How to Run Remote Meetings That Don’t Suck

How to Run Online Meetings That Don't SuckThis is a guest post written by Andre Pinantoan who is currently the Head of Growth at AI coaching startup, Fingerprint for Success. He was previously Head of Growth at multiple high growth companies such as Canva.

The COVID-19 pandemic has plunged a lot of us into the deep end, and many people have had to adapt to new ways of working. This includes how to effectively run remote meetings on a regular basis that actually have some productive value.

It’s one thing to hold a virtual conference once in a while. But when it’s one of your primary tools for communicating, coordinating, and just generally getting your team on the same page, it can either be the best thing for efficiency or a complete failure.

Truth be told, research shows that meetings already had a bad reputation pre-COVID. A survey conducted in 2018 with more than a thousand workers in the US showed that one in four people felt meetings are a waste of time. Add to that the “online” factor, and conducting useful meetings starts to get way harder for a lot of people.

I personally felt the steep learning curve during the initial months of adapting to our new way of working. As a team leader, I’ve always felt that being physically present and giving my time to members has been a key way of supporting them. So I had to find a way to channel my presence digitally.

Through these challenges, we’ve learned and adapted. As always, it’s crucial to understand what’s not working and try to make things better. Along the way, we even found some surprising benefits of conducting meetings virtually.

In this Process Street article, I will share the difficulties we faced when transitioning to full-time remote communication and how my team managed to overcome them.

Let’s get started! 🚀

Problem 1: Too many unnecessary meetings

As I highlighted in the introduction, having too many unnecessary meetings was already an issue for many teams pre-COVID. With even less face-to-face time now, statistics are showing that the total number of meetings is on the rise.

This can be a big disruption to the workflow of group members when collaborative time eats into their solo-work responsibilities. This survey polled 2,000+ workers in the US and found that 21% felt they could do more with fewer meetings throughout the week.

The problem is exacerbated by remote work: we are likely sending more emails, more Slack messages, and yes, call more meetings to “prove” we are indeed working.

Solution: I like to ask myself some simple questions when assessing whether a meeting is essential or not: Does this really need to be a separate meeting on its own?

We always assume it’s better for everyone to get together at the same time. But many project management systems allow for asynchronous collaboration — meaning we can work on the same thing at different times.

It’s also good practice to review the agenda before moving ahead with the meeting. If you’re looking at it and feeling unsure if it’s really worth gathering everyone to talk about this, it’s probably not. Ask yourself if you can add this as a discussion point during the main meeting of the week or if you can collaborate on it through other means.

Problem 2: Non-verbal cues are harder to express, read, and, utilize

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In a physical meeting, you can turn your body to signal to the quiet one in the group that you’d like them to contribute their thoughts. You can subtly look around when one person is dominating the conversation to show that other people need a chance.

With virtual meetings, this becomes a lot harder because we’re all confined to tiles on a screen. Plus, poor image quality may not allow you to see the finer facial expressions that can actually convey a lot about what someone is thinking. The tone of voice can also be harder to decipher.

To overcome this, I try to make my communications a lot more obvious and straightforward. In a physical meeting, I can afford to be a little less direct when presenting an alternative view. But in a virtual meeting, I might start off with a simple, “I disagree with that.” So that it’s really clear what I mean.

This may come off as brazen, but I also make sure to communicate that I don’t want messages to be lost. I also encourage everyone else to speak in a similar manner so that there are fewer misunderstandings. If there is a mutual agreement that this is our “new way of talking”, people are less likely to take offense to something that sounds too direct.

I also spend more time clarifying and paraphrasing what others are saying so that I know if I’m really understanding what is being communicated. This is an extra step I’m willing to invest my time in because it reduces the inefficiencies of miscommunication down the line.

Problem 3: Introverts get lost in the conversation more easily, and extroverts dominate

Professor Leigh Thompson from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University shared in her research that in a meeting of six people, two people usually dominate 60% of the conversation. So team leaders really need to find a way to balance out the voices in discussions.

