You probably work with at least one or two people who is remote, or is remote for part of the week. That means, you’ve probably also experienced some less than productive virtual meetings. Whether you lost time to faulty technology, spent too much time talking over one another or just experienced silence on the other end, you might be wondering how to actually hold a successful remote meeting. Here are eight tips that will ensure your virtual meeting goes smoothly, no matter how far away your coworkers are.
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This goes for any meeting, whether in-person or virtual, but you should really make sure you’re well prepared. Kelly Seelig, VP of marketing and communications at Blue Jeans, a video conferencing service, notes that in a typical meeting “you might’ve been able to make small talk while you pulled up discussion documents on your computer, this doesn’t fly in video conferencing. Prepare your materials in advance and create an agenda and stick to it.” Send the agenda around to all attendees prior to the meeting, and give them a chance to add anything they might want to cover. If everyone goes in prepared, and if you know people have talking points ahead of time, it will help you get more done in the half hour or hour you’ve allotted.
Prep your tech
If you’ve ever been a part of a meeting where it took 15 minutes at the start just to get the microphones or video streaming set up correctly, you know that it feels like a complete waste of time. If video or audio conferencing are a typical part of your week, make sure you take time to understand the technology you’re using and how to troubleshoot it. Of course there will always be those times you need to call IT into help, but knowing the basics can save you, and your colleagues, some time.
If you’re a manager or if you’re in charge of running the meeting, set aside some time to have someone show you the ins and outs of the systems you use to conduct virtual meetings. That way, you won’t have the frustrating experience of lost audio or a blank screen.
Treat it like an in-person meeting
Just because a remote meeting might feel nontraditional, that doesn’t mean people aren’t working with set schedules that they need to adhere to. It’s still important to show up on time for virtual meetings and to end them on time, so everyone can get on with their day. Make sure you have a prepared agenda and stay on track, just as you would in a typical meeting in the office.
At Lumi, a Ben Nesviq found that it was difficult for remote attendees to find a break in the conversation to speak up or ask question, even on a video call. So they created their own app, called Meetoo, to solve this issue. “It enables attendees at meetings to message in comments and questions without waiting for a break in conversation. With the app, we also use polling to measure opinions during decision-making meetings. It’s an easy way to ensure that everyone contributes at meetings.”
You don’t have to create your own app to achieve this, especially if you work for a small company or on a small team. Instead, you could try a free messenger service that everyone can use to virtually raise a hand if they want to add a comment or question. It’s also a great way to quickly share links or documents with everyone at once if they come up during the meeting.
If you mostly stick to the phone for remote meetings, try introducing video as well. You can use a service like Skype, or there is a good chance that the service you use for conference calls can also provide a video option. People might not always be open to video conferencing, but it’s worth a test to see if it helps create a more collaborative atmosphere. If you’re just having a small meeting with a group of two or three people, video might be overkill. But for those bigger team meetings or times you need to really collaborate, video might make it easier for everyone to participate in a meaningful way.
Dress the part
If you’re participating in a video conference, it’s important to dress the part. You might work from home in clothes you wouldn’t wear to the office, but if you have a video conference, it’s a good idea to at least make yourself look presentable. Just because you’re remote doesn’t mean your colleagues won’t expect the same level of professionalism that you would present in the office.
Keep an eye on time zones
If you’re collaborating with colleagues or clients in different time zones, try to keep in mind a time that will work for everyone. It’s easy to forget that while you’re in the office at 9 a.m. on the East Coast, your West Coast customers, clients and employees are probably still asleep. Same goes for international workers and clients as well, so make sure you confirm everyone’s time zone before you pick a meeting time.
Doug Brackbill, CEO of Line2, a VoIP service, says, “Typical telephone etiquette suggests that you should never call a client before 9 a.m. or after 9 p.m.” He also points out that you should keep in mind any holidays that you personally might not celebrate but that others might recognize. You can keep a calendar of international and religious holidays so that you aren’t accidentally scheduling a call when they’re observing a religious or national holiday.
Supply workers with a company phone
If you have remote workers, it’s probably smart to provide them with a mobile device for meetings and other times when you need to reach them. By giving them a number strictly for work, it can help avoid bothering employees when they’re supposed to be off. That way you can still send emails and notes while they’re on your mind, without bothering your colleagues or employees on their personal time. It’s also a way to avoid having employees pay for long phone calls that might not be included in their phone plans or that eat up their minutes.