Of all the tasks a remote team manager is asked to do, hosting remote team meetings could be considered the most challenging. First, there’s the issue of scheduling which can cause headaches with a distributed team. Then when you’ve got everyone together, you have the various challenges that even the most reliable technology can bring. And on top of that, there are all the ‘normal’ things you have to think about to chair a great meeting.
There are lots of tools that can help you to host an excellent meeting; scheduling tools to relieve the headache of different time zones, and video chat applications to name just a few. If you want to chair a successful remote meeting, you’ll have chosen tools that can support your success.
You might also find yourself with participants for whom English is not a first language, or that don’t speak it at all. But don’t fear, we have some tips to help you. Here is our definitive guide to chairing a remote team meeting, like a boss. Still need to build that killer remote team? Get in touch and we’ll help.
Success is 90% Preparation
But do try and avoid the 10% perspiration when you’re on camera. This adage is especially true when you’re hosting a remote team meeting. If you invest time and thought in planning, you can prevent most of the problems you might experience, or as Louis Pasteur put it, ‘Chance favors the prepared mind.’
The Technical Stuff
It might sound like stating the obvious, but make sure you check in advance that any pieces of equipment and software that you want to use are working. By in advance, I mean 24-48 hours ahead of the meeting, not with 5 minutes to spare. If you’re doing something new, like screen sharing or running a presentation, have a rehearsal, so you’re familiar with the controls.
When you send out the meeting invitation, ask all the attendees to do the same thing. Whichever tool you’re using, they’re bound to have a test meeting or a way that your team can make sure they can see and be seen, hear and be heard before the big day.
Agendas and Documentation
When you send out the meeting invitation, ask for any additions to the agenda. Email again in advance of the meeting including the agenda and any other supporting documentation your participants need to read – and make sure they have enough time to read it!
One tip that can help remote meetings to flow more efficiently is to dispense with ‘reporting back.’ Although it works well enough in a face-to-face meeting, it’s a lot harder to take the focus when you’re talking to a camera. One alternative to this is to have people send in written reports that can go out with the meeting pack, and the give everyone the opportunity to comment or ask questions during the meeting. It makes it feel more conversational and natural.
For team members who speak English as a second language, it is a good idea to send out some notes about critical topics. Alternatively, a glossary which helps them to define unfamiliar words can be useful. As part of proper remote team etiquette, asking everyone to avoid slang and colloquialisms is a good idea.
Start with the Socials
Meetings are one of those rare times when you can get your distributed team together at the same time, so make the most of it. Don’t just think of it as an occasion to talk business and get through the agenda, it’s also valuable team bonding time.
Set aside some time at the beginning of the meting to chat, just as you would if you were sat in a meeting room waiting for everyone to turn up. As chair, you can help the conversation to flow, and give your team something to talk about. This is also an excellent opportunity to mention any birthdays or personal milestones and celebrate them together.
Professionalism is everything
Digital nomads can work from anywhere, but when it comes to a team meeting, you do need a certain amount of professionalism. Noisy coffee shops or crowded co-working spaces might not be the best locations to dial into a conference call; mainly if you’re talking about confidential matters. So make clear to your participants that they need to take part from somewhere sensible.
You can set the tone yourself, by making sure that your background is clear of any clutter. Neutral works best, but you can add that note of corporate sensitivity by displaying a logo or some branded products. It just helps reinforce the idea that you’re here to do business.
Remember the visuals
Most video conferencing tools give you the ability to share more than just your webcam feed. You can show presentations, screen share, or bring up a remote collaboration tool and have everyone work on it together. In some ways, it’s easier to get your team to work together on things in a remote meeting.
Another bonus that you have is the option to record the meeting, and place it online for later viewing. Not only does that mean you can double check what was said, but even those who couldn’t get to the meeting ‘in person’ can see what happened.
Check everyone is participating
On the subject of participation, just like in a face-to-face meeting one of the jobs of the chair is to let everyone have a chance to speak. Although remote workers come from all personality types, it is a role that is more suited to introverts. Introverts may not find it easy to break into an ongoing conversation to say something, but there’s an excellent chance that what they’re going to say is useful.
When key points are being discussed, take the time to go through all those present and ask them if they have any questions or comments to share. This is particularly true if there are any roadblocks in the way of progress; a trouble shared is a trouble halved, and all that.
Finish with water cooler chat
Have you ever noticed how a lot of the business of a meeting happens when people start leaving? There are those who stay behind to ask questions they didn’t raise at the time. Or a couple of people grab a coffee and start talking something over, and come up with a new idea. In remote meetings, you don’t get that ‘water cooler’ time.
So you need to make it happen. Once the business of the meeting is concluded, stay in work mode for a while and just let your team talk things over. Ask questions, discuss what was said, make sure that everyone left the meeting with the same impressions on situations or approaches.
And then when that’s done? Just chat. Anyone who needs to rush off can go, but for those who have a free five minutes, just use it to chat. Talk to your team about their personal lives. As a good remote team manager you’re checking in with them regularly as individuals, so use that knowledge to help bring your team together.
That’s The Way You Do It
And that’s how you chair a remote team meeting. It’s not rocket science. Like everything else with remote teams, it’s just taking what you’d normally do and finding the right tools to make that work with distributed staff. Of course, one way you can make the whole thing easier on yourself is to hire the right team to begin with. If you need any help with that, then give us a call. We’re pretty darn good at it.