As an introvert myself, I understand the inclination to blend in during group settings. And virtual meetings make it even easier to do this because we’re all behind screens.

On the other hand, I discovered that extroverted individuals have the opposite reaction to remote meetings. They dominate the conversational space even more — most likely because they feel the virtual setting impedes their ability to express themselves fully.

Solution: If you’re getting enough input from the extroverts in the group, reassure them that they are being heard and understood. For those that aren’t contributing as much as you’d like, I like to use strategic pauses to give people the opportunity to respond.

Take a moment by saying something like, “Let’s stop for a moment here and process what’s been said so far.” You can then summarize and ask the rest of the group if there are any other points to be added.

I only ever call people out individually if I feel the person wants to say something but is holding back. In other circumstances, I find that it just forces them to say something when they didn’t really want to.

Allowing alternative ways of responding also caters to people who aren’t as verbal. For example, the great thing about digital meetings is that we have chat boxes. So if an idea comes to someone at a later time (and it would be disruptive to bring it up immediately), they can send a chat message on the group instead. As the team leader, you can monitor this and circle back to it at a later time.

If you’re in a brainstorming or idea-generation type meeting, using virtual whiteboard tools on your communication software can ensure equal opportunities for everyone to contribute. It basically recreates the in-person meeting process of giving each person a marker and allowing everyone to write thoughts down at the same time.

Problem 4: Action points get forgotten post-meeting

I’ve had those moments at the end of a meeting where I felt things went really well and everyone seemed to get what needed to be done. Little did I know many points got lost in translation, and task delegation was unclear.

Kickstarting the process became a lot harder because it became a case of “I thought you were going to do it”.

Solution: The team leader should summarize at the end of each meeting what needs to be done and by whom. If there is someone taking minutes, this summary can also be sent out as a memo so there are records. A benefit of virtual meetings is that we can record them. So definitely use that to your advantage for members that need to refer back to discussions.

Problem 5: Technological and “ways of doing things” problems

While this survey was conducted pre-COVID, it explains how much time is wasted on minute issues during meetings. This includes 11-12% of our time being spent on fixing technological problems and waiting for people to arrive.

With virtual meetings, we found ourselves with similar issues but in a different context. We basically had to reset ground rules again about how we were going to do things together.

Here are some of the house rules you can adopt to overcome the difficulties that accompany remote meetings (but some can also be applied to in-person meetings):

  • Discuss what’s going to be different about the way you communicate — Do people get set periods to talk? Are we going to allow text chat to continue while discussions happen?
  • Discussion etiquette — People should be on mute unless they’re talking to reduce background noise. Are we going to use the “raise hand” function to signal we’re about to talk?
  • Everyone should arrive 10 minutes earlier to check that their tech is working — This was already a problem with in-person meetings. And it can be even more of an issue with virtual meetings because each participant has their own set of devices to ensure are working.
  • Start and end on time — This applies to both in-person and remote meetings. The leader may want to have a rule that the meetings will start exactly on time and there will be no waiting for latecomers.

Since we’re all in foreign territory when it comes to having regular remote meetings, getting feedback is essential to understanding what’s working and what’s not. Let your team know that things will keep evolving. And if everyone has an adaptable mindset, transitions will happen more seamlessly.

Problem 6: People get tired and lose concentration faster

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This study by Microsoft actually found that a lot of concentration is needed in video meetings, and fatigue usually starts to set in by 30 minutes. If you think about it, more mental power is needed in virtual meetings. We need to listen more carefully, decipher body language that’s not as obvious, and think more carefully about when’s an appropriate time to contribute.

This is partly responsible for widespread remote work burnout.

