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The Problems with Remote Meetings and How to Solve Them

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Remote work meetings are a scourge and many remote workers experience meeting fatigue.

Why is that?

Too many meetings are tiring and can break concentration and reduce productivity. They take time from other tasks and often end up with a handful of people discussing while others passively exist in the background.

But, remote meetings can be useful, if done correctly!

Not all Meetings are Meetings

First, let’s identify the problem of too many meetings in your day.

When working remotely, it’s a challenge to connect with colleagues at a human level, but also a professional level. 

Office “watercooler chats” might seem mundane, however, they are immensely important. They keep are ways to socialize, brainstorm, and collaborate.

Let’s recognize the 3 main time-draining categories of remote work “meetings”:

  • Real Meetings
  • Announcements
  • Quick Chats
  • Social Calls

Real Meetings

Real meetings have an agenda, and a goal, and are planned ahead of time. They are essential to team collaboration, information dissemination, and making decisions.

Daily stand-ups, project updates, and all-hands meetings are a form of meeting that is needed in most remote work environments.

The problem with meetings is when meetings take more of your time over actual work without offering any real benefits. 

I will be expanding on the problems of remote meetings later in the article.

Announcements

A real meeting is about communication and collaboration. Often, a manager may need to inform their team of a decision, update, or important change.

Those are not always needed to be set as a meeting, they are more of a one-way announcement and can be easily avoided by an email, message, or even a video recording.

Video meetings make announcements more exciting, but are a bigger disruption and should be avoided if possible.

Quick Chats

Sometimes, you need an unscheduled quick chat with a colleague.

While working remotely, the simple act of discussing an update or asking for help has been changed to a “meeting”.

We need to mentally separate quick chats from meetings. While they take time, are tedious, or annoying, and break your concentration, they are not meetings.

They are short conversations, usually for the purpose to:

  • Clarify a situation
  • Make a request
  • Solve an issue
  • Progress a Task
  • Share an update

Social Calls

Did you have a slack huddle or a Zoom meeting turn into a chit-chat or a gossip spree?

You must have thought:

“That’s a huge time waster!”

And, yes, it is a huge time waster. But, sometimes it’s as important as actual work.

We are social animals, and socializing with our colleagues is important. For employees, connecting with colleagues is satisfying and leads to more fulfilling work environments. 

Light, social talks with colleagues are also great for out-of-the-box ideation. Great ideas often come when we are discussing them!

But, too many social calls are disturbing in a day. Knowing when to set limits and when to join is an important skill.

Problems in Remote Meetings

A meeting fails its objectives when it provides no value to the company while taking time from other tasks.

There are many reasons why a meeting fails, and here are the most common reasons for a meeting to become a black hole sucking productivity:

No Agenda

Without an agenda, a meeting is easily derailed. Agendas give structure and clarity to meetings and help push the conversation towards a specific goal.

Many times, the meeting organizer thinks an unstructured meeting is great for brainstorming, but without any agenda, goal, or time management, it can easily get out of hand without any results in the end.

Sharing an agenda beforehand helps reduce the risks of having a chaotic meeting and allows participants to prepare for it by bringing data and ideas relevant to the topic.

No Meeting Goal

All meetings need a clear goal. 

A goal can be a decision, a pool of ideas, informing the participants of an update, a project update, etc.

If you are the meeting organizer, ask yourself: “What do I want to achieve from this meeting?”

Then, write it clearly in an actionable way for participants. Here are a few examples of meeting goals:

  • Produce a list of webinar topics for the next year
  • Weekly updates and coordination of the project
  • Discuss the quarterly results and make a list of actions to improve lead capture activities for the next quarter

Attendance

Inviting the right people to the meeting is a challenge. Getting the major stakeholders to attend is another challenge.

The first part of the problem is identifying the stakeholders

  • Who should attend the meeting?
  • Why are they important to the meeting?
  • What do they bring to the table?

A meeting is required when there is conversation and collaboration. It’s nice to invite more people to a meeting to show them they matter or to be informed, but it’s difficult to coordinate a meeting of 7-10 people physically, and even more challenging for remote meetings. The sweet spot for remote meetings would be 2-5 people, after that, it becomes difficult to have a real conversation.

