How to run effective meetings with a remote workforce

How to run effective meetings with a remote workforce

"Can you hear me?" "Please mute your mic." "Please unmute and speak." "I think there is a problem with your video." These sentences have become a part of our everyday vocabulary ever since we started working remotely. The National Bureau of Economic Research found the number of meetings per person has increased by 12.9%after the COVID-19 pandemic hit us. This has resulted in an additional one hour of work everyday for employees, which has interfered with work-life balance and, in some cases, led to lower productivity levels and employee burnout. The survey also concluded that 75% leaders say they’ve seen employees make mistakes due to burnout.

While meetings aren't the whole equation here, they are certainly a factor. Here are 10 meeting etiquette tips that you should follow to energize your workforce and boost productivity levels across your organization. 

1. Give undivided attention to your colleagues

One of the most fundamental things that everyone should do in a meeting is display the art of listening. It is already a common phenomenon that people do not listen when others are speaking. In a hybrid work environment where meetings are often conducted with video conferencing tools, focusing can be that much harder. We wait for our turn to unmute and talk about issues that are related to our work, and when others start presenting their work items, we end up not paying attention.

"When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen." --Ernest Hemingway

Imagine a scenario where you have to have a one-on-one conversation with a person. How would you feel if they don't even pay attention to you when you speak? Even in a video call, make sure to give proper eye contact, nod your head in agreement, and if you disagree with something that has been presented, air it conscientiously. If you can tell when another person is in another tab or looking at their phone during a meeting, so can everyone else.

2. Show up on time

Do you start meetings on time? Or do you usually wait for people to join before starting? In a face-to-face meeting scenario, it would be awkward to walk into the meeting room after the meeting has started. But in an online meeting, it's common for an 11:30am start time to become 11:35am as you wait for people to enter and get their mics or cameras adjusted. This adds to a sense of disorganization, encouraging those who are on time to disengage to finish tasks in other tabs while people filter into the call.

Treat online meetings like how you would treat offline meetings, either arriving on time or early. If your teammates are constantly late to meetings, you can try the following three techniques to encourage timely attendance:

  1. Give each one of them a particular role to play; screen sharing, taking minutes, writing down action points, delegating tasks, moderating, or setting timelines are all useful.
  2. Reward those who show up early with tangible incentives that employees would look forward to.
  3. Make your meetings as useful and exciting as possible to encourage a genuine interest among attendees.

3. Go with a plan

A virtual meeting is already difficult to execute effectively. Don't make it harder for yourself by not having a plan or a clear idea of what the outcome should be. As a meeting host, you should also have a contingency plan for conducting the meeting efficiently even if something goes wrong, such as a tech issue or unplanned absence from a key presenter.

Abraham Lincoln's statement, 'Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe,' applies to this scenario perfectly. If the meeting is scheduled for an hour, the host should have an idea on how to conduct the meeting in 60 minutes or less. Often, virtual meetings go on and on without a plan, and the inefficient use of that time erodes the mental health of employees over time.

4. Avoid multitasking

There is always the temptation to watch your favourite Netflix show or check social media when you are a passive participant in a meeting, especially if that meeting is large and there's not a huge chance that you'll have to speak. Other times, employees may feel compelled to try and do other work tasks alongside the meeting. As people start to notice that not everyone is focused on the conversation, more and more people will become disinterested. 

A recent study finding by Microsoft reveals that multitasking takes place six times as often in video meetings lasting more than 80 minutes in comparison with meetings that are less than 20 minutes. That brings us to our next point.

5. Keep it short and simple

Short, ten-minute meetings can be highly effective, especially in solving critical issues. The best way to go about these meetings is to start by stating the problem right away so brainstorming can begin. You may even want to brief everyone about the problem beforehand in an email or group message so people can come with their ideas ready. Then you can spend the ten minutes discussing the right solution and finalizing a timetable for it.

In his book, "The Surprising Science of Meetings: How You Can Lead Your Team to Peak Performance," Organization Psychologist Steven Rogelberg writes about proven practices that help employees to improve the quality of their meetings. One of the ways to make meetings more efficient is by shortening them. Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, conducts meetings that are no longer than ten minutes.The shorter the meetings, the more focused the attendees who participate in it.

6. Minimize distractions

In a virtual meeting, where being on video becomes a mandatory process, care should be taken to minimize distractions amongst the attendees. Cliq has launched a set of background filters that can be used to avoid distractions during meetings, for example. Background noise is a common issue on conference calls. Aside from just informing everyone to mute, encourage employees to tell anyone they live with when they'll be in a meeting to help ensure a distraction-free environment. A good broadband connection will also help you and the other meeting attendees stay on task without stress.

Once in a while ask the attendees to just bring a sheet of paper and a pen to the meeting room. Ask them not to use any other electronic gadget during the meeting. Focused meetings keep away all sorts of technological distractions and will be a great platform for everyone to discuss and express their views openly.

7. Record meeting minutes

Every meeting should be recorded in some way, not only so you can refer back to it but also so you can find areas of improvement. The minutes for the meeting should have the key topics, action points, and any timelines that were discussed, as well as the stakeholders who are responsible for completing the tasks outlined in the meeting. Those who record these meeting minutes should be excellent listeners, and as a rule of thumb, the minutes should be shared with all attendees within 30 minutes of the meeting's completion. Using a minutes template simplifies this process and also makes it easy to pass the responsibility to someone else without having the record format change from meeting to meeting.

8. Moderate your meetings

It falls upon the meeting host to make sure that the meeting is fruitful, and a successful meeting is one that is moderated efficiently. The host should be clear on the agenda and communicate it to attendees before the meeting commences.  In an online meeting scenario, the host should be ready with the documents and presentations that need to be screen shared. In the case of 30 minute meetings, give a heads-up five minutes before the end of the meeting so that you can wrap it up on time. Give equal importance to every attendee and discourage the show-offs who like to steal the thunder. Most importantly, shut down any disputes that threaten to derail the meeting. If two members start arguing, immediately cut it off and inform them to take it offline. 

9. Don't invite everyone

Employees spend around 35% of their time daily in meetings. On average, most teams spend two days a week in meetings and group calls, but most of that time spent isn't truly necessary or productive for the majority of attendees. It is imperative for managers and meeting coordinators to conduct brief, productive meetings by involving only those members who will be key contributors to the task or discussion at hand. Too many meetings can distract employees at work. Make sure that an employee does not have to spend more than 10% of their weekly work hours in meetings. If your average employee works 40 hours in a week, the total time spent on meetings in that week should not exceed four hours.

10. Complete the meeting on time

How many times have you been in meetings where the host just allows the meetings to exceed the allocated time? If a meeting that was advertised as 30 minutes runs for more than 2 hours, it will stress your employees out. Just like starting on time is essential, ending on time is just as important. If you follow the previous nine points, you will already be well on your way toward conducting shorter meetings. But in case you still find yourself going over time, try practicing hard stops. If you make it a practice to conclude meetings on time even if all the action points are not discussed, the pace of the meeting will naturally increase as people adjust to the constraints and get their points across faster. 

Final thoughts

Following the 10steps mentioned in this blog will definitely make your meetings more productive, but the best way to optimize your meetings is to ask your employees what their preferences are and design meetings with their engagement in mind. A collaboration tool will enable you to streamline your meetings. If you're looking for an internal communication platform that helps you to send messages, make calls, and conduct meetings, give Zoho Cliq a try!


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