Being able to hold remote meetings is just one of the many freedoms that have come with the development in technology. These days, we don’t need to be in the same building, town or even the same country to discuss a project with our colleagues! However, in order to run an efficient remote meeting, there are a few things you ought to know…
Remote meetings: who do they work for and why?
Over the past few years, remote meetings have become more and more popular, partly due to the increased movement of employees. Lots more people now work remotely, either from a home office, through permanent or temporary telecommuting, or via freelance projects. However, there still needs to be contact between team members, making remote meetings the perfect solution for overcoming any geographic separation.
A well-organized remote meeting is an excellent work tool. It can bring together participants who might be scattered to the four corners of the world and also offers time-saving advantages, because there’s no need for anyone to travel, as well as money-saving ones, as there’s no need to assign budget for anyone’s accommodation or meals, and so on. A well-managed remote meeting versus a traditional one can even improve productivity—as we’ll cover in the following points, holding a meeting in this way leaves little room for going off topic.
How do you run a successful remote meeting?
A remote meeting is an essential exercise for all those who work outside the confines of the office. Though possibly stressful for someone new to them, they can be useful for moving forward on projects. To help you run one successfully, here are a few indispensable tips…
1. Choose the right tools
Organizing a successful remote meeting always starts with choosing the relevant and appropriate tools. This choice depends on three principal criteria: The number of participants, the goal of the meeting, and the quality of your internet connection (or phone network!).
In general, there are three choices:
- Videoconferencing. With this, the participants see the meeting facilitator as well as the room that person is in. This is ideal for presenting a project to a large number of people using large-format materials, such as a screen or flip chart. This solution also requires the appropriate equipment—a camera, mic, and projector—and a reliable internet connection. In this scenario, interaction is relatively limited, with attention being primarily focused on the presenter.
- Web conferencing. For a web conference, the participants are provided with a link beforehand. They only have to click on it at the scheduled time to connect via a platform to join the meeting. This type of meeting is used when sharing a screen is necessary. All the participants see the same thing on their computers and can follow the presentation, but as with video conferences, interaction is relatively limited. The objective here is more about sharing than discussing.
- The group call. This type of remote meeting is championed by a lot of teams. It’s easy to organize and doesn’t require any specific equipment or an external server. It can be a video call, with each participant seeing all the others, or just audio. There are several free platforms that offer this service, the most well known being Skype. This is the ideal type of meeting for discussing a project. However, in order for it to be efficient, there should only be a limited number of participants (a maximum of 10, ideally), otherwise it can become a cacophonic mess! Depending on the group’s needs and quality of connection, they can choose whether or not to make it a video call.
2. Preparing a meeting beforehand
The format may have been decided on, but the preparation isn’t finished! One of the keys to a successful meeting of this type is organization. Of course it all starts with choosing a date and time that suits everyone (which can be difficult to agree on with a team spread out over different time zones).
So, once the date has been set, think about the space where you will hold the meeting. An ideal spot is one that is calm, without noise or foot traffic, and has a good internet connection and good lighting, which is useful if you’re opting for video. Check what’s in the background—it’s not such a great idea to have the other participants see a mountain of dirty dishes in your sink!
A few days before your meeting, think about checking that your equipment—your webcam, your mic, and so on—is working well. This will remove a level of stress when the day comes!
Other than the practical considerations, preparation for a remote meeting also consists of drawing up a list of the topics that need discussing. This will help everyone to maintain focus and make sure nothing gets forgotten.
If necessary, you can even prepare information to share with the other participants on a cloud server—for example, any images, spreadsheets, or other information for which you’ve got a visual.
3. Have a plan B
For any remote meeting, you should have a plan B! As mentioned, the success of these types of meetings depends on a lot of external factors—your internet connection, webcam, or mic working properly—and technical problems are always a possibility. You should ideally share a backup plan with the other participants beforehand: A phone call instead of a video conference, a written brief instead of an oral presentation, a backup date… Having a plan B means you can avoid any big moments of panic, like the one that Laura, a freelance graphic designer adept at remote meetings, had to deal with: “On that day, I had to present a huge project I had been working on for weeks to an entire marketing team via web conference. When it was time, I got online, but nothing was working—not the mic, nor screen sharing… It was impossible to start the eagerly anticipated conference with my client. Luckily, they were understanding and the meeting was postponed, but this technical malfunction could have cost me a huge contract!”
4. Be organized during the meeting
Moving onto the meeting itself… Ensuring a remote meeting runs efficiently means being completely organized. This means following a clearly defined outline, but also giving a specific amount of speaking time to each participant or even putting someone in charge of taking notes.
Sharing previously prepared documents via a cloud server or screen sharing will also help things run smoothly.
So, clearly defined topics, fair time limits for speaking, and good use of technology are the pillars of an efficient remote meeting!
5. Behave appropriately
During a remote meeting, it’s essential to display the right behavior—that is, an approach that fosters discussions that are efficient and pleasant. Among the “good reflexes” to have, the most notable examples are:
- Introducing yourself at the start of the meeting if necessary.
- Respecting the speaking time of the other participants, all while knowing when to intervene appropriately.
- Avoiding other activities at the same time, such as reading emails, looking at your phone, and surfing the internet.
- Not monopolizing the discussion…
- …but not fading into the background—you’re there for a good reason, so don’t hesitate to speak in order to build on an idea or to comment.
6. Don’t ignore the “post remote meeting”
Our last piece of advice is to not underestimate the “post meeting.” Unlike a traditional meeting, debriefing out loud is not possible. However, you can always summarize the main points in a follow-up email or a shared document with the other participants. This way, you can ensure that everyone has understood and retained the main aspects of the meeting.
This is also a good time to evaluate the tools you’re using and the organization of these meetings. If a tool seems like it’s not suitable from a logistical standpoint—because of bugs or lengthy discussions, for instance—or if the meeting wasn’t well enough organized—too many tangents, forgotten topics—don’t hesitate to suggest other methods for your next one!
So, a remote meeting demands good organization beforehand, invested participants, and a suitable report. However, if you keep the above six tips in mind, your virtual meeting will be just as efficient, if not more so, than a traditional one!