How To Run Great Remote Meetings
Whether you’re leading a meeting or participating in one, there’s a lot you can do to make meetings efficient, productive, and even fun.
Define meeting goals
Keep meetings small
Use screenshare to focus
Wrap it up nicely
Keep your work relationships strong by making each meeting a chance to bond. Just a few minutes make meetings friendlier and help everyone stay engaged throughout your discussion.
Turn on that camera
Even when you don’t feel like it, get on video! And don’t feel bad about gently encouraging others to get on video too. Seeing everyone’s expressions and body language improves communication and increases engagement.
Travel photos make great backgrounds
Use every opportunity to add a little fun to remote meetings. As I dream about traveling in the future, I’ve been looking through old travel photos and using my favorites as Zoom backgrounds. Switching them up every week or so makes for great conversation starters while waiting for everyone to join the meeting.
Chat before you get down to business
Make a point of catching up for a few minutes before starting on the agenda. Check in on favorite TV shows, how long it’s been since you got a haircut, or even the weather - but do talk about something other than work. Small doses of bonding give everyone a much-needed break from work and help keep your team strong.
Double check that everyone has met before diving in. Participants may find it harder to jump in during a Zoom call to ask for introductions, so as the host or someone who knows everyone, suggest intros when you think they might be needed.
Clearly define meeting goals
Whether you’re the organizer or a participant, help make a meeting successful by making sure meeting goals are clearly defined in advance.
Organizer: Set an agenda and ask for specific input
As the organizer, why do you want to call this meeting?
Define your specific goal and what information, decision, or other outcome you want at the end of the meeting.
What agenda is required to accomplish that? Outline the topics and how much time to spend on each one.
Is there a specific type of input you’re looking for from participants? For example, early in a project you may want to gather background information or brainstorm, but later in a project you may seek feedback on detailed aspects of it. Tell people how they can help most.
Do participants need to prepare in advance? Ask people to review a document, gather ideas on a topic, or otherwise prepare if you think that will make the meeting more effective. Even if people don’t need to review documentation, share it in advance for anyone who prefers to do so. Some people absorb information better this way, so these participants will help you more in the meeting if they have a preview of the documentation.
Participants: Understand exactly how you can help
As a participant, identify why - or whether - you need to be in a meeting. This isn’t just for the sake of your time; if you don’t understand how you can help, you may not be able to help at all.
Ask for clarification about what the meeting organizer is looking for from you. Usually, one of a few things will happen. First, the organizer may be able to quickly clear up the confusion. Second, this may prompt the organizer to think more clearly about what they want out of the meeting, which will result in either an updated agenda or request, or perhaps the meeting not needing to happen at all. Third, you may be able to redirect the ask to a different person who would be better able to address their needs.
Don’t feel bad about asking for details. A friendly “Can you please tell me a little more about how I can be helpful in this meeting?” will do the trick.
Keep meetings small
Besides avoiding Zoom fatigue, limiting meetings to the essential group will make them more effective. There are a few ways to do this as an organizer or participant.
Invite people with a clear goal
Organizers: Once you’ve defined your meeting goal, invite only the people who clearly help achieve that goal.
Participants: As we talked about earlier, ask for clarification about how you can help in a meeting. If you don’t think you can help, say so and bow out.
Make attendance optional
Organizers: Similar to assigning who is responsible for driving a project versus reviewing or advising on it, consider who must be part of a conversation and who simply needs to be informed about it. Make people optional when you can. Go a step farther by telling people why you made them optional; for example you might say that you would welcome their input but that if they don’t have a strong opinion on the topic they can skip the meeting.
Participants: When you don’t need to be in a meeting, don’t feel the need to be there. It’s easy to feel obligated to attend every meeting you’re invited to, but try not to.
Share a recording, notes, or questions instead
Organizers: Consider sharing meeting content in another way. If some participants are optional, tell them in advance that you’ll share a recording of the meeting or a recap afterward. You’ll save people lots of time! If you’re looking for feedback, consider sharing documentation and giving people the option to share feedback in writing or in a meeting.
Participants: If you think you can be more effective by skipping a meeting and getting a recap, suggest it. In some cases, you may never need to reference the recap, but you’ll have it available if needed. If you prefer to give feedback in writing, ask whether that’s an option.
Use screenshare to stay focused
Even when a formal presentation is not needed, think about how you can use a written or visual aid in your meetings. These days, it’s easy to lose focus during a meeting. We have lots of extra sources of distraction in the home, on top of Slack messages, emails, and the usual suspects. Help your meeting participants stay focused - or get back on track - with visuals. Written summaries also help participants who absorb info better in written form than hearing it.
Whether you prepare something in advance or write notes live during the meeting, a written summary of what’s been covered helps people refocus when needed. Here are a few examples:
As you’re explaining something off the cuff, list the key points (in 1-2 words each) in a notepad program.
In a meeting covering many topics, keep the agenda on the screen. Add section summaries and action items as you go.
If you plan to present a lot of info, spend just a bit of time to create a deck or document outlining key points.
Keep any written content or visuals brief! Just a few words are plenty to help participants stay on track. Write too much, and people will focus more on the screen than on you.
Actively facilitate conversation
Now that you know exactly what you want to get out of each meeting and how you want each participant to contribute, actively guide the conversation to achieve your goal. Remote meetings can get derailed a bit more easily and be impacted by either very talkative or very quiet people. Gently bring people back to the topic and solicit opinions from the key people if they don’t volunteer.
Extra structure can help
In a remote context, sometimes a bit of extra structure can help hit meeting goals. Rather than simply having a few goals in mind to address throughout a half-hour meeting, use the first five minutes for context setting, the middle of the meeting to review and decide on a few topics in five minutes each, and the last five minutes to recap and identify action items. Of course, sometimes you’ll get off track, but having a structure in mind will help you make sure to get what’s needed out of the meeting.
Draw out quiet people
Since you’ve thought carefully about why you want each person in a meeting, if you don’t hear from people, ask for their input. Important new ideas will come out of it.
Recap as you go
Summarize key points a few times during the meeting, perhaps before moving on to the next agenda item. By playing back what you’re hearing from people and summarizing outcomes, you can build on those learnings later in the meeting and avoid missing key insights from the discussion.
Wrap it up
Last but not least, end your meeting on a high note.
Give people 5 or 10 minutes back
Make a habit of shortening half-hour meetings to 25 minutes and hour meetings to 50 minutes. Outlook even has a setting to do this automatically. This time constraint will help you stay efficient during the meeting, and participants will be grateful for the downtime before their next meeting.
Set follow up actions, owners, and timelines
Jot down action items throughout the meeting. At the end, review with the group so everyone is on the same page. Make sure you have an owner and a timeline (or a date for a date) for each action item. Also set plans for a followup meeting if needed.
Send links and recaps promptly
If you have notes, links, or other items to share after the meeting, send them promptly so people see them while the conversation is still fresh in their minds. For ongoing conversations, consider creating a Slack or Teams channel to share ideas.
Running an effective meeting remotely can take a little extra effort and planning. We hope these ideas are helpful for you to manage your meetings successfully in 2021!