Today project teams distributed all over the globe are becoming more and more widespread. Obviously, project management practices are also evolving in response to these changes. Let’s take meetings as an example of the most powerful project management means. Hosting a productive and efficient meeting within a co-located team has been always a challenge that requires a set of specific skills and experience. But now, with migration to remote teams, most of managers are facing an even more complicated task of organizing meetings without everyone`s physical presence in the room. We`re constantly adopting and testing new tools and practices in order not to lose in meeting performance. In this article I`m trying to summarize my experience on how to make the most of remote meetings regardless of technical tools you use.
1. Keep number of participants short.
The productivity of any meeting has an inverse relationship with the number of participants. From my experience the approximate limit of attendees, which keeps your meeting productive, is 10 people. If you have far more participants, you are risking to face a lot of interfering factors, such as distractions, noise, unproductive conversations, etc. Unfortunately, productivity of a remote meeting depends on the number of participants even more than the one of a co-located meeting. That`s why, you should take care of limiting the number of participants, but at the same time think about accomplishing necessary outcomes. You can achieve this by inviting only those people who can really provide any useful input on the subjects of discussion and are authorized to make decisions.
2. Take into account the time zones and pick the proper timing.
If your team is distributed between several locations, there are chances that your colleagues are in the different time zones. This adds extra complexity to organizing meetings because you should account on the time zones. It is easy to do if the time difference between your peers is just a couple of hours. But what to do if people are spread between several continents and you have only little overlapping between their working hours? Well, in this case you have to find some compromise between those who are supposed to come to work earlier and those who are supposed to stay late. Allowing people to start or finish their working days at home may also work if your project has no constraints to this.
3. Send an agenda in advance.
Keeping this rule is helpful for any kind of a meeting, but it is especially critical to adhere to this practice organizing remote meetings. When people are participating in a remote meeting, it is much more difficult for them to figure out what is going on up along the way. Thus, if you provide a detailed description of what is going to be discussed, including all necessary materials, participants will have a chance to prepare in advance. Moreover, sometimes it makes sense to assign respective speakers to different questions.
4. Choose a right online meeting tool.
The choice of an online meeting tool depends on the format of the meeting. In some cases just a voice conference is enough. But, if you’d like to personalize a meeting better, you may require a video conference tool. If you want to present some visual materials during a remote meeting, you have to make sure that your meeting tool allows a screen sharing option. Whatever tool you choose, you have to make sure that all the participants are aware of how to use it. If you have a concern about their knowledge, you’d better send them instructions in advance because figuring out how the particular software works may take precious time of your meeting.
5. Have a reserve online meeting tool.
Whatever online meeting tool you use, there are chances that someone may have troubles with it. People on remote teams often use different operating systems, browsers and other parameters. And it may happen that the chosen tool is not optimized for some systems. Besides, we can’t exclude the possibility of temporary outage of any meeting software. That’s why it is helpful to have a reserve meeting tool. It will help you quickly respond to unpredictable troubles and have a productive meeting despite any circumstances.
6. Use screen sharing whenever it makes sense.
Probably, you know that different people perceive information differently. Some people remember auditory information well, others respond to visual information better. But it is obvious that when we combine different ways of providing information together, it will work best of all. When you have a meeting with your co-located team, you are likely to use a board to draw some of your ideas or a big screen to share the presentation. If we eliminate this visual part of the meeting, we will definitely lose in effectiveness. Fortunately, you may also leverage the means of visualization during remote meetings due to screen sharing opportunities that are built-in in many of modern online meeting tools.
7. Take care of noise.
Noise it the scourge of remote meetings. People are connecting to meetings from different places with different environments. Someone can connect from a crowded open space where dozen of people in close proximity are talking simultaneously. Another one can connect from home with kids playing a game of tag in the house. I think you got the point. These background noises amplified by bad internet connection is a guarantee of failure. So, one of the golden rules of remote meetings is the following: who is not talking at the moment must be on mute. Tell people about this rule and control that everyone keeps it.
I know that there is a counterargument to this rule. Some people think that those meeting participants who are on mute can do some personal stuff simultaneously with the meeting and are not taking part in the discussion. But, I guess that there are some ways to get these people to participate in the meeting. At the same time one noisy background can ruin the meeting for all.
8. Ask remote people for input directly.
This rule is especially important when you have the core of the meeting participants co-located in the same room and a number of other people distributed between other locations. It’s really tough for people on remote to put their points forth amidst a heated debate. This is a big psychological barrier for them, but even if they overcome it, they might not get heard by co-located people who are involved into active discussion within the room. As a result, remote people may wait for the proper time to share their ideas until the end of the meeting, and eventually they wouldn’t get a chance to speak up.
You as a project manager should appreciate the input of all meeting participants and pay special attention to the remote people. When you see that people at the main location have finished articulating their ideas, ask those on remote what they think about the point discussed and what ideas they have.
9. Record a video.
Video recording may be helpful for several reasons. First, it will help you recall all the main points discussed and prepare the protocol of the meeting. Second, it may serve as a proof of whatever decisions were made on the meeting. You may attach it as additional materials for those who couldn’t participate in the meeting for any reason (see rule #10). The main caveat is that before starting video recording you should get at least verbal consent from all the participants. Make sure that the video recording is shared only among those people who are authorized to get it.
10. Send meeting minutes.
It happens quite often that some people who are supposed to participate in the meeting can not make it. In most cases you definitely want to inform these people about what was discussed and what decisions were made on this meeting. The most useful way of doing this is sending them a protocol of the meeting via email with all the main points outlined. It also makes sense to attach all the necessary documents and video recording to the email and ask everyone for any input or comments.
These 10 rules help me keep my remote meetings productive. But I’m pretty sure that there are more tips like these that I don`t know about. What do you do to make your remote meetings more efficient? Please, share in the comments.