How to Keep Remote Meetings Productive and Efficient

In the old days, when people actually went into offices, much of our time was spent rushing from meeting to meeting—and we’ve all been at those: the ones that never end, that go off track, that aren’t effective or productive.

Now that almost everyone is working from a home office, it’s a great time to think about ways to make sure online meetings are productive, focused and collaborative.

This unprecedented crisis is sure to have long-lasting effects on how we all work together. In addition to things like having an agenda, a moderator and time constraints, it’s helpful to invite others to share questions, information and schedules before planning.

Here are five things to consider before scheduling, planning and running your next remote meeting to ensure that team members stay productive and informed.

Determine If a Meeting Is Necessary

Before planning begins, conduct a Meeting Audit: Consider what’s really important in this new world order and cancel all unnecessary meetings.

  • Can the meeting be replaced with an email?
  • Is it possible to replace individual project update meetings with weekly or biweekly roundups on the status of multiple projects, with 10- or 15-minute status reports provided by individual project leaders?
  • Can you create a simple project status sheet with a field for questions, and circulate that instead of scheduling a meeting?
  • Can you invite only the key stakeholders to meetings and make sure attendees understand their roles in the process?
  • Communicate with your teams about the decision to keep meetings smaller so that they understand why these shifts are taking place.
  • Share post-meeting recaps with those who weren’t invited.

Assign a Meeting Leader

Put one team member in charge of every meeting and let other attendees know who it is. The meeting leader should:

  • Connect with leadership on the meeting’s goals and communicate them early on
  • Establish, circulate and time-manage the agenda, and let others know the protocol for adding things to it
  • Share efficient meeting notes with attendees and influencers: the meeting leader can assign a colleague to take notes, but they should edit them down into a scannable and actionable summary
  • Ensure all attendees know their roles, next steps and timing
  • Be the liaison between team members when it comes to questions and follow-up

Create New Guidelines for Remote Meetings

At this moment in time, our teams are facing unexpected challenges in their daily lives, so it’s important that attendees have everything they need to be prepared. These guidelines will help the meeting run smoothly:

  • Make sure attendees know the goal of the meeting in advance.
  • Distribute the agenda and let team members know their roles and what’s expected of them.
  • Test your technology before the meeting (and have a plan B option ready).
  • Allow space so that everyone can contribute, invite quieter people to speak and encourage engagement.
  • Communicate that multitasking during meetings is inappropriate.
  • Make sure everyone is tracking with what’s being decided; virtual meetings can be harder to follow for some who are used to face-to-face interactions.

Take Five: Give Team Members Time to Speak

We’re all familiar with those meetings where some folks do all the talking and others never get a word in. Introduce “the first five,” meaning use the first five minutes of every remote meeting to listen to team members talk about how they’re feeling and doing.

  • Add time to the agenda for team members to share what’s on their mind, or just catch up.
  • Inform attendees that they’re free to join the call five minutes late if they prefer to skip the conversation.
  • Create pauses in the conversation to allow everyone to contribute.
  • Let the moderator guide the conversation after five minutes, bringing it back to the agenda.

Keep Meetings Flexible

In order to accommodate the new way our teams are working—and the additional stress and responsibilities many of us are dealing with—establish meeting guidelines that support flexibility:

  • Set company “meeting hours” (such as 9–11 a.m. and 1–3 p.m.) to accommodate parents who are juggling kids at home.
  • Let attendees dial into video calls with voice only when necessary.
  • Give attendees the opportunity to exit meetings if and when it becomes clear they aren’t needed, or their part of the meeting is over.
  • Invite team feedback: What does everyone need to feel comfortable in the remote meeting space?

Effective Meeting Checklist

  • Decide if a meeting is needed.
  • Assign a meeting leader.
  • Keep all stakeholders informed.
  • Share agenda and individual roles.
  • Test technology.
  • Schedule, track, stick to time and agenda.
  • Be flexible in this new era.

These are interesting—and changing—times: We’re all in this together. Providing templates for running creative, collaborative and effective meetings are just smart practices.

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