Suddenly Remote Struggles, Part 2: Meeting as usual? Think again

Meeting Vectors by Vecteezy

In the last post, I mentioned I’ll talk about how to decide what meetings to call. You may ask, why do I need to think about that? I already have all the meetings I need on my calendar, I just need to do them virtually now. Unfortunately, that’s one of the reasons people are not engaged in the meetings. When you see people face to face, you can tap people on the shoulder to talk/discuss or to pull them into a quick brainstorm. It is different when you are all isolated at home. So, you need to rethink if all the meetings are necessary and how to do them differently to achieve the same goal.  

So, how do you decide which meeting is necessary and which is not? 

The first question you need to ask is, “What are meetings for?” The answer can be put into 4 categories: information dissemination, collaboration, decision-making and preparation.

  1. Information dissemination
    1. Let me clarify, I am not talking about company-wide all-hands or department town halls. Those are necessary when you need to make sure hundreds of people (or more), either collocated or distributed, know what’s going on with the company or the department. I’m talking about calling a meeting to give out information on a particular project. Do you really need to call 20 people or more into a meeting for that? Are there better ways to do it?
    2. Here’s my suggestion: send out the information in an email or through your company internal website (e.g. a wiki page), or via your group’s internal communication channel (e.g. a slack channel). You can even record yourself speaking the information and send them out. If you’re adventurous, you can video record yourself and send the video to the team.
    3. This way, you reduce the number of meetings you’ll need. You also allow people to consume the information in their time.
  2. Collaboration and decision-making
    1. Since they require real time interaction and communication, calling a meeting to either collaborate or make a decision is justified. However, these types of meetings can go on and on and you’ll end up needing to schedule another time to continue. 
    2. Here are some tips on how to make these meetings more productive and efficient:
      1. Make sure there is an agenda with clear purpose and clearly defined desired outcomes. Send those out ahead of the meeting.
      2. Make sure there is a good facilitator. Some people may be great facilitators in person, but virtual facilitation is a different skill. It pays to invest in learning those skills or have someone who already has those skills to facilitate those meetings. You’ll be amazed at the difference, at how much more productive and efficient those meetings are, and how decisions can be reached with ease.
  3. Preparation
    1. With collaboration and decision-making meetings, you need to gather information ahead of time. You can do that in various ways depending on your team and company culture. 
    2. If possible, do it asynchronously. You need to make it easy for people to give input ahead of the meeting, e.g. ask specific questions, or open-ended questions with some constraints like from this date to that date or other parameters. 
    3. Other companies may have smaller meetings to discuss ideas and/or information gathered especially to prepare for a decision-making forum with a larger audience. Make sure you observe everything mentioned in section 2.2.2 above for these prep meetings. 

What I outlined in 2 and 3 should not come as a surprise. Those things should already be done before, but it’s especially important when we are all working from home. Remember, only call for a meeting when you need real time interaction and communication. This way, the meeting is shorter, people are more focused, and it’s easier to engage. You will end up with fewer meetings as well.

Do you need help in virtual facilitation? Let me know. I can help.

The entire series:
Part 1: What if your meeting attendees refuse to turn on video cameras?
Part 2: Meeting as usual? Think again
Part 3: Wonder why you are more exhausted after a day of online meetings?
Part 4: Tips on how not to feel overwhelmed in this unusual time

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