Today, companies all around the world are embracing remote working environments. Distributed teams are having to consider how to build good working relationships with remote colleagues and how to collaborate effectively, including via online meetings.
Fortunately, distributed working doesn’t need to lead to disorganized meetings. With some preparation and a game plan, your team can have online meetings that are just as productive and collaborative as getting everyone in the same room.
Here are a few tips for preparing, participating and following up on online meetings, so that communication is crystal clear and important details and tasks won’t fall through the cracks.
Preparing for Online Meetings
As the saying goes, “to be prepared is half the victory.” If you go into an online meeting with a gameplan, you’ll see better results during and after you meet.
1. Create an agenda
One key part of meeting preparation is creating an agenda, which will help everyone come to the meeting on the same page and keep participants focused on priorities. A good agenda is less about your ability to lead an online meeting and more about fostering understanding for participants, especially people who aren’t in the same room, says Daniel Mittleman, associate professor at the DePaul University School of Computer Science, Telecommunications and Information Systems.
“They have no access to your nonverbal cues,” Mittleman writes. If there’s no agenda, they’re more likely to “lose place, lose focus and lose attention to the meeting.”
When putting together an agenda, make sure to:
- ask for input from those attending the meeting
- note any time a decision needs to be made
- if necessary, identify who will lead the discussion for each agenda item or topic
- leave room in the agenda for last-minute additions or questions.
2. Use mind maps
Mind maps can be a great way to record who’s attending and offer space for comments or ideas beforehand with branches that can link to relevant documents, action items or notes so everyone comes prepared. This can be a useful structure for online meetings that are a little more formal and require an exact record, which you can refer to later on.
Shared mind maps can also be useful if you want your team or participants to brainstorm ideas in preparation for an online meeting, or in real-time during the meeting itself.
3. Prepare your space
In March, you probably read about Robert Kelly, the South Korea expert whose kids crashed his BBC interview while he was live on air. Anyone who’s worked remotely before likely felt for him. Whether it’s a cat walking in front of your camera or a garbage truck coming down your street, distractions happen. You can’t prevent every mishap, but preparing your space beforehand can go a long way.
Before the meeting, find a quiet environment where you can limit distractions. Use headphones to minimize background noise and prevent audio feedback. If you’re working with new conferencing software, do a test run before the online meeting begins.
Participating Like a Pro
You’re all prepared and it’s meeting time. Here are a few tips to make sure your online meeting goes smoothly.
4. Slow and steady
Keep the pace of your online meeting a bit slower than in-person meetings, suggests Susan Colaric, assistant vice president for Instructional Technology at Saint Leo University in Saint Leo, Florida.
“Video-conference meetings should actually move at a slightly slower pace than a typical meeting due to a two to three-second delay for most systems to communicate,” Colaric told inc.com. “If you’re leading the meeting, make sure there are sufficient pauses after asking a question. If you are a participant, bring attention to yourself before addressing the group by signaling with your hand or saying “question” or “comment” and then waiting a couple seconds before continuing.”
5. Use your words.
If you’re not sharing your screen and need to describe something remote participants can’t see, try to be extra descriptive. This will help you communicate clearly and effectively.
“We describe all of our visual designs using words,” according to 18F, the digital service agency for the U.S. government. “This might seem intuitive, but when your coworkers can’t see your computer screen, it’s particularly important to make sure you’re describing what you see. (For example, we encourage folks to use titles of page components and other descriptors to help collaborators more easily locate what a person is talking about (the blue “Get Started” button with the white text, below and to the right of the hero image, etc.))”
6. Take great notes.
Good note-taking is something all meetings can benefit from, and there are lots of ways to take useful notes. If you want to take shared notes during an in-person meeting, you may well turn to a white board.
For online meetings, you can get a similar effect with online mind maps, which allow everyone to see and add to the notes as new ideas come up, in real-time. It’s a great way to keep everyone engaged, create more clarity and get input from all team members involved.
After the Meeting
You did it! Meeting adjourned…almost. Here are a few things you can do at the end of an online meeting (and beyond) to maintain clear communication from everyone involved.
7. Recap before you’re done.
When the meeting’s about to end, have everyone recap the action items that they’re responsible for. This is a way to make sure everyone understands who’s tackling what and ensure accountability. That extra clarity is especially helpful when you can’t see facial expressions or body language.
8. Save your debrief for later.
Especially if you just finished a high-stakes meeting, often our first reaction is to immediately debrief with colleagues. Hold off until you’re out of the room, though. You’d never want remote attendees to overhear something you didn’t mean to share because they hadn’t left the video conference yet. As a general rule, wait until you’re out of the room to discuss anything that occurred.
9. Share notes.
Remember those great notes you took? Make sure everyone involved has access to them. This can be another great way to create a shared understanding of what was decided, who’s responsible for what action items and what to follow up on in the future.
The goals for online meetings are no different than in-person meetings: communicate clearly so you can make decisions that move your organization forward.
When your meeting is remote, you just need to make a few adjustments to achieve that goal. By preparing properly, participating fully and following up, your online meetings can be just as successful as sitting in a room together.
If you have any comments, questions or meeting tips, it would be great to hear them in the comment section below!