Holding effective meetings can be something of a challenge under the best of circumstances, but it can be particularly difficult with remote teams. Here are four keys to holding productive meetings with remote workers.
1. Use the right technology.
Chat and instant messaging apps have become just as popular for business as for personal use and can facilitate a great deal of communication. That being said, there is eventually going to come a time when you need to actually hold a meeting for your entire team. Under the best of conditions, it is difficult to keep meetings from being enormous time wasters, so the last thing you want is to spend time struggling with technical issues. Whether your meeting only involves one or two other people, or hosts a larger group, you might consider using a video conferencing service like GoToMeeting. Using a video conferencing service doesn't just guarantee you a smoother connection, but it also allows you to easily share information right within the service.
2. Plan and communicate ahead of time.
Just remember that while meetings are important to help get and keep everyone on the same page, every minute that people spend in meetings is a minute they are not moving your business forward.
If you need to have a meeting that involves 10 people for 30 minutes and it ends up running an hour because of technical issues or a lack of planning, that equates to 300 wasted minutes or nearly five man hours of wasted time. Here are some tips to help you avoid such situations:
- Choose your time carefully: This is particularly important if you are working with a team located in different time zones. You want to do your best to try and ensure that no one is required to attend a meeting in the middle of the night or even during an important event. Also keep in mind that just before lunch, people are hungry and just after lunch they might be ready for a nap. Ultimately, there is just no perfect time for a meeting, but you want to do your best to arrange a time that will gain you the most participation.
- Set an agenda and distribute it in advance: Meeting will always run more smoothly when everyone knows exactly what topics will be covered and are prepared in advance to offer any input that might be expected of them. This is also a helpful time management tool because it helps everyone keep an eye on the clock. It if it is supposed to be a one-hour meeting covering 5 topics and you are only on the second topic 30 minutes in, then most people will generally start evaluating their own comments or contributions for importance before making them.
- Let people know in advance what will be expected of them: Video or online conferences and meetings generally have different protocols than physical or face-to-face meetings. Just like every company has a unique culture, so does every team. What might be acceptable or even encouraged on one team might not be on another. It is always helpful to have a standing SOP for how to handle comments, questions, suggestions or even what proper etiquette is, but it's even more important if you have new members or regular turnover. Remote teams, in particular, tend to have higher turnover than many office teams, so the faster you can get newcomers up to speed, the better.
3. Only plan large meetings if you absolutely have to.
There is perhaps no place where it is more important to remember that time is money than when it comes to meetings. While it may be simpler to schedule one meeting with the entire team to cover a range of topics, it is always important to keep in mind that you are still paying each individual employee for every minute they spend in a meeting.
In simple terms, if you have 10 employees that make $30 an hour and schedule a one-hour meeting, that meeting is costing you $300, not to mention your own time. On the other hand, if you schedule three 20-minute meetings with 4 employees each, then you're still only using one hour of your time, but you're only paying $40 for each meeting or spending a total of $120 in man-hours.
The other 40 minutes of each employee's hour can be spent actually working rather than sitting in a meeting they only participate in for a grand total of 10-15 minutes. Before you schedule your next meeting, use a cost calculator to determine not only the most efficient but the most cost-effective means of getting the results or information you need.
4. Keep the meeting moving, but also create engagement.
For remote teams, a meeting may be one of the rare times they have any type of opportunity to interact with one another.
As important as it may be to keep the meeting moving and get what you need to accomplished, this can also be an important time for remote teams, in particular, to get to know each other or to learn more about each other.
You want to use your time wisely and plan it well, but sometimes the best use of your time might be to facilitate some team interaction rather than keeping things all business. While team meetings may be best kept to being few and far between, when you do have them, you certainly want to make the most of them.
Running an efficient meeting with remote workers may be challenging, but it can be done.
Your meeting will be more successful when you manage to keep people on topic and on track while also encouraging participation from everyone. The term "herding cats" often gets thrown around a great deal when it comes to managing a team, and this term is probably particularly appropriate when it comes to leading meetings.
Keeping your team on track and your meeting running smoothly can be a challenge, but with a little planning, preparation, and attention to detail, it can be successfully accomplished.