How to master distributed meetings

This post is an excerpt from my book DISTRIBUTED.

There are several types of meetings you can have with your distributed team. Here is a handful of these and how to master them.

The daily stand-up. Running virtual daily stand-up meetings is a great way to make sure your entire team is communicating and on the same page. Each person spends a very brief amount of time (5-10 minutes max) saying what they did yesterday, what they’re doing today and what’s in their way. These meetings can help you identify roadblocks or obstacles that are preventing a team member from doing their optimal work.

The regularly scheduled one-to-one meeting is one of the most powerful tools that any manager can use in order to improve team productivity. A one-to-one meeting is a regular meeting that occurs at the same time each week (or less frequently, depending on your preference). It’s the place where you and one of your employees meet and no one else. It’s the place where you can communicate with each other and follow-up with each other on the things unique to your working relationship. The one-to-one meeting is a place where both parties should feel respected and valued, and it’s the place where you can ask each other questions openly. This isn’t to say that you’re not going to have occasional emergencies or questions that need to be dealt with outside of this meeting, but when you have a recurring schedule, you’ll find that you can wait to ask those questions until the recurring meeting – freeing both of your time, increasing your productivity, and reducing the stress of workdays.

Pairing is the practice of giving two teammates the opportunity to work together on solving a problem. Qualitative and quantitative evidence suggests that when employees work in pairs, they work much faster and make fewer mistakes. Additionally, when people are paired up, they learn to communicate more easily and often, and to share (rather than hide) problems and solutions — all of which increases overall information flow and team alignment. As a leader, one of your tasks is to help your team create a shared vision, build team identity, and bring your employees closer together. Virtual team with a strong identity are more capable of coordinating, performing and overcoming conflicts, irrespective of locational, cultural, or individual challenges.

Weekly sessions are the form of a meeting where you generate ideas and solve problems. But sometimes the extroverts dominate and shier team members can have trouble being heard. Some people also have trouble staying focused, maintaining their enthusiasm or simply confused why they’re in the session. In order to overcome these barriers and run an awesome brainstorming meeting, always make sure to send out the brief 24 hours beforehand, so everyone can prepare. The brief should outline what the challenge is, why it is important, and why each person has been asked to take part in the brainstorming. Ask everyone to come along with three ideas: one usual idea, one idea that is different, and a radical one. If your distributed team is diverse enough, you can definitely count on a range of perspectives and experiences. Encourage your employees to be bold and imaginative.

You can hold a weekly group chat session with your distributed team to reflect on the progress, issues, and actions. These meetings should have an agenda communicated in advance. A standard agenda for regular team meetings also helps set consistent expectations for types of information the meeting will cover. The goal should be a meeting of no longer than one hour to quickly review where the project is, highlight issues, look ahead to looming milestones, and make sure everyone has what they need. Meeting frequency depends on several factors: the size of the team, the priority of the project in question, etc.

You are free to use a number of tools or platforms, but I suggest you give each communication channel a specific purpose. For example, use Skype for live chatting or urgent conversations, Zoom for online meetings and Slack for messages that aren’t pressing, with a designated water cooler channel for fun or informal conversations. When your employees have a plan for how to best get in touch with teammates for each situation, everyone can avoid wasted time, frustration, and missed connections.

 

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At Anywhere Consulting, we help entrepreneurs to launch, build and grow their remote business. We provide support and consulting services as well as educational products to overcome the challenges of remote businesses. If you are a freelancer who wants to launch a distributed business or you already have an established business but want to grow remotely, we can help you.