Basically, virtual meetings need to be even shorter and more power-packed than regular meetings. Remember, you probably only have about a 30-minute “effectiveness window”. Here are several ways to maximize that time:

  • Send out the agenda before the meeting and tell the team you expect them to already have an idea of discussion points. This way, people can already plan what they may want to say or contribute and things can move along faster.
  • The leader should always identify moments where the discussion is getting stuck. At this point, you can try summarizing points or coming to some decision to move on to the next topic.
  • If there’s no way a meeting can be completed in 30 minutes, break up the meeting into 30 minutes blocks with rests in between.
  • Open with a summary of the purpose of the meeting, so everyone is clear that all discussion needs to be directed at the purpose. If it’s not, take note of the point and reserve it for another meeting.
  • Understand your group dynamics and tailor your time-keeping strategies to suit it. Some groups are more efficient when you allow a lot of spontaneity in the discussion. While others thrive on more structure.

Keeping the group size smaller can also help people to maintain their focus. According to this organizational behavior expert from Stanford University, five to eight people is your best size for an effective meeting. Anything more and you’ll have scenarios where one to two individuals dominate while the rest zone out. Decision making starts to get harder as you may get too many opposing views.

Collaborate, but don’t forget to connect

Whether you love it or not, regular virtual meetings will continue to be part of our way of working. The faster we adapt and embrace it, the faster we can use it as a tool to be more productive as a team.

But apart from the performance and productivity side of things, one of the hardest things to recreate digitally is the spontaneous human connections that happen in the workplace. Like those watercooler or lunch break moments.

That’s why it’s really important to keep other informal channels of communication open — through chat or smaller group calls. Some of my best ideas have emerged from spontaneous one-on-one Zoom calls. So it’s ok to throw out the agenda once in a while and let your team members just talk about their troubles or celebrations. Remember, we’re all still humans behind the screens.

Using Process Street to run remote meetings (that don’t suck)

Process Street’s super-powered checklists can help you bring structure to your remote meetings. The following section will introduce you to pre-made templates and blogs that specifically designed for optimizing remote meetings.

If you are unfamiliar with Process Street (which is free btw), check out the Youtube video below for an introduction to what it is we do, and how it can help you. Or, take a look at our most recent webinar: here.

As promised here is a list of useful blog posts:

How to Run Business Meetings That Aren’t a Useless Waste of Time: View how we run and structure our remote meetings here at Process Street.

Free Meeting Minutes Template and Top Tips to Effectively Record Your Meeting Minutes: This blog highlights the value of recording meeting minutes and provides actionable checklists to help you run your meetings.

And, here are a few of our checklists and templates designed to help you run your meetings smoothly and efficiently.

Meeting Minutes Template

Your meeting minutes are a vital part to convert your meeting into an action plan. Meeting minutes provide transparency and accountability and therefore are regulatory requirements for many industries and business processes.

Click here for the Meeting Minutes Template!

Virtual Meeting Checklist

This checklist brings structure to your virtual meetings. It’s super easy to personalize this checklist to meet your personal needs. To find out more on how to edit checklists and make the most out of Process Street and its features, check out our help page.

Click here to get the Virtual Meeting Checklist!

AS9100D Project Manager Meeting Planner Checklist!

Project managers can use this checklist to plan their meetings in accordance with AS9100D for aerospace quality management.

Click here to get the AS9100D Project Manager Meeting Planner Checklist!

DACI Decision-Making Meeting Framework Checklist

The DACI framework is a set of processes to ensure group decision-making flows smoothly and efficiently. The DACI acronym stands for: Driver: Who drives a decision to a conclusion? Approver: Who approves a particular decision? Contributor: Who contributes to a decision? and Informed: Who is informed about the final decision? Run this checklist for every meeting that requires a group decision.

Click here to get the DACI Decision-Making Meeting Framework Checklist!

That’s your lot! 🚀

How do you find working remotely? Do you have any hacks to share that can help our readers increase their productivity and run better meetings? If so, let us know by commenting below! 👇🏼

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Molly Stovold

Hey, I'm Molly, Junior Content Writer at Process Street with a First-Class Honors Degree in Development Studies & Spanish. I love writing so much that I also have my own blog where I write about everything that interests me; from traveling solo to mindful living. Check it out at mollystovold.com.


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