In today’s workplace, an employee is just as likely to be working with someone in a different part of the country as they may be with someone in another part of the office.

This is another example of how traditional work experienced an accelerated and sudden shift in 2020 due to the pandemic. Thus, to appropriately adapt to the changing environment, it is vital to understand how, why and what makes remote meetings work.

Jason Fried, the CEO of Basecamp — a successful project management software — has been an advocate of Remote work for over two decades, framed the difference between in-office and remote work in this helpful article. Here’s a quick view:

“In-office and remote work are different platforms of workAnd right now, what we’re seeing a lot of companies attempt to port local work methods to working remotely. Normally have four meetings a day in person? Then let’s have those same four meetings, with those same participants, over Zoom instead. It’s a way, but it’s the wrong way. Simulating in-person office work remotely does both approaches a disservice.”

We certainly think that remote meetings will become an even more essential part of today and future workflows. This article will detail what critical things to consider to run effective remote meetings.

Find the best time for the meeting

One of the challenges of setting up a meeting with a distributed workforce is finding the best time to schedule a meeting. In the past, when the majority team was in the same office, the scheduling conflict was not as problematic.

Today, the reality is that companies will have teammates in different timezones, which complicates the planning of a meeting.

Here are a couple of suggestions:

Choose a day of the week for key meetings and don’t change it. For example, set up a recurring team meeting every Tuesday. Selecting a regular day of the week for a meeting will provide notice in advance to participants and reduce potential conflicts.

Look for time frames that work for everyone’s time zone. For instance, if you have a team with colleagues in three different timezones, such as New York, San Francisco, and London, a possible ideal time to meet would be 9 AM PST (9 AM in SF/noon in NY / 5 PM in London). You can use the following tools to get guidance on timezones:

Establish remote meeting guidelines

Another key aspect to successful remote meetings is to have proper alignment among stakeholders on the guidelines for meeting requests and what needs to be covered.

Guidelines can help the team make the most of each meeting and have the proper buy-in from colleagues. A group that has a shared understanding and expectation of meetings will be more engaged.

Ideally, you collaborate with colleagues to align on these guidelines. Once they are completed, it’s suggested to share them as an email to your team and perhaps even have the document pinned in your related Slack Channel.

Here are some suggested meeting guidelines that you can share with your team:

Always consider your teammate's time. If you are the meeting organizer, make sure to schedule the meeting when most colleagues can attend. If some colleagues cannot participate, it’s recommended to record the session and share it afterward.

If you are the invitee to the meeting, please communicate clearly with the organizer if you cannot attend.

Ensure to start and end the meeting on time. A meeting that starts late or runs over time has consequences to employee productivity.

Create a clear agenda for every meeting and share it with the team at least an hour before the meeting. Setting a clear plan helps ensure that everyone is on the same page before the meeting takes place; additionally, it accomplishes the following:

  • Holds the organizer accountable
  • Clarifies the purpose and the relevancy to the meeting
  • Creates clear deliverables and next steps for participants
  • Provides an opportunity to participants to offer related feedback

Consider taking meeting minutes and assign exact action items. Taking meeting notes is especially important when you’re on a distributed team. It helps you record the ideas that get discussed and can be very beneficial when one person has to catch up after missing or skipping the group call.

Invite the right people

We know that it’s hard to hold a remote meeting with a lot of participants. Increasing the number of people in the meeting directly impacts individuals' ability to contribute to the conversation.

We need to stop the mentality of “inviting everyone just in case” and consider inviting only those relevant to the project or meeting goal being discussed.

Meetings should be tactically focused on informing the key stakeholders and aligning on action items. The meeting notes and recording can always be shared afterward with the larger group.

Start practicing it with smaller groups of people, 1 to 10 people is a good number to start. When there are many people on the call, invitees are less likely to participate and contribute. Therefore, making your meeting more like a presentation and less like a productive real-time collaboration.

Send meeting debriefs

The most effective meetings are those where every person who attended leaves with a clear objective. One way to ensure that everyone is aligned is by sending a meeting to debrief note or summary email. It would be best if you considered including the following:

  • Deliverables and next steps
  • Who’s responsible for following up on each item or task
  • When those deliverables are due
  • When the next meeting or check-in will be

The meeting organizer or leader needs to remember to follow-up with attendees and gather feedback and offer help. You can collect feedback via one-on-one conversations or anonymous surveys (if needed).

Opening the feedback channel with colleagues provides the constant opportunity to improve the meetings and increase efficiency in the future.

In closing… running remote meetings can be overwhelming, be assured that you can make it better. Following this guide will help you run remote sessions like a pro. It doesn’t matter if you’re working with a small start-up team of five or within a fortune 500 company.

By finding the best time to meet, establishing guidelines, creating a concrete agenda, and leaving with clear next steps, you will be the host of effective meetings that leave everyone feeling motivated and more accomplished.