A Manager’s Guide To Successful Remote Meetings

With the involuntary switch from on-site office environments to work from home, online meetings have become the main working tool for most managers, especially in the so-called “white collar” industries. Indeed, over the course of the last couple of months, the sheer number of virtual call-ins in the US alone has increased by 13%. As of today, on average 14% of remote workers are dedicating time to more than 10 meetings per week, that is 2 meetings per day. As for the managerial workload meeting-wise, there are no specific statistics, but it is approximately 5-7 times higher.

Such statistics outline the need for a deeper understanding of online meetings, as well as for elaborating a special set of rules for them, akin to these for office gatherings. Consequently, managers need to distinguish between different types of online meetings in order to choose the appropriate format for every particular objective. In general, irrespective of the industry, seven major types of remote call-ins could be identified, each with its own purpose and time constraints:

1. Daily Standup Meeting

Similar to its offline prototype, these meetings are recommended to be short (15-30 minutes maximum; if confining to these limits proves difficult, using a timer with an automatic shut-off is a good solution) and superficial, hence no major projects should be discussed. Mainly, during this meeting, team members should quickly answer three questions:

  1. What did you do yesterday?
  2. What will you do today?
  3. Anything blocking your progress?

If all of the above-mentioned requirements are observed, a mandatory remote meeting turns into a great instrument for team building because it helps to deepen the attachments of employees to the company on a daily basis without becoming a compulsory burden. As these meetings are usually held every day, it is paramount to make them as convenient for everyone as possible.

2. Progress Update Meeting

Usually conducted for members of one remote team to share an update on the completion of a particular project. The best format for this meeting is when each team member speaks for 5-10 minutes (depending on the team size) to express their ideas in regards to possible successes and failures. As a result, a progress update meeting is longer than a standup meeting, with goal length from 45-60 minutes or even more, although it is not advisable – the attention span of an average adult is only 18 minutes.

This type of meeting requires two crucial elements:

  • preparation beforehand;
  • leaving at least 15 minutes at the end of the call for questions.

As such, this approach ensures that everyone on the team is on the same page concerning roadblocks that hindered the current progress; and is aware of the goals and initiatives for the following period.

3. Online Brainstorming

A particular type of meeting designed to gather quick ideas. As creativity cannot be forced and tends to retreat after a period of outburst to take some rest, managers have to keep two things in their mind. First, these meetings should not be compulsory. Conversely, only employees who are willing and able to participate in brainstorming should be encouraged to do that. Second, these meetings should be relatively short. 15-30 minutes of active brainstorming and writing every idea on a virtual blackboard is more than enough to get creative input for sorting out later.

4. Productive Virtual Work Session

Another peculiar type of meeting. The peculiarity consists in the fact that during this activity nobody actually has to talk. The point of this work session is to create an atmosphere akin to a coworking space or a library at a university. This format of meeting resembles the “Work/Study with me”, coined by the YouTube influencers (example).

As for the lengths of such sessions, there is really no limit. They could go from 1 hour to simply creating a special permanent coworking channel on Zoom or Discord where anyone could join if they feel bored working from home alone. Besides, such a channel could be additionally accompanied by a playlist of songs appropriate for work or putting “office sounds” instead to design a fully immersive experience for those who miss offline work life.

5. 1-on-1 Meeting (Internal or External)

The most useful meeting instrument in a manager’s arsenal, as well as the most abused one. The most useful because one-on-one meetings are the closest to actual offline interaction, thus have the biggest impact. The most abused because managers tend to set up these meetings in their attempts to ensure full control over everyone and everything but, on the contrary, end up spreading their efforts too thin. Consequently, employees, while working from home, nevertheless feel constant pressure from their supervisors.

Two tips to avoid such micromanaging issues:

  1. The first thing that a manager needs to do is to communicate the goals and potential outcomes of the meeting to all its participants: to team members or clients, as well as to themselves.
    Or, if the objectives could not be deduced, holding a 1-on-1 meeting might not be such a good idea, thus it might be better to postpone it until the agenda presents itself, or try solving the issue with a simple messenger text or an email instead of a call.
  2. In addition, managers need to watch out for how much they speak in comparison with their team in order not to sound too patronizing too promotional when speaking to a client.

6. Unofficial All-Hands Meeting

Usually held at the end of the week, these meetings are organized for teambuilding more than for any productive efforts. During unofficial All-Hands, it is permissible to be less formal, discuss non-work-related issues, and generally enjoy the presence of the coworkers. In that regard, All-Hands resemble a combination of casual Friday and a company party, thus, it is a great platform for different team building activities.

7. Demo Meeting

A meeting usually between members of technical teams (coders and such) to demonstrate how well the product works at any particular stage of its development. These meetings are good both for team members because they learn presentation skills, and for clients/investors because they know what they are getting for their money. Some major advice for these types of meetings include:

  • It is not advisable to hold such meetings very often as developers could only write so much of the program within a particular period of time. Once every two weeks or even once a month is more than enough.
  • In addition, these meetings should not be very long, especially the internal ones. For them, a simple review of new features and skimming through the fixed old ones should suffice. As for the presentations to clients or potential investors, if neither wants to be financially involved in the product after a ten-minute display, chances are they are going to be even less interested after a 20 or more minute exhibition.
  • As their name suggests, demo meetings are ideally showcasing the product itself, not its hypothetical performance. That is why using videos or PowerPoint presentations for this objective is not recommended because, first, the team should be acutely aware of any problems that might arise during the software demonstration; second, clients and investors are not feeling that they are fooled.

Of course, there are many more meeting types, specific for each particular field, but in their essence, all of them could be reduced to the 7 above-mentioned variants. As for the recommendations common for each of them, the most important ones are having an agenda; appointing a facilitator/moderator who would ensure that the meeting would not turn into a bazaar, and setting up meetings at a time convenient for everyone.

 

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