Like many, many people across the globe, new technology has been making a big impact on the changing face of our daily working life. For the foreseeable future, physically going into that office, or meeting a colleague for a casual coffee and informal chat is something that’s off the table. If you’re used to working with teams in other countries or districts, then remote meetings will be old hat; however, for many of us, connecting online with colleagues and clients is a completely new experience. If you want to get familiar with navigating the social etiquette and best practices on how to hold productive remote meetings, then don't worry - we have you covered with our top ten tips below!
There is a common misconception that just because people are working from home, that they are idle, and dying for some kind of human interaction. In fact, because of the vast amount of work involved in updating systems, learning new technology and generally transitioning businesses online, many people’s workload is fuller than it has ever been. With this in mind, before you call a meeting you must ask yourself: Is this absolutely necessary? Could this be solved with an email thread? If the answer is maybe, then this is a meeting that doesn’t have to happen. Be respectful of other people’s time and be selective when it comes to who is sitting in on it.
This is a learning curve for everyone. While it’s important to be understanding, we can’t stress how frustrating it is for a large group of busy people to wait on one person to figure out how to unmute their mic - especially when there’s a mountain of work to get done that would put Everest to shame. So if this is your first meeting with any given group, budget time ahead of the meeting to do a digital recce. This will allow people to check that their WiFi signal is strong enough, their camera is working, and how to manoeuvre with the technology without eating into your scheduled time.
Know that people’s calendars have never been so filled with requests for chats, meetings and catch ups as they are right now, and know where you fit into that. If you’re the host of this meeting, then make sure people have as much information available to them before it starts, so they can choose if it’s appropriate for them to go, be fully read up on what’s going to happen, and can do any research or prep on their end ahead of the meeting. In the title of your invite, have a clear indication of what you intend to cover over the course of the meeting; ‘General Catch Up’ for instance is just too vague. Circulate an agenda to all attendees, and make sure you budget a realistic time frame for the online call, and stick to it, as best you can.
What is the goal of this online meeting? Is this a catch up with colleagues about daily targets, or is there a focussed to-do list a mile long? Either way, lengthy chit chat about the present, terrifying news does not help you achieve it. If you’re running this meeting, then it’s your role to make sure it stays on task. We recommend that if things start to veer off course - table all off-topic subjects until the end of the meeting, then people with time constraints can opt out, knowing that all the important areas have been covered. Again, it all comes back to respecting other people’s schedules. You’ll find that if you host one too many meetings where people start talking banana bread recipes or personal politics, you’ll get less and less people ‘available’ for meetings in the future.
The general rules of thumb for remote meetings are as follows: punctuality is key, pay attention, cameras on, mics off and be respectful of whoever is talking. Don't be afraid to establish these again clearly in the agenda if you're hosting the first meeting of a new group. Once a meeting is fast moving and to the point, people should have no time to answer work emails, or have a muted going back and forth with their partner in their kitchen. As the host, you must lead by example. Also, it’s your responsibility to introduce people if they’re new to any given group.
And this goes double for your space. If you think no one is eyeing up your piles of dirty washing in the background, or your collection of bathrobes, think again. As a host, being clean and groomed is paramount. No one is expecting formal wear or an hour’s worth of makeup application, however, brushed hair, relatively smart attire (as far as the webcam can see, at least) and a tidy space goes a long way to giving a professional impression. And keep that door closed… avoid any unexpected visitors in the form of pets or children at all costs!
Back in the days of in-person meetings, nothing was more awkward than a speaker struggling, trying to get a projector working, or having connectivity issues with WiFi. And when it comes to remote meetings, the same principles apply; have all those kinks worked out beforehand. Once you have your agenda planned, have all relevant links, slides, or items you’d like to share ready to go. Familiarise yourself with the screen sharing options of the software you’ll be using, as well as the chat box, and the muting buttons. Do you need to set up breakout rooms or share a clip? Do a test run of everything you’ll be using ahead of the meeting so everything runs seamlessly on the day. And dear god, use a work-only profile. We’ve all heard the horror stories of people accidentally sharing the dodgy sites they’ve been visiting while utilising the screen sharing option.
When it comes to contributing to a larger group, it’s best practice to mute your own mic. However, if this is a group of people not too familiar with online meetings, be prepared for all sorts of background noise. You’ll have pets, kids, partners pottering around kitchens… if you’re the admin, then it’s on you to mute everyone. If someone wants to ask a question or contribute, get them to put up their hand or use the chat box. And be very mindful of background noise or any other issues emanating from your own side, don’t be afraid to check in occasionally and see if everyone can see and hear you.
Are you wondering how you can keep people engaged during meetings and keep track of everything that happens, and adhere to the agenda? Phew - that sounds like a lot, because it is. Then here’s a bit of invaluable advice, assign and rotate various admin roles within the meeting. Get your team to take turns being the facilitator, timekeeper and notetaker. It will not only allow for a smoother run of things, but will also give everybody a greater understanding and empathy when it’s someone else's turn to run the meeting and things start to go wrong.
And finally, don’t let what you cover in the meeting fall by the wayside. There’s nothing worse than constantly going over the same topics again and again. Keep track of everything you get through, assign tasks, send follow up via email with any actionable or notable items. Then, the next time you all meet, you can see how far you’ve come in relation to reaching those goals. Celebrating achievements is a great way to start any meeting!
Is there anything you’d like to add? Do you have any tips or tricks that you find keep the momentum of a remote meeting going? Then we’d love to hear them - just comment below!