The Right Way to Run a Remote Meeting
Want to get more productive as a team? This guide shows you how to run a more effective remote meeting that keeps your team aligned and on track.
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When was the last time you were trapped in a pointless meeting?
Here are some interesting stats:
- The average employee spends a whopping 31 hours in unproductive meetings every month
- The number of meetings has increased by 13% since the COVID-19 pandemic forced a massive shift to remote working
- Remote workers are attending 5 or more meetings per week.
More doesn’t always mean better. It’s up to team leads to ensure their meetings are actually productive, rather than a drain on everyone’s time and resources. But how do you do that in a remote environment, when meetings are arguably more crucial than ever?
This guide will help you run a more effective remote meeting that keeps your team aligned and on track. Ready? Let’s jump in.
- Define Your Reason
- Select the Right Meeting Format
- Prepare an Agenda
- Avoid These Common Remote Meeting Mistakes
Step 1: Define Your Reason
Before jumping into your calendar to schedule your next meeting, stop first and determine its purpose. If you’re unable to pinpoint a clear objective, this is a good indication that the meeting would be better suited for Slack or email.
At GitLab, which has an all-remote team working across 65 countries, employees are mandated to question every meeting and ensure that it’s really necessary in order to move a project forward, address a blocker or resolve a miscommunication. This practice ties into GitLab’s company value of respecting other people’s time. They have good reason to be concerned. Wasteful meetings do more harm than inducing groans and eye rolls. They actually have the ability to disrupt deep work, or the ability your teammates have to focus on cognitively demanding tasks.
Now, does that mean all meetings should be banished forever? No, of course not. When you have a remote team to lead, effective meetings are essential to making sure everyone’s on the same page. You just need to make sure you adopt a disciplined, strategic approach, so your meetings offer value to your team members, rather than interfere with their work.
This starts with identifying your meeting’s purpose and then evaluating if it’s necessary. Some good questions to ask yourself before hitting that invite button:
- Is this matter urgent or time-sensitive?
- What specific outcome am I looking for?
- What roles does everyone have in this meeting? Who really needs to be present in order for the desired outcome to be achieved?
- Will the remote meeting participants and I have enough time to prepare?
- Can this conversation be had over Slack or email instead?
You can also refer to this handy flowchart from Fundera:
Once you’ve fleshed out your meeting’s purpose and determined that it’s necessary, you should be good to go, right? Wrong. You still have work to do before hopping on that Zoom call with your team.
Step 2: Select the Right Remote Meeting Format
You don’t approach every conversation in the same way — you make adjustments for who you’re speaking to, and why. The same should be true for your meetings. Once you have a clear format in mind, you can make sure you’re adequately prepared to run the meeting effectively.
One-on-one meetings occur between managers and their direct reports. These meetings can cover a lot of ground, including performance, motivation, development, and growth. It’s also the perfect opportunity for managers to give and receive feedback. They’re often scheduled on a recurring basis; the majority of managers speak individually with their reports for 30 minutes every week.
One-on-ones can also consist of peer-to-peer meetings, where managers meet with other employees who aren’t their direct reports (typically in another department). Also, don’t forget about skip-level meetings, when a CEO or senior level manager meets with an individual contributor who is more than one level below them in the company hierarchy. Although less common than regular check-ins, peer-to-peer and skip-level meetings both promote cross-department collaboration and team-building efforts — especially in a remote working environment.
But what does a remote one-on-one meeting look like? We’ve put together 9 one-on-one meeting templates, to give you some ideas.
A dedicated time for teammates to communicate without interruptions, team meetings provide an invaluable opportunity to build trust and participate in collaborative decision making. Equally important, team meetings help ensure that individual contributors are all aligned and moving in the same direction. Different types of team meetings can include daily scrums, sprint planning and sprint retrospectives.
Regardless of the type, effective team meetings should accomplish the following:
- Outline a goal or purpose
- Document decisions and meeting notes in an easily accessible format
- Clearly outline next steps for every participant
- Stick to an agenda (more on that in a minute)
One-off meetings may not take place on a recurring basis, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t important. Some examples of one-off meetings could be brainstorming sessions, project and feature kickoffs, and retrospectives.
