This is a guest post by Wayne Turmel from the Remote Leadership Institute. Join him for a free four-part video course, Demystifying Remote Leadership: How to create solid working relationships in a virtual team with more confidence and less stress! Sign up now.
The most common complaint about online meetings is that they are a colossal waste of time. The problem is, right now, for many of us, it’s the only way to conduct a meeting. So what can you do to avoid this common scenario: People log on and promptly put their phones on mute and pay attention to something else. If your first thought when you’re invited to an online meeting or virtual conference is “Well, at least I’ll catch up on email”, there may be problems with the way your team operates.
Since our mission with the Remote Leadership Institute is to give you practical tips to make managing your remote teams easier, here are three simple (not to be confused with easy!) tips for getting attention at the start of an online meeting.
Make sure everyone knows why they’re there and what’s expected of them before they even show up
Whether it’s via video conference or in the conference room over doughnuts, a good meeting has a purpose, a desired outcome, does whatever is necessary to reach that outcome and ends—on time if not early. The best way for that to happen is to have an explicit agenda that allows people to come focused on the outcome, prepared to participate and willing to help the team reach its objectives.
Finding out what will be covered in an email that arrives just before the call is NOT an agenda.
An agenda is an actual document with links to all the relevant documents, easy ways to enter the meeting into people’s calendars so they don’t forget, and enough information that only the most obtuse can claim they didn’t know what’s going to happen. Telling people what to expect, delivering on that promise, then holding people accountable for their actions and input is the way to build a culture over time that makes great use of everyone’s time.
Start with the most critical items
Many meeting leaders like to get the “administrivia,” logistics and minor items out of the way so people can then focus on what’s really critical. The problem is that by the time you get around to the good stuff, people have mentally checked out and gotten lost in the email vortex.
Start with the important items. Those things that require input, careful thought and collaboration should be done while people are fresh and not worried about the meeting ending on time so they can make their next phone call.
If it can be said in an email, don’t waste everyone’s time with it online
A lot of meetings, especially project status meetings, are spent on sharing information that is nothing more than items on a checklist or spreadsheet. As the meeting leader, your time will be better spent if you make the information available prior to the meeting and spend that precious time on what it means and next steps (things that require people to be engaged) than just delivering information that anyone can read and probably already has.
One idea for keeping data sharing to a minimum and useful conversation to a maximum is to use a shared file site, like Google Drive, to make sure the latest versions of everything are available 24 hours before the meeting. Make sure people have the links and hold them accountable for being prepared.
A little peer pressure can go a long way to making sure if they’re not ready for this meeting, they darned sure will be for the next one. You can also use the file sharing feature to push information out of the meeting itself to people who don’t have what they need.
So there are three things leaders need to consider when holding meetings online. You’ll notice that they aren’t necessarily dependent on technology. These tips will work during an online meeting, a simple conference call or a good old-fashioned meeting.