Writing by Peter Hilton

Three principles for remote meetings that work

How to discover specific guidelines and practices for your situation - 23 June 2020 #remote

Man looks serious while using laptop

unsplash-logoJonas Leupe

It doesn’t take many remote meetings to experience a wide range between the worst and the best, between meetings more dysfunctional than the worst in-person meetings, and meetings that just work. It also doesn’t take many web searches for good/effective/productive/efficient meetings to find endless ‘rules’ for good meetings, which help, but don’t explain anything.

The following principles can help you recognise good remote meetings:

  1. Use good meeting practices
  2. Embrace inclusivity
  3. Use the tools you need

You may benefit from other principles: this list certainly doesn’t cover everything, but may help you think about what matters.

Use good meeting practices

Good meeting practices, such as an explicit meeting purpose, agenda (scope) and expected outcome, do not only improve remote meetings. However, remote meetings suffer more from sloppy preparation and structure than in-person meetings. When everyone meets in the same room, you don’t need those practices less, but you might appear to get away with skipping them.

Good practices already exist for decades, which makes them easy to discover and learn about. Search the web for good/effective/productive meetings instead of sticking to a short list of guidelines that someone else needed. Everyone has a different context, and some guidelines will have more relevance for your meetings than others.

Embrace inclusivity

In the worst dysfunctional meetings, some participants cannot see and hear the discussion, or the other attendees cannot hear them. In the same way that failing to use good practices has a bigger impact in remote meetings, excluding meeting participants affects remote meetings more than in-person meetings. Excluding people also happens more often in remote meetings, as more things can go wrong.

More broadly, an inclusivity mindset affects more than meetings. Non-inclusive management and collaboration styles translate badly to remote work (if they ever worked in the first place). Inclusivity requires empathy, specifically the ability to recognise and care about the behaviours and situations that exclude people in practice. Exclusions to prevent include situations when a meeting participant:

  • cannot hear someone talking because they don’t have a headset, or sit too far from a meeting room microphone
  • doesn’t knowing who joined the meeting, when some participants use a meeting room
  • cannot tell what happened when the talking stops
  • cannot join discussions because audio delay makes it impossible to interrupt without speaking over someone.

Remote meeting participants, especially organisers, need to learn about specific ways that remote meetings can exclude people, and check that they don’t have those problems.

Use the tools you need

Effective remote meetings require more than telephone dial-in. And video-conferencing often proves essential, but also not sufficient. In general, some people wrongly consider remote meetings ineffective because they do them wrong.

The necessary tools depend on the meeting type and purpose, and the number of attendees. Required tools may include:

  • Video-conferencing
  • Headset and webcam for each participant
  • Group chat, e.g. Slack
  • Group document editing, e.g. Google Docs
  • Group white-boarding, e.g. Miro

In the end, you get much better at this kind of thing as soon as you care and start thinking about how to improve. Provided that everyone does, of course.