I’ve had the unique opportunity to experience remote team meetings for organizations both large (150 people) and small (less than 10 people). While remote team meetings are similar to in-person meetings in many ways, they also differ in a few key areas. For a deeper dive into the communication challenges that distributed teams face, check out this post.
In this guide, I’ll dig in and show you exactly how these meetings work, and how you should think about structuring meetings for your team (or company).
LESS IS MORE
A key overarching theme to remote team meetings is to understand that fewer meetings are a good thing. A key piece of remote work (especially with a geographically distributed team) is that people have different schedules. The more meetings you have, the more rigid the work environment becomes. This can detract from one of the highlights of remote work – flexibility.
For example, let’s say an engineer likes to wake up early in the morning and get started working right away. You (the boss) are in a different time zone, and schedule meetings when it makes the most sense for you.
So what happens? You just scheduled meetings twelve hours into a peer’s workday. Is that ideal? It may be ideal for you, but it may be terrible timing for a coworker. The more meetings you schedule, the more likely this is to happen!
Please note – it’s impossible to be convenient for everyone on your team at all times. However, if you focus your energy on a few meetings per week, you can avoid the situation I mention above.
Another high-level building block – think about the purpose of the meeting. Is it for information sharing? Or is to collaborate/whiteboard with other members of the team?
If the majority of remote meetings are for information sharing, I’d encourage you to cut back and share information asynchronously instead. For example, if you have daily standups and it doesn’t prompt collaboration, considering doing virtual stand-up meetings.
With that being said, it’s important to have informational meetings too. For example, if there’s a shift in company strategy or reporting on the latest results. These meetings can help align the team around a common goal or objective. The point of these informational meetings is to eliminate ambiguity and create clarity of purpose. We just don’t recommend having these meetings several times per week.
PREPARE IN ADVANCE
We strongly encourage you to prepare. Share an agenda before the meeting starts so everyone understands the purpose of the meeting and also has time to prepare their thoughts. Some people thrive off unstructured meetings, while others need time to think and process what they might say. Yes, creating an agenda may take a bit more time, but it’s worth it (and it’s also something you can reference afterward if needed).
For reoccurring events (i.e. – standups), you may not need to share an agenda beforehand. Use your best judgment.
In addition, prepare for meetings by getting set up with the right equipment/environment. For example, try to avoid areas where there’s a lot of background noise. If that’s tough to avoid, consider buying a headset. Also, consider showing up a few minutes earlier to test and confirm that you are setup correctly.
Use video as much as possible (see this post about remote software for inspiration on what to use). Video calls are a richer experience because you can pick up on body language and other visual cues. It’s nearly impossible to do this over the phone.
Another benefit (from a manager perspective) is that there’s built-in accountability to ensure that people are actually engaged and paying attention. It’s easy for people to zone out in meetings over the phone. I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news, but this is a reality, so help your team stay focused by having them show their face.
LEAVE TIME FOR QUESTIONS
Similar to in-person meetings, you should leave time at the end of each meeting for questions. Clarity of communication is super important for remote teams, so open the floor and give people space to ask questions.
If you use Slack (or another work chat application), consider having a dedicated room for Q&A. Oftentimes in meetings we will say “if you have a question during the call, ask it in the Q&A channel.” Then, the organizer of the meeting can quickly look at the room and see questions that roll in over the course of the meeting.
CONSIDER RECORDING THE MEETING
There are times when it makes sense to record the meeting (we recommend using Screenflow for this). For example – a peer may be out on vacation when you have an important company meeting. It’s highly likely that information will be presented that has an impact on someone’s work, and it only takes a few clicks to record it. We recommend using Dropbox or Google Drive to store the videos.
Another benefit to recording meetings is that you can reference them later (it can be fun to look back on a video from a year ago), and you can also see how you can improve as the organizer. Recording a video creates a feedback loop to help you improve the next time you hold a meeting.
STORIES FROM THE TRENCHES
In this next section, I’ll share specific examples of remote team meetings at companies I’ve worked for. I’ll outline the benefits and drawbacks of each approach.
“LARGE” COMPANY (150 PEOPLE)
- Monthly Company Update
- 1 hour in length
- CEO presented for 20-30 minutes
- Employees asked questions over Hipchat/Slack (chat app) and also could jump in at end of the meeting.
- Weekly Team Meeting
- Usually Monday Mornings
- Discussion of what we accomplished last week (and priorities for upcoming week)
- One-on-One Meeting
- Weekly (or bi-weekly)
- Check-in call w/ manager
- Personal development related
- Ad-hoc meetings
- Over video
- Scheduled on an as-needed basis, typically related to a particular project
Overall – I really liked this format. The monthly Q&A format with the CEO was fantastic and something I actually looked forward to. The weekly team meeting was my least favorite as it contained a lot of information we could have shared asynchronously.
SMALL COMPANY: TEAM OF 10 (PART 1)
- Daily Standup
- 10 minutes to share what you’re working on (and where you’re stuck). Learn more in our guide to daily standup meetings.
- If you couldn’t make the meeting, you could share over Slack.
- Weekly Recap
- Friday afternoons (not a good time in my opinion as people are checked-out)
- Share how the week went – based on quarterly priorities
- A few “team leads” put together a quick presentation using Google Slides
- Q&A at the end
- Recorded if needed. Anyone on road could dial-in over the phone.
- Whiteboard sessions
- Involved someone using a whiteboard for brainstorming
- Highly collaborative
- Scheduled on an ad-hoc basis
Overall, this is another good format. I’d change the Friday meeting to a Monday morning meeting and use a tool like Friday Feedback to capture a recap from each person on the team.
Prepare to iterate on remote team meetings. Seek feedback from your team along the way and discover what process works best for you. Also, if your team is growing quickly, prepare to change as the company grows.