What does your face say about being in the meeting?
No multi-tasking – It’s tempting to ‘maximise your time’ and work on other tasks while you’re in the meeting; for example, checking email or messages. Don’t. Not only is it rude, worse, it’s distracting. And the more distractions people indulge in, the longer the meeting will take.
Working remotely is probably the biggest overall workplace challenge for many businesses. And remote meetings are just one facet of that. If you want to know more about remote management, check out our range of flexible webinars or give us a call on 01582 463460; we’re here to help.