Keeping meetings punctual and effective can be challenging in an office setting. In a remote setting, there are some additional challenges, such as unreliable conferencing platforms and unclear “camera on or off?” etiquette. At Exposure Ninja, we have been running remotely since 2012 and grown to a team of 100 Ninjas. Over this time, we have refined our remote meeting set-ups to deliver productive meetings that stay focused.
Here are our top seven tips for holding remote meetings that don’t waste time.
1. Set Expectations
Just like in-person meetings, latecomers and distractions can upset the flow of a meeting. The first step to great meetings that don’t waste time is to ensure your team’s expectations are set right from the outset.
The quickest way to start this is by booking the meeting into their calendars with a specified time, location (such as Skype) and invitee list. At Exposure Ninja, we use Google Calendar, which syncs across every Ninja’s calendar to ensure they don’t get double-booked.
The beginning of the meeting is a great time to lay out the “ground rules”. These should include things like the use of mobile phones, messengers and emails. Ideally, everyone in the team will silence all their notifications for the duration of the meeting. It’s not always possible, but it makes for a much more focused call with fewer interruptions.
You should also set hardware expectations. If you’re delivering a briefing, then it’s a good idea to ask your team to temporarily mute their microphones unless they have a question. This cuts out the opportunities for barking dogs and typing noises interfering with the speaker’s message.
2. Share the Agenda Ahead of Time
Sharing the agenda before the meeting gives everyone time to prepare and also helps to run an essential check. That check is whether a meeting is genuinely needed. If you’re struggling to put together an agenda, then there’s a strong possibility the meeting may not be needed at all.
Your agenda will also give you an easy way to pull the meeting back on track if you’re drawn away from the focus of the call. Just as with a physical meeting, it’s easy to say something like, “I think we’re starting to get off track. Let’s put a pin in this and revisit it later”.
3. Use a Reliable Platform
There are many different call options out there, and choosing one that is reliable and well-suited to your purpose is essential. There’s nothing worse than a call that continually drops out or has to be abandoned due to poor connectivity!
If you’re looking to recreate calls that you might have with a customer over your office phone, then an app like Yay or 8×8 can be powerful. These offer call-recording features and can be set up to make and receive calls using your office number. They’re an easy service for your clients, as they will receive the phone call directly to their number as usual — there’s nothing for them to download or do before they can use it.
For meetings where cameras are more appropriate — or if you want to screen share — then there’s a wide choice of platforms. A few of our favourites include Google Hangouts, Skype and Zoom.
Google Hangouts syncs with Google Calendar seamlessly. You can share your screen and there’s also a subtitles option for those who are hard of hearing or struggle to hear in a noisy environment.
Skype is a well-known video conferencing platform with some great inbuilt features like a screen recorder and screen sharing. Skype also doubles as a messenger for sending quick messages or making sure everyone’s ready before starting the call. It can be difficult with large numbers of people, however, as stability sometimes becomes a little patchy.
Zoom is a paid-for service, but there is a fantastic free version available allowing you to have meetings for up to 45 minutes. There is also a meeting recording feature as well as screen-sharing options. It tends to be a very stable platform and can handle large numbers of people.
4. Use Cameras
“Camera on” meetings offer so many benefits for efficiency but also from a team-building perspective. Having everyone with their cameras on helps avoid people talking over the top of each other because the verbal cues that someone is about to speak are the same as they are in a face-to-face meeting. With cameras off, there can be a lot of apologising for speaking over one another — a time drain in an otherwise effective meeting, not to mention embarrassing.
Having cameras on helps to gauge a team’s reactions during announcements and, of course, it helps everyone to see the way things are said! It’s easy for something to come across in a manner different to the one intended. Being able to see everyone’s faces helps with this.
Generally, the best thing to do is to let your team know which meetings they should be on camera for so they can prepare in advance. We usually recommend certain meetings are video calls — but we also never insist on it, as some members of the team may feel uncomfortable.
5. Designate the Next Speaker
A really simple tip for keeping meetings on track is to make sure you direct your question towards a specific person. Leaving a question hanging can result in silence, as you can’t rely on your usual visual cues to address a person. In a face-to-face meeting, you can look at the person you’re hoping for an answer from. On a screen, it’s not always clear who you are looking at — you can stare at your colleague in the corner of the screen, but to everyone else, you’ll just be looking down! A simple, “Is this possible? What do you think, Andy” can cut out unnecessary uncertainty and idle time.
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6. Encourage Psychological Safety
Meetings can sometimes get derailed by the loudest voices in the room. This problem is no different in remote meetings, although you can help some team members feel more confident when interacting online.
A point of psychological safety is reached in a team when everyone feels comfortable contributing and all members of the team are respected. To help facilitate this, you can encourage equal contribution from different team members by designating the next person you’d like to hear from. In an office, you can use visual cues. It’s the same online, but you may have to work a little harder.
Psychological safety helps you to get everyone’s thoughts during the meeting, limiting the contributed points after the meeting. Having it as one of the things you’re looking to facilitate also helps you to spot “sand-bagging”. Sand-bagging is the moment a team member begins to repeat their points or go off-topic and pulls the meeting off-track. Keeping contributions equally distributed will help you to keep your meetings on track and make your team stronger.
7. Don’t Be Too Ruthless
Keeping meetings on track and reducing wasted time is great, but take care not to be too ruthless. Working remotely can reduce the amount of team-building time you have and a little social interaction time is important. Allowing a few minutes at the beginning or end of a call to catch up on everyone’s evening or weekend can help to keep the team feeling connected.
If you’re adapting to working remotely and finding ways to help your team thrive in the remote environment, Exposure Ninja is offering businesses a free working remote webinar and consultation call to get started. We’ve designed our Remote Working Revolution Training and Consultancy to skip the hard lessons of doing it on your own and get you to where you need to be as soon as possible.
Get started today by booking your Free Consultation with a Ninja.