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10 Steps To a Successful Remote Meeting

Are the most productive remote meetings no meetings at all?


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Maria Chec

2 years ago | 6 min read

Remote Meetings cover

I wanted to start this year’s edition of my Agile State of Mind articles and videos with the topic of remote work. Will this be a really remote-friendly year? After 2020 we could assume so.

Yet many companies still struggle trying to survive the remote until they can go back to the office. Hence the company policies are not really remote-friendly, we just do what we used to do in the office only remotely.

Video about 10 steps to a Remote Meeting(Click here)

What’s the biggest pain while working from home? The meetings, of course. Scrum has always been accused of generating too many meetings. Imagine all of them now (disclaimer: I’ve never considered there are too many Scrum events but that’s a totally different article) plus many more.

All that due to the lack of watercooler moments and catching someone on their way to the bathroom to ask all your questions.

This is why today we will explore 10 steps to a successful remote meeting. Or perhaps there's no need for a meeting at all…

Statistics

The job listing site AngelList reports:

Remote jobs have more than doubled in 2020.

50% of jobs posted this year are remote-friendly compared to 20% last year.

93% of companies we surveyed said they are hiring remote workers.

Chris Marsh, Research Director at 451 Research, who specializes in tools associated with workforce productivity conducted a flash survey. It shows that 75% of companies have already implemented, or plan to implement, expanded or universal work from home policies.

And 38% of those companies expect these changes to be long-term or permanent. Read more in the article on Dropbox blog.

Reunionitis — what’s the problem with the meetings?

Photo by dylan nolte on Unsplash
Photo by dylan nolte on Unsplash

In Spain, there is even a term coined for the overload of meetings — “reunionitis” as if it were a disease. I’m sure you all suffered from it at some point.

Some time ago, I was invited to a meeting by a colleague I never interacted with before. The meeting title was about some results of a survey for the QA chapter. I thought I was invited by mistake.

Then 10 minutes before the meeting the organizer asked the participants in a chat if we were going to join. MS Teams have this one great option that you can create a chat with the participants before and after the meeting.

Only then did I realize I was invited on purpose but like others, didn’t RSVP as we had no idea what it was about.

The meeting was scheduled on a Sprint end day, all the other participants were the Product Owners and nobody had the time or mental energy to focus on yet another meeting.

Finally, we joined the remote meeting, and all possible problems began. The host couldn’t share the screen, the manager who insisted on the meeting didn’t show up, as didn’t half of the POs invited.

A quarter of an hour later, the host finally explained to us the objective of this show.

But due to many participants missing, the meeting got postponed. This is how we spent half an hour of our time switching focus from our daily routine just to find out it would happen at a later date.

The meeting was about sharing the concerns from the survey about the QA chapter having far too many meetings and little time to focus. Could this situation be more ironic? This is how we create waste.

We spend a lot of time in meetings. We should spend some thinking if they are effective and productive. Think lean!

How to optimize meetings?

Some say “no meeting is the best meeting.” Photo by Damir Kopezhanov on Unsplash

There are companies out there that have completely distributed teams. Think Basecamp, GitLab, and OutSystems where I work.

You can check out Basecamp’s How we communicate. Or GitLab’s The Remote Manifesto and find out more about their best practices.

Let’s see some basic steps on how to create a remote-friendly meeting:

  1. Consider if it has to be a meeting — at Basecamp they state that “ .” First, ask yourself if the meeting can be an email or collaborative document instead.
    Let’s think about the previous example of the survey results — they could be shared in a collaborative document, with an option to comment, in Google Docs or Dropbox Paper (Microsoft for sure has one too). It would help the participants to learn about the results in advance. They could come up with ideas to mitigate the pains in an asynchronous manner. Everyone could do it when it best suits them and we could meet eventually to decide on the next steps. Or not, if the solutions were straightforward…
  2. Scheduling meetings —if, despite my previous advice, you decided it has to be a meeting, think about the maker’s schedule. Read the short essay from Paul Graham “Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule” and define when best to schedule the meetings.
  3. Have a clear goal — think about why the meeting needs to take place, this is a rule written in our cultural book, The Small Book of The Few Big Rules. Empower all your colleagues to inquire about the ultimate goal of any meeting. You can use this template:
    The purpose of this meeting is to _action_ — create, define, generate, select, produce, agree on, design, prioritize …. followed by an outcome.”
    For example: “The purpose of this video on remote meetings is to equip you with the tips, tools, and techniques to help you either discard them or drive more productive remote meetings.”
  4. Two-pizza team rule — If you require active participation decrease the number of participants. Jeff Bezos “Two-pizza team rule” takes into account that the larger the team, the greater the number of opinions. Also, the more difficult it becomes to reach conclusions, make decisions, and take action. Yet, sometimes having a small crowd at a meeting is unavoidable and in such cases, let’s see how the tools can help us.
  5. Engage the participants:
  • Break the ice — ask participants a question like “How are you feeling today?” or “Where in the world are you?” and ask them to write it in the chat at the same time. You can use a tool like Mentimeter or sli.do to break the ice and also learn something about each other.
  • Explore your tools features — if you want to know what the participants think, you can ask yes/no questions and they can answer with an emoji in the participants’ section.
  • Use digital whiteboards — Zoom and Teams have one to use during the videocall but you can use Miro or Mural with their digital post-its.

6. Prepare for the meetings —share the materials for the meeting in advance and explain what you expect from the participants. Jeff Bezos forbids presenting slides on the meetings and asks for 6-page memos instead. He explains:

The reason writing a ‘good’ six-page memo is harder than ‘writing’ a 20-page PowerPoint is because the narrative structure of a good memo forces better thought and a better understanding of what’s more important than what.

Good storytelling is easier to digest by our brains than hard data. Such narrative memos help the authors to fully communicate the thoughts behind their ideas and the participants can easier grasp the “why” behind their concepts.

Of course, for such a meeting to be productive you need all the participants to have read the memo.

7. Start with silence — at the beginning of a meeting Jeff Bezos gives the participants up to 30 minutes to read the memo. This way we avoid people “bluffing their way through the meeting” as if they were teenagers because they didn’t read the memo beforehand. This might be an exaggeration but hey, it’s an idea.

8. Write meeting notes — always do that. Even if all participants are present. Agree on who will write the meeting notes and upload them to an accessible place. This way everybody can go back to them, remember the decisions and comment upon them as more is discovered.

9. Record the meeting — as hard as you may try to gather all participants at a particular hour, there might always be someone absent. Cannot blame them. To mitigate that, just record the meeting and share the recording with all participants in the email or add it to your meeting notes so it’s easily accessible.

10. Use metrics to measure engagement — uploading the videos privately to YouTube, or any other service will give you metrics about them. You will see if anyone is watching those recordings, which ones are most popular, etc. This way you will be in the know and able to make data-driven decisions. Maybe some of those recordings will be useful for the newcomers in their onboarding.

I hope the tools and techniques I shared will prove useful to you and your online meetings will become even more successful. Or will even disappear altogether!

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Maria Chec

I make sense of chaos. Drive focus and coordination of numerous teams. And I am a content creator, check out my YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/c/AgileStateofMind


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