The way teams work and collaborate is rapidly changing. Consulting, remote workforces, and outsourcing are all on the rise. Even if you operate a team that is technically based in the same physical office, it’s becoming more and more common that your clients prefer to communicate in a virtual manner instead of in person due to time constraints.
However, one of the biggest challenges surrounding remote work is how to handle meetings. How do you communicate effectively when the meeting is with a team several hundred or thousand miles away? How do you ensure employees are a part of the meeting, instead of just following directions?
Below are seven strategies and techniques that will make your next virtual meeting just as effective as its in-person counterpart:
Don’t forget to screenshare.
Sharing your computer screen in real-time allows meeting attendees to effectively “look over your shoulder” as you are talking. Employees will be able to see your screen as you see it. You can also change the presenter, so you’ll be able to see the employee’s computer. Screenshare technology is the closest you can get to a physical meeting, and in many cases is more productive. Examples of services you can use include Skype, GoToMeeting, Google Hangouts and Join.me.
Schedule a specific time.
One of the issues with remote meetings is that it’s more difficult to chase down the other party if they aren’t physically present. Always have a specific time scheduled, and confirmed, for all remote meetings. On that note, don’t forget to account for time zones when scheduling meetings.
Personalize meetings video technology.
Remote meetings can lack the personal feel of a face-to-face meeting, but you can change this with video conferencing. Compared to just a few short years ago, this technology is now much more stable and reliable (with a decent Internet connection). Video conferencing is especially effective in virtual sales meetings. Skype, GoToMeeting and Google Hangouts all offer quick solutions.
Engage attendees by assigning talking points.
Having at least one talking point on everyone’s agenda gives them a purpose for being at the meeting beyond hearing what everyone else is saying. It also confirms that they are part of the team and are spending their time in a valuable way. They’ll prepare for the meeting in a much more positive way if they have to present.
Assign responsibilities and follow ups.
Assign each participant at the meeting a responsibility during the meeting as well as at least one follow-up item. Don’t be afraid to assign someone to take notes and someone to track time. By doing this, your team will remain engaged and learn more during the meeting. Finally, after the meeting, there should be someplace for everyone to post their follow-up items for review (a wiki-style product usually works well for this).
Don’t allow muting!
Many conference call and meeting services will have a muting option. By disallowing attendees to go on mute, you are taking away the ability for someone to be typing or multi-tasking in the background.
Limit the number of participants.
Having a remote meeting with more than around five participants is difficult because of distractions and sound quality (one noisy background or poor connection can ruin the meeting for all). It’s a good idea to encourage frequent meetings with fewer participants. Not only does it improve meeting quality for everyone, but meeting with two or three people is much more engaging for your employees — and creates a better culture in your organization overall.
For those of you who’ve run remote meetings (either successfully or not), what else would you add to this list?
This article has been edited and condensed.
Dave Nevogt is a co-founder of Hubstaff, a time tracking software for remote teams. Hubstaff allows managers to see time spent on projects, screenshots, activity levels, in-depth reports, and timesheets. Dave has been founding companies since 2004 with his first success coming at 23. Connect with @dnevogt on Twitter.