Laptop screen with pictures of people talking and listening to meeting.

Leading effective meetings can be tricky even when they’re in-person. Leading effective remote meetings, though, is a lot trickier. So much so that you might feel the need to be a magician in order to pull it off on a regular basis.

The good news is that there are real, concrete steps you can take to ensure that your team’s remote meetings are effective — and, believe it or not, actually enjoyable. (I know. Meetings enjoyable? But it really is possible.)

Let’s get into it.

#1: effective remote meetings start by deciding if they’re even necessary.

The first step on your way to making your remote meetings productive and effective is to ask yourself if the subject at hand really warrants a meeting. Unfortunately, not enough team leaders and managers think this through. That’s why tweets like this one turn into popular memes:

Tweet showing frustration with remote meetings

How to know if the issue you’re tackling needs a meeting or not? An easy way to gauge that is to sit down and think: How long an email chain would it take to resolve this?

  • If the answer is 2-3, scrap the meeting and do it via email.
  • If you think it’ll take 8-10, schedule the meeting
  • Somewhere in-between? Your call.

#2: make sure everyone you’re inviting has a reason to be there.

When it comes to remote meetings, there’s almost nothing more frustrating than receiving an invitation to participate — and then sitting there for half an hour wondering why. This is a bad situation because it invites resentment on both sides: The team leader feels frustrated because the team member isn’t engaging, and the team member is frustrated because she feels her time is being wasted.

So when you’re planning a remote meeting, go over your list of participants and ask yourself: Why does this person need to attend? If you’ve got a clear reason, keep them on the list. If you don’t, cross them off. Remember that most of the time, you only need someone to show up if their input is crucial to resolving an issue or making a decision.

Concerned that a team member might feel left out? Send them a courtesy invitation. Make it clear that you’re inviting them because you want to keep them in the loop and tell them it’s their decision. No pressure.

#3: effective remote meetings need connection.

Whether your remote meeting has ten participants or two, in order to connect with your audience — literally and figuratively — you need to do two things.

  1. Check your tech. You can’t connect with your team if your (or their) tech setup is shaky. So take fifteen minutes before start time to check your audio, video, internet connection and whatever app or apps you’re going to be using. Send an automated reminder to your team to do the same.
  2. Check your intro. The way you start your meeting will set the tone for the rest of it. That’s why it’s important to open it in a way that makes everyone feel welcomed and relaxed. Stories, personal struggles, fun questions and jokes are just some of the ways you can start off your meeting on a positive note.

#4: keep it focused.

Now that you’ve set the tone for your remote meeting, make sure to keep it focused.

Begin by going over the main topics that need to be discussed so everyone’s on the same page. Then start on the first one. Don’t move to another topic until the one you’re on has been resolved clearly. Summarize briefly between each topic and make sure every participant is aware of any decisions or courses of action.

Try to keep an open document running so you can summarize, note key points and keep track of any and all decisions that are made. Keeping an open, running document also comes in handy when the meeting (almost inevitably) veers off onto a tangent, which can happen almost without anyone noticing — unless, of course, someone’s keeping track.

That’s not to say it’s never a good idea to go a bit off-topic or do things out of order. But make sure that even the off-topic discussions are somewhat relevant. There’s no point in calling a meeting about setting emergency protocols and then getting into a discussion about bird-watching. That’s what virtual water-cooler moments are for.

#5: if an effective meeting takes place remotely but no one followed up, was it effective?

Answer: No, not really. And that goes for all meetings, not only remote ones.

I know, once everything’s been covered it’s really tempting to let everyone go on their merry way. But it’s worth taking the time to make sure that:

  • Everyone knows what they’re supposed to do next.
  • If there’s going to be collaboration, every member of the team knows who they’re going to be workng with.
  • All deadlines are clear and acceptable to everyone.
  • You’ve answered any and all questions.
  • If team members need to update absentees or report to anyone other than you, they’re aware of it.

If the meeting was a controversial or heated one, it’s a good idea to allow for breakout time afterward so everyone can refocus before going back to work. If that’s the situation, don’t sign off; let everyone know you’re available to talk for a certain amount of time before you go back to work, too.

As soon as you can, type up a summary of the meeting with all the key points, decisions, division of work and deadlines laid out. Send it out that same day; if it was an evening meeting, though, you can wait till morning. Work-life balance, you know.

So there you have it: 5 simple ways you can make your remote meetings more effective, more productive, and even more fun.

See you on Zoom.


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