Running effective meetings is hard. Running effective meetings with remote teams is even harder. Remote teams face greater challenges to their connection, engagement, and communication due to things like distance, different time zones and modified working hours.
Remote workers often feel isolated. They miss out on informal conversations in the office and can have a hard time getting a sense of office morale. This limits the opportunity for meaningful touch points with other members of the team. Relationships are harder to forge and remote people often feel like they are missing key information.
Managers of remote workers also have an uphill battle. Team communication is challenging regardless of where people are located. Everyone has different personalities, communication styles, and skill sets. This can make it difficult to engage. There is a greater effort required to keep someone connected with a project when they are not just down the hall.
Flexibility vs Structure
All that said, one of the things that remote workers value most is flexibility. Flexibility in where they work, how they work, when they work, and who they work with. It is one of the central tenets to remote working and what makes it an attractive option for many people. It can also be one of the greatest challenges of working remotely because it can impact connection and engagement.
Working remotely requires a high level of discipline which is not easy for everyone to enact on their own. Not everyone is naturally structured or process-oriented which can result in remote workers struggling to connect, communicate, and stay accountable for their work.
On the flip side, applying too much structure may result in making remote workers feeling confined and takes away from what remote work truly offers them. It is a delicate balance to set everyone up to succeed as a remote team, without creating restrictions that stifle creativity.
How can remote teams balance flexibility and structure while still having great meetings?
1. Regular touch points with recurring meeting rhythms
Staying connected is vital to feeling like a team and not a collection of disparate individuals. One of the ways to stay connected as a team, no matter where you are, is to set regular touch points with meeting rhythms.
A meeting rhythm is a recurring meeting set for the same day and time at regular intervals. This could be weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, quarterly, annually, etc. For example, you could have a weekly meeting rhythm for Thursdays at 3:00 pm or a monthly meeting rhythm for the last Tuesday of every month at 10:00 am.
For remote teams, connecting at least once a week in a formal, set meeting (outside of the opportunities for informal chat via Slack), gives a touch of structure. It means that everyone on the team knows that they will get an opportunity to share updates, concerns, and participate in discussions. Throughout the rest of the week, they can work within their own parameters, but they always know that they have at least that one regular connection point back with the rest of the team.
2. Collaborative meeting agendas sent out ahead of the meeting
Remote workers need to be engaged by making sure their voices are heard. While agendas can be seen as too formal they are powerful in setting expectations for what will be talked about in a meeting. When the meeting agenda is shared with everyone before the meeting, remote workers can see what will be discussed, what they need to prepare to talk about and make appropriate updates so their voices are heard. They can also address items before the meeting even happens which saves time.
3. Online meeting agendas with meeting minutes
Being a talking head on a screen in a video conference can be frustrating if it is difficult to follow along. Having a digital, collaborative online meeting agenda available that everyone can see in real-time as you are working through the meeting content can make a big difference. Being able to see the meeting minutes being recorded in real-time is even more valuable. Everyone can agree on what is being recorded and who is being assigned to certain action items. These minutes can then be sent to anyone who couldn’t make it to the meeting. A Google Doc or (even better) Tadum, are great ways to collaborate in this way.
4. Task accountability over time accountability
“Putting in time” is the antithesis of remote working. Remote roles are opposite to a highly structured corporate job where you need to be at your desk from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm. As long as action items are being recorded in the regular recurring meetings, remote workers can still be kept accountable. It doesn’t matter when they are working, only that the task is being done by the time it is due.
Run effective remote team meetings
Remote team meetings don’t have to be arduous, confining, time-eaters. They can be a great opportunity to encourage connection and engagement with your remote team, while still respecting their flexibility. By setting a regular touch point your remote team members know when they can reconnect. Collaborative agendas and meeting minutes keep the communication lines clear and open. Remote team members can also maintain accountability for their work tasks but on within their own schedules.