Making Remote Meetings Work
When you have a dispersed team separated by geographic boundaries and time zones it can get a little complicated to ensure that the right messages are being received at the right time by everyone on the team. This problem is further compounded if you are a fast growing team and don’t have the necessary time to get to know and understand everyone’s idiosyncrasies, instead needing to put more emphasis on product delivery before team understanding.
While many feel that this problem can be solved by technology alone, whether it’s expensive conferencing equipment or holograms, it won’t solve the problem. The problem isn’t a technology one, it’s a team one and it starts with the Leader of your team.
And whether your team is separated by geographic boundaries or works from home in the same city, the steps for how to make remote meetings work will always be the same. First, start with establishing the goal that you want to accomplish from your remote sessions.
Everyone is always engaged, no one feels left out, everyone participates.
No More Meeting Rooms
First off, if you have a dispersed team where even 1 or 2 members of your team are always remote, no more meeting rooms. Everyone takes the call from their desk. When half the team is in a meeting room, side conversations and inside jokes occur that leave the rest of the group out of. Refer to our goal for meetings, everyone is always engaged, no one feels left out, everyone participates. When you make the experience the same for everyone involved in the call, the dynamic shifts to everyone having the same experience and leaving with the same message (most important).
Always Video, Always On
This is key, we need to see you, we need to make sure you are in the call. If Starbucks has bad wifi and you can’t focus on the call, don’t take the call from Starbucks (and perhaps you shouldn’t even be working there). Hiding behind a powerpoint or default avatar is no way for you to present yourself to your team. Again, see our goal, when video is on, everyone is engaged, everyone is looking at their screens and not on their phones, texting with someone else or staring out the window. They care about what is being said and what they can do to help.
You don’t need that $25,000 conference equipment, what you do need is a solid video camera with a built-in mic and separate headset. When you are in the office all by yourself, no need to use the headset and give yourself a break with the speaker. When you are in a common area location, plug in the headset. Nearly every laptop comes with a built-in video camera now so put it to good use. If you are on the road, you have a phone or tablet that can run all the apps you have on your desktop.
Plugin and connect. When people on your team go off video, call them on it, because they are most likely doing something else.
It goes without saying, but I’ll say it here regardless, the onus is on everyone in your team to verify their equipment before a call and make sure sure it works effortlessly. You don’t want to waste your team’s time while you fiddle with your mic and volume settings, you all have much better things to be doing.
The last piece of equipment is a solid internet connection, you’re running video so make sure it can handle the load of multiple calls per day.
Hold Meetings during Core Hours
This applies to working with a team in different time zones where you need to coordinate when everyone is online. As the Leader on your team, you need to identify when it makes sense to hold calls with remote workers. If your remote team has already worked a full-day and it is 5pm for them and you are trying to schedule a call, they will not be engaged (again see our goal). Find a time that works for all, as best as you can, and only have meetings during those hours.
Taking it one step further, share these core hours with your team so everyone else knows what the acceptable window is for calls. The best part, your team will love that they will be guaranteed some open time where they don’t have to worry about meetings creeping into their calendars.
Rotate the Meeting Chair
And last, keep the calls fresh. If it is the same person running the meeting each time, switch it up. One, this keeps people engaged (see goal) by knowing that they will have to lead the meeting (and will want everyone to listen to them when it is their turn), two this brings a fresh approach to your calls as everyone has their own styles (again, see goal) and three you are giving people the opportunity to lead important discussions within your team fostering the foundations of growth and leadership with all.
I sometimes get asked – “What if the discussion is private in nature and we don’t want anyone to hear us?” – book a meeting room where only you are there, borrow someone’s office or better yet, if you know the meeting is coming up, work from home that day. There is no reason for everyone not to have the same experience when the team is working remotely. As a leader on a fast-growing team, it’s your job to make sure that everyone is having the same experience and feeling engaged throughout each call.
New Team Leads and Managers are often super pumped and excited to be leading a team and focus heavily on how they can build the greatest, most awesome team culture that will stand the test time. The answer is simple and twofold, it starts with the goals for your team. This post focused on one of these goals – Ensure everyone is always engaged and is a part of the team in every team interaction and discussion. The second part of that answer, it doesn’t happen overnight but through the consistent implementation of small actions. There is no more action that will happen more often than your team getting together to discuss issues and problems, get everyone on the same playing field, get everyone engaged and start your awesome team culture building there.