Why remote meetings don’t work – and how to make them

With more people working remotely there’s greater emphasis on meetings via conference calls or connecting online. It’s far more cost effective but generally not as productive. What happens is that we try to have the same meeting we could have if they were all there in the same room. But of course it’s a totally different medium, a different experience. OK some of the same basic rules apply, but remote meetings have some very different characteristics. SO how do we make remote meetings more productive?

Get the right people on the call

How often do we sit on conference calls with no idea why we’re there or how we can contribute? And we find other things to occupy us!

The Harvard Business Review conducted a survey about what people get up to during conference calls and the answers probably won’t surprise you:

65% other work
63% send emails
55% eating or making food
21% online shopping
09% exercising!!

You take my point? So best get to get them onside first. So even before you set the agenda make sure the right people are on the call, only the ones that actually need to be there. Get in touch with them individually, explain what you’re trying to achieve, and make sure they can be there and want to be there. Sure you can demand that people attend, but that isn’t a great motivator is it? Also if you can’t see them, or what they’re doing, you’ll never know if they’re really on the same page.

Set a detailed agenda

Once your clear, and they’re clear, why they need to be on the call, then you can set a detailed agenda. But as this is remote meeting, make it short, sharp and punchy. This will increase focus and save time. Make sure the call details are logged clearly. The phone number, dial in protocols, pin numbers, so that you make it easy for people. Don’t expect them to remember that the details were on that other email chain from 3 weeks ago!
Don’t try to cover too much ground, in remote meetings it is more difficult to focus for long period so if you try to get too much done, then their attention span will wane and they’ll drift off, (and do other work or online shopping!) All of those involved must be bought in to all the items on the agenda. This is why we keep it short and focused otherwise people will drift off when it’s not relevant to them. If it’s not relevant to them they shouldn’t be on the call.

Get them speaking

If it’s just you doing all the talking then their energy levels will deplete and they’ll just have to find other stuff to do. So make sure they HAVE to contribute, and set this out in the agenda;
“John to speak for 5 minutes to update us on the Lute Project
“Sarah to take us through the progress on the ERP implementation”

And you can ask ‘round robin’ questions to keep them alert: “Martha what do you think of the point John made earlier?” “Over to you Tom, how do you think we should approach this?”
That will keep them on their toes, they will all stay focused. All of them will contribute, you’ll achieve your goals and the team will be OK about having another meeting!

OK you can’t see them so you don’t know if they’re on it, but then you can ask very specific questions to check and that will focus everyone’s mind, just in case they’re asked next!

Prepare them

It’s also helpful if you can send them something to look at so you know you are all on the same page. This could be an agenda, or a PowerPoint or a set of figures, just a focal point so you can make sure they stick with you. And you can say:
“If we look at last year’s sales figures” or “Let’s get to item three on the agenda”
or “Let’s all focus on slide four.” There shouldn’t be many more than 3-4 items on a remote meeting agenda.