At their best, meetings drive collaboration, build consensus, and disseminate information. At their worst, they waste time, kill momentum, and sow confusion. And that’s when everyone’s physically present in the same room. Remote meetings run the same risks, on top of additional challenges like scheduling, technological difficulties, and distractions.
So, how do you set yourself up to host a remote meeting that’s productive, concise, and engaging? As with most things, a little bit of planning can go a long way.
Create an agenda
In a 2019 Doodle study of 6,500 workers, 72% of participants reported that setting clear objectives was the key feature of a productive meeting. What’s the best way to set those objectives? Draft an agenda and share it with your team.
What your agenda looks like will be dictated by what kind of meeting you’re hosting. Is it a one-off that needs to accomplish a specific task? Or is it a stand-up meeting that occurs regularly? Meetings that occur more frequently need to cover less ground because you can return to an item in the next meeting, if necessary.
Bear in mind that your agenda often determines the length of the meeting:
- A daily check-in could be quick and simple: what’s changed since yesterday and what are you anticipating today?
- An update on team KPIs or ongoing projects might need to be longer.
- And more open-ended discussions that involve problem-solving or brainstorming can be quite time-intensive.
Even if you’re discussing a complex topic, it’s a good idea to cap the meeting at 90-120 minutes. Most people struggle to focus after that point, anyways.
Regardless of what kind of meeting you’re holding or how long it will be, your agenda should be easy to skim. Use bullet points and brief descriptions so attendees can scan and digest the content in less than a minute. That way they’ll have no excuse not to read it.
If possible, make space in the agenda for Q&A time at the end of the meeting. This gives you a chance to clarify any miscommunications and clear up any confusion. It’s also helpful to include a brief wrap-up where you reiterate action items and what people should work on for the next meeting.
Give participants plenty of time to review important documents
Some people think quickly on their feet, while others need time to digest and process new information. That’s one reason it’s important to share any documents you’ll be discussing well before the meeting starts. Otherwise, team members might feel pressured to participate in a discussion they don’t fully understand, which can lead to guesswork and half-baked ideas.
This includes the agenda itself. Knowing what they’re about to participate in will help your team prepare properly. An easy way to make sure your agenda gets read beforehand is to paste the meeting invite link at the bottom of the document. Subtle choices like this can have a big impact on the actions of the team.
Use the right tools to share the agenda
If this is a standup or regularly scheduled meeting, you can give readers the permission to edit or comment on the agenda. This can help you collect team input before the meeting, which saves time and ensures a more productive discussion. We recommend using a real-time file-sharing tool like Zoho WorkDrive or Google Drive for this purpose because they automatically show everyone the latest iteration of any document. This can prevent confusing version conflicts that can come up when distributing uneditable documents using basic cloud sharing services, like Dropbox.
If the success of your meeting depends on everyone being truly familiar with the contents of a document, consider doing what Amazon does. They schedule quiet “study time” at the beginning of the meeting, letting everyone review and annotate all key documents. Rather than asking people to set aside time in their busy lives, bake that time into the meeting schedule.
It can feel a little awkward at first, but once the team gets comfortable with the silence, the benefits will become immediately apparent. Rather than half the group pretending that they’ve carefully done the reading, you’ll know for sure that everyone in attendance is working with all the most current information. Not only will this improve the quality of the conversation, but it will also save time by reducing how much recapping or overviewing you’ll need to do at the beginning of the conversation.
Take care of the technical side ahead of time
No one likes to sit through long delays while technical difficulties are worked out. A day or so before your first online meeting, remind everyone to make sure they have the appropriate settings enabled to participate. If you have access to an onboarding guide that walks people through the setup processes, include the URL in your meeting invite and agenda. And of course, if you haven’t used the meeting software before, it’s a good idea to test it ahead of time.
You may want to record the meeting. If so, you’ll need to know how to do that before the meeting starts. Usually, this is done to make the meeting easier to reference later—whether that’s for double-checking what was discussed, or for people who were unable to attend. Most meeting apps like Zoho Meeting, Zoom, and Skype offer this as a built-in function. Be sure to check ahead of time that your chosen solution includes this feature. And if you do want to record the meeting, set a reminder to start the recording when the meeting starts.
Beyond technical issues, it can be helpful to have a casual discussion with your team about meeting etiquette and audio/video best practices.
Here are a few tips to get you started:
- Encouraging participants to turn on their cameras can help the meeting feel more connected. It also helps people focus on the conversation, since they can see the face of the person speaking.
- Wearing headphones isn’t strictly necessary, but it does help to prevent feedback loops and background noise.
- If you can hear background noise, or if there are more than about three participants on the meeting, it’s a good idea for everyone who isn’t speaking to mute themselves.
- When setting up your computer or webcam, make sure you face a strong light source, rather than positioning yourself with lots of light behind or above you.
These tips can help your online meetings feel more like in-person meetings. By reducing the number of distractions and technical hiccups, you help your team spend more energy engaging with each other than they do wrestling with technology.
Whether your team is full of remote pros or newbies to the world of videoconferencing, these tips can help you conduct a successful remote meeting. Your primary goal should be to reduce friction and distraction, while increasing engagement and participation. After all, meetings—whether remote or in person—work best when they’re collaborative.
Make sure to come back for our second post on remote meetings, where we’ll be covering what you can do during and after the meeting to make sure it gets results.