A meeting can be a practical way to discuss important topics, collaborate on technical tasks, and achieve consensus within a team. However, when done badly meetings can be the antithesis of productivity and focus. In this post, we explore the Hivekind approach to organizing effective meetings – remote-first style.
Organizing An Effective Remote Meeting
As a remote-first company, we face the challenge of working across a wide range of different time zones. Asynchronous communication is therefore very important to us and is something we pride ourselves upon. However, occasional meetings are necessary to check in with clients and project stakeholders, particularly to engage in important discussions, address urgent issues and make pivotal decisions. There are a number of rules we follow to ensure that meetings are not only well-organized but also have clear objectives.
Is a Meeting Needed At All?
Before planning a meeting, it is important to ask why it is necessary. It is integral to ask if a legitimate purpose exists for the meeting and whether the same can be adequately accomplished over email or instant message. This accomplishes two things: firstly, it encourages the organizer to be conscious and respectful of their team and client’s time; secondly, it helps the organizer to consider the objective of the meeting, how complex the discussions could become, what those discussions should explore and what outcome is desired.
Communicate the Meeting Well in Advance
Once the objectives are clear and it has been established that a meeting is justified, it is important to advertise it in advance so that participants can prepare and manage their expectations.
- The Purpose: State clearly the objectives of the meeting so that attendees understand the topics that will be explored. This also enables the organizer to regulate the meeting and steer it back to its original purpose if discussions go astray.
- The Agenda: Think about how the meeting should flow from one topic to the next, as well as the length of time that should be allocated to each, so that they align with the meeting objectives. A clear agenda not only helps to achieve this but also makes it clear to attendees how the meeting will be carried out. Appending an owner to each item on the agenda enables the attendees to prepare in advance.
Goal/Objective: To decide the direction of the product in light of the results of recent spikes.
- (5m) Context, agenda and summary of what decision needs to be made - Iggy (Tech Project Manager)
- (15m) Results from investigations and recommended proposals for how we can move forward with the product - Luna (Lead Developer)
- (25m) Gather stakeholder questions and feedback for each proposal. Discuss and agree on the best solution forward - Iggy, Luna and Helga (CTO)
- (15m) Any outstanding items, remarks, concerns, or questions - All in attendance
Think About Your Attendance List
Depending on who you plan to invite, meetings can be expensive. Consider the combined hourly rate for your intended guest list, which may include executives, managers and lead developers. It is therefore important to think carefully about the people whose active participation is required to achieve the goal of the meeting.
This does not mean that those who would not ordinarily participate should be left out. Our well-established asynchronous communication provides consistent and clear high-level reporting to ensure other stakeholders are kept in the loop. This also ensures that those who are unable to attend for any reason feel assured that they will have the opportunity to catch up and feedback on the meeting’s outcome later on.
Once your meeting objectives are clear and your guest list is curated appropriately, schedule the meeting, explain the agenda in the meeting description and send out invites to the intended participants with at least a day’s notice.
Take Time to Prepare
The organizer should familiarise themselves with the objectives of the meeting and prepare questions that can be used to steer it effectively. If the meeting is particularly important, it may be worthwhile to have a pre-meeting discussion with the owners of each agenda item. This will provide an opportunity to understand and practice what will be presented, as well as discuss how the owners will coordinate with one another in light of the allocated time.
Set Up Correctly Beforehand
Creating a conducive environment for a successful meeting can make a world of a difference! Here are some things the organizer can do ahead of the meeting to achieve this:
- Set up all relevant documents: prepare any documents that you or the team want to present. Having to dig out a document during the meeting (which may involve connecting to a VPN, looking for a particular browser tab and waiting for documents to load), consumes precious time and may cause awkward silences that can affect the overall quality of the experience.
- Be ready to record: if the meeting needs to be recorded, ensure you know how to do this before the meeting begins.
- Turn on your webcam: very little of communication is dependent on speech alone. Vocal tone, body language and physical expressions all contribute to building rapport, capturing the attention of your participants, and getting your points across.
- Regulate unwanted noise: be aware of noises being emitted by other participants that may disrupt or distract others. If this occurs, invite the participant to mute their audio or mute them on their behalf.
- Remove distractions: put your phone on silent, mute Slack notifications and close unnecessary browser tabs.
Host the Meeting
The following are good practices for hosting a successful meeting:
- Begin the meeting by providing a summary of progress and work accomplished. Reiterate the purpose and agenda of the meeting. Remind participants that time will be allocated for Q&A at the end of the presentation(s).
- Introduce the next item on the agenda. Introduce its owner and invite them to begin their contribution.
- If the discussion needs a catalyst, ask a prepared question. Directing specific questions to the right stakeholders can get the meeting on track towards the set objectives.
- Be aware of the discussion going off-topic. If the direction becomes too technical for the room, suggest that the participants organize a separate meeting to continue their discussion, and recommend returning to the agenda.
- Be conscious of and stick to the allocated time. It is important for the host to identify when the room is spending too much time on one topic. Recommend moving onto the next agenda item, but invite attendees to return to the topic at the end of the meeting, if time permits. Discussions could also be continued in a follow-up meeting.
- Leave at least 15 minutes at the end of the meeting for Q&A and closing words. Summarise decisions made and follow-up tasks, get consensus on the summary and then close the meeting. Send the summary to attendees and the wider stakeholders after the meeting.
- Thank everyone for their time and call out those who have gone above and beyond to attend the meeting, particularly those in challenging time zones or special guests.
If you are the organizer of a remote meeting, by following these steps you are sure to run a meeting which is effective (achieves results) and efficient (doesn’t take up too much of everyone’s time). I hope this advice makes your next remote meeting a whole lot better.