Step 3: Prepare an Agenda
There’s a reason why the adage “No agenda, no attenda” has become a workplace cliche. Without one, your meeting could easily get derailed by tangents and sidebar conversations, or you could miss important topics you need to cover (and subsequently need to schedule another meeting). Developing an agenda — simply, a document that lists all the items you plan to discuss — also helps ensure the goals of your remote meeting are met, whether it’s a quick check-in or lengthy project kickoff.
Bonus: Sharing your agenda with meeting participants in advance will give them the opportunity to prepare and make sure they have everything they need.
One-on-One Meeting Agendas
Although the specific items in your agenda will change depending on the nature of your one-on-one meeting, you can establish some common practices, like balancing the conversation between growth, communication, work and motivation. Also known as the Balance Framework, this particular approach helps ensure important topics get equal time in your discussion.
Not sure how to structure your one-on-one meeting? Consider the goal of the meeting, and build out your agenda accordingly. Some common objectives could be:
- Getting a deeper understanding of any roadblocks
- Checking in on the status of specific projects
- Understanding your report’s professional goals
- Learning more about how your report is feeling
Team Meeting Agendas
The opportunities are virtually endless when it comes to building out a team meeting agenda, which is why it’s so important to keep your objectives in mind when planning. Some items could include:
- Round-table sprint planning
- Addressing current blockers
- Giving quick shout-outs to individual contributors
If you’re feeling stuck on your agenda, here’s a 45-minute team meeting template we regularly use at Soapbox.
One-Off Meeting Agendas
A one-off meeting agenda may seem daunting, especially if you have to build it from scratch instead of relying on your usual formatting for regular meetings. Fortunately, there are countless templates available to help you, depending on the nature of your one-off meeting. A project kick-off agenda, for example, could include:
- A project brief
- Roles and responsibilities
- Cadence and communication specifics
- Next steps / action items
A brainstorming session, on the other hand, might consist of the following items:
- Key objectives
- Ground rules
- A brainstorming activity
- Idea voting
- Next steps
Regardless of the format or content of your meeting, it’s important to establish a clear, concise agenda that participants can easily follow… and stick to it.
Bonus: Avoid These Common Remote Meeting Mistakes
Although an agenda is critical to the success of your remote meetings, it’s unfortunately not a cure-all. Here are some common mistakes to avoid:
- Keeping things vague. Participants should walk away from the remote meeting with clear, actionable items.
- Skipping the documentation. It’s important to write down decisions and meeting notes, and make them accessible to your team, even after the meeting has ended.
- Forgoing feedback. Gaging the reaction of participants — like whether or not they found the meeting helpful — can give you the insights you need to make any necessary adjustments and improve upon future meetings.
- Ignoring asynchronous communication. Not every meeting requires immediate, real-time participation or feedback. That’s where asynchronous communication comes in — that is, communicating with a time lag between participants. When you’re managing a remote team in multiple time zones, this can be especially useful, as it enables your reports to contribute to meetings without needing to be online at the same time.
- Ditching the camera. I get it — it can be tiring to be on camera all the time. However, when you’re working with a remote team, you don’t have the opportunity to bond and build connections in person. People want to see your face. (Tip: When you’re talking, look at your camera instead of your screen. It’s the next best thing to eye contact).
- Not being flexible. This is especially true for newly remote teams who are still finding their footing. Work collaboratively and communicate with one another to find a time that works best for everyone, especially now that some employees have to balance work with taking care of kids. That way, all meeting participants can show up prepared to discuss every single meeting.
Back to You
Remote meetings don’t have to be burdensome to you or your team. The key is being disciplined and purposeful about the meetings you book and fleshing them out beforehand with a clear, concise agenda that supports your main objective. This way, you can ensure that your meetings are helpful and productive, rather than a drain on everyone’s time, energy, and resources.