Are you leading remote meetings? Here are a few tips for you.
Updated: Jan 3
We are faced with an uncertain future. But one thing is certain, we now need a shift from just accepting remote working to embedding it within our team and organisations. Remote working is here to stay.
Here are seven tips for those of you who are chairing remote meetings.
1. Don’t try to replicate online what happens offline
Meetings on Zoom are really different from meetings in real life. Interaction is different. There are time lags which can leave people feeling unsure and defensive. You can’t read body language as well. People can’t talk over the top of each other. It’s really easy for one person to dominate a conversation. Techniques that work in ‘real’ meetings just don’t work online. We need to find new ways to run meetings.
Some of the best virtual meetings and brainstorms are actually highly structured ones. This doesn’t mean they can’t be creative or have a free flow of ideas. It’s just that they are facilitated differently. Try starting a meeting which starts with a question, provocation or challenge. Give every participant a set amount of time often (one minute) to speak uninterrupted in response to the challenge.(How often does anyone get the chance to speak uninterrupted?) Once everyone has spoken, chair a short freeflowing discussion, but be aware of people who are dominating and people who are quieter. Then at the end, allow everyone to speak again in response to the ideas that have been generated.
2. Be aware of pressures outside of work
There are many, many pressures for people outside work at the moment. Don’t ignore them. It just adds to people’s sense of isolation and won’t get them working productively. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that you should acknowledge these difficulties regularly and openly share your own. Because we are literally on screen in a virtual environment, we often feel that we need to present ourselves in a polished way. Showing a bit of vulnerability as a leader can be transformative for your team. This doesn’t need to be intense. It can simply be a regular ‘check-in’ at the beginning of the meeting. Ask everyone to say how they are feeling on a scale of 1-5 and share their reasons for that. If someone’s a 1 because they’ve had a tough morning, it will help everyone to understand why they might be low energy in a meeting. If someone’s a 5, you can focus on asking them for ideas and contributions.
3. Establish empathy
I can’t emphasis this enough. Remote working can feel, well, remote. And if your team are feeling isolated, it’s very easy for them to misread interactions online. If you’re leading a meeting, you need to work doubly hard online to make sure that people feel engaged and connected. Reassure your team constantly. This means using people’s names regularly, asking a lot of questions, acknowledging people who may not be contributing, looking for visual cues that people are engaged and regularly requesting feedback. You can have a lot of fun with this. I often use non-verbal communication in meetings to take the ‘temperature’ of the room or get responses to a question.
4. Technology is the tool, not the purpose
Slack, Miro, Trello, Mural, Basecamp, Monday.com, Asana, Teams, the list is endless. These are all great tools which can really help with remote working, but you don’t have to use all of them. In fact, you don’t have to use any of them. Some of the best ways to engage with your team is by blending online and offline. I’ve run virtual meetings using mini whiteboards, I’ve posted out information packs before meetings, I’ve even (shock) phoned people. Zoom and messaging fatigue is real and 10 zoom calls a day and constant mobile notifications help nobody.
5. Powerpoint decks are really, really boring
There. I’ve said it. If you’re presenting information at a meeting, my challenge to you is this. Reduce the number of slides you use. We are all using decks as a reminder for what we want to say. But it’s far too easy for people to switch off when the presenter is the size of a postage stamp over the top of a dull slide. Just put your bullet points on post-it notes and stick them behind the camera on your laptop. Then look directly at the camera and speak. You don’t need to put an agenda on a slide. You don’t need bullet points reiterating what you’re saying. You don’t need loads of funny gifs. Use slides sparingly for the most important pieces of data. And when you share a slide, give people time to read and digest it, before you start talking. Too many slides really reduce your ability to engage with participants.
6. Respect old traditions and create new ones
Every team has a series of traditions from office sweepstakes, to in-jokes to Cake Fridays. Make space for some of these traditions in your meetings. It will help get the team into the right mindset and encourage everyone to connect. You can also create new ones. During lockdown, many schools did this really well. They replaced traditional assemblies with hymns, lessons and readings with pupil lead informal, light-hearted online gatherings which really give children the chance to connect with each other at the beginning of the day. They also provided a topic of conversation in classes.
7. Use a moderator, as well as a Chair
Leading online meetings is really tough, particularly with large numbers of people. In a ‘real-life’ meeting, people can indicate when they’d like to talk, but this is much harder to keep track of virtually. If you’re running a meeting with lots of people, nominate a moderator. This person will make sure that the meeting is running to time, will point out if someone has been trying to speak for a while and will bring up any salient points that have been made in chat.