Five Meeting Tips for Newly-Remote Teams

You probably went from the office to remote so fast, you're still recovering from the whiplash of working from home. I found the biggest change when I started to work remotely was how meetings changed.

I've learned these tips over the years. You might find them helpful.

Tip 1: Start With Cameras On

When we meet in a conference room, we can see each other.

We can see and hear the cues from each person. Nothing surprises us—we can see people roll their eyes or turn red from frustration. In effect, our eyes are cameras.

If we don't use cameras, we can't tell what people mean when they speak.

You might “have” to use a tool your company chose. If that tool doesn't allow for simultaneous visuals of every person on the call, tell the decision-makers the tool isn't sufficient for your use. The cameras mimic how we meet in person.

Oh, and if your family happens to wander into the frame, offer to introduce them to your colleagues.

Tip 2: Prepare and Send an Agenda in Advance

I see too many meetings (in-person or remote) where the people don't know what to expect. There's no agenda.

In Manage It! Your Guide to Modern Project Management, I said you don't need to attend a meeting with no agenda. I stand by that advice.

It's possible you need to generate the agenda at the meeting, especially if you have late-breaking news. Lean Coffee is an excellent format when you need to create the agenda. (I recommend Lean Coffee instead of serial status meetings.)

I like to send the agenda 24 hours in advance of the meeting. And, given that we're all so pulled in so many directions, consider sending the agenda again, just before the meeting.

Tip 3: Keep Minutes by Someone Other than the Facilitator

If you're going to bother having a meeting, make sure someone takes minutes. That way you have a record of decisions and action items.

And, the larger the meeting, the more you need someone to facilitate it. Well, facilitate the people in the meeting. Not because people are idiots, but because we don't always recognize when someone's trying to say something. Or, thinking.

Here's my experience with all-remote meetings: If you only have three people in the meeting, and the people have working agreements, maybe the facilitator can take the minutes. And, once the facilitator needs to pay attention to four people, the facilitator either takes horrible minutes or doesn't pay attention.

Split focus doesn't work for meetings or for projects. And, because your team is learning how to work as a distributed/dispersed team, you will need to pay more attention to the decisions and the facilitation. Not less attention.

Tip 4: Prepare Apart; Decide Together

Do you sit there in meetings that take forever to get to a decision? That's because you're doing these five actions in one meeting:

  1. Define the problem(s),
  2. Gather data to prepare to discuss,
  3. Discuss, where you might diverge to hear all the opinions and options,
  4. You might need more data so you can:
  5. Converge, decide what to do.

Especially when you're all remote, decide what you can do asynchronously, and in shorter meetings. (See Long Decision Wait Times to see a value stream map of how managers make decisions.)

  • Synchronous: Do you need to define the problem(s) together? Maybe create a (shorter?) timeboxed meeting to define the problem at hand.
  • Asynchronous: If you don't need to define together, can someone write the problem(s) down and send it to the decision-makers? If so, maybe people can then gather the data they need.
  • Synchronous: Discuss to hear everything. Decide if you need more data.
  • Asynchronous: Gather more data.
  • Synchronous: Decide what to do.

The more people can do on their own, the shorter you can make the meeting.

Tip 5: Keep Remote Meetings Short

When we decide what's synchronous and asynchronous, we can keep our meetings shorter. I find remote meetings of about 30-45 minutes about right. More than that and people start to fidget. Or, especially since they're working from home, they need to attend to other people in the home.

Your remote meetings don't have to be awful. Make them better as you adapt these tips to your remote teams.

This post is part of the Collection of My Rapidly Remote and Managing in Uncertainty Writing.

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