The second part of the problem is having people showing up. Often, an important stakeholder might miss a meeting, this leads to more time wasted if a meeting needs to be rescheduled.

Clear communication and reminders by all parties are required to avoid issues with attendance. If this is a repeated problem for your team, you need to discuss it with the people involved.

Participation

Too much or too little participation can be a problem.

As said before, a meeting is about communication. While there is no need to keep equal time for everyone, the meeting coordinator has to keep an eye on participants. Participating too much without offering value or not participating at all is a problem.

In some cases, participants may be too shy or polite to speak up. In this case, the meeting leader can empower those people by asking them if they have something to share.

It’s important to keep a supportive tone and not force someone to speak.

Time Management

One of the most important responsibilities of the meeting coordinator is to keep time. If there is an agenda, it’s a good idea to add time for each topic and keep an eye on it.

A meeting might need to go longer for a complex issue. But, in most cases, it’s good etiquette to plan correctly and keep the sessions short and on target. 

A delay in one meeting can have rolling impacts on other meetings and waste time for multiple people.

Constant Reschedules

Reschedules happen. Stakeholders might deal with multiple unforeseen events in a day, and this is OK.

However, constant last-minute reschedules impact the schedule and concentration of the participants.

Clear communication is important to alleviate this issue. Ask important stakeholders if the time and date of the meeting work for them.

Cultivating a culture of communication in the company is important. 

A participant might say they can’t attend a meeting. 

Another may inform the organizer that something came up and they can’t attend, as early as possible. 

Best Practises to Follow

How to best avoid these meeting problems? Here are remote meeting best practices to help you have a successful meeting.

Before a Meeting

Some meetings can be an email

Identify why you need a meeting. If it is something that can be said in an email, a Slack message, or even by recording a video message for the team, consider not having a meeting.

Set a meeting goal.

A meeting goal will help the meeting go smoothly by setting up expectations and a clear north star to follow.

Prepare and share an agenda

An agenda gives structure to a meeting, keeps it on-topic, and sets specific expectations. Build an agenda to support the meeting’s goal. Add a time estimation based on the agenda topics.

Communicate requests

If a stakeholder needs to present data, prepare ideas, or come in any way prepared, clearly communicate it to that person.

Scheduling the Meeting

Ask participants about the time

Communicate with the meeting participants and let them know about the possible time(s) for the meeting. Get feedback on the day and time of the meeting before scheduling. This will avoid participation and rescheduling problems.

If possible, check first if all the participants’ calendars show them to be free at that time.

Send calendar invitations

Send an invitation to all participants. Include all the important information like:

  • Meeting place (link to video call or physical location)
  • Date / Time
  • Agenda
  • Goal
  • Documents, presentations, or links

Send reminders

Remind participants about the meeting. Especially for a meeting scheduled many days or weeks ahead, it’s a good idea to send a reminder email or message the day before or a few minutes before.

Make sure that important stakeholders can attend.

During the Meeting

Set clear expectations

Set the expectation of the meeting. Repeating the agenda & goal will help you do so.

Manage time

Time management is one of the most important aspects of a meeting. Keep close to the agenda and keep the timing. Try to keep the meeting in the time decided beforehand.

Manage participation

Be mindful of your participation. Don’t let the meeting be a one-way presentation, ask for people to share their opinion, and keep them from going off-topic.

Write meeting notes

Assign a person to write meeting notes. It’s important to keep notes during the meeting and capture any ideas or important information. 

Not all meetings require notes, but most do.

Move towards the goal

The meeting was set to achieve a specific goal. The meeting organizer has to have that in mind … always! 

Keep track of the goal and move the conversation towards that goal.

After the Meeting

Follow up the meeting as required. You might need to write an email with the takeaways or share the meeting notes.

Conclusion

Meetings are important to disseminate information, make decisions, and come up with new ideas. They are also invaluable ways to connect in a remote work environment.

However, not all meetings need to happen.

Some meetings can be just an email.

And, we all need to learn when to say no to meetings. Your time is the most important resource, and you should value it.

What is your biggest problem when it comes to meetings? Let me know in the comments 👇

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