Meetings may be necessary, but they aren’t always the best use of your team’s time. Running an effective meeting requires time management, communication, and organization. This becomes more difficult when managing a blended team of remote and office-based workers. There are unique challenges that come with a dispersed team, so we’ll provide some tips to help make your next meeting much better for everyone involved.
Meetings are the way businesses get things done. When done well, they can boost team productivity and make it easy for everyone to communicate and collaborate effectively. But meetings also have a dark side, and we’ve all seen it. If you’re not careful, meetings can silently steal away billable hours and productivity, which drains engagement and profits. Things get even more difficult when your company has a blended team of in-house and remote workers. Not only will you need to account for the loss of physical cues and body language that come with daily, face-to-face interactions, but it will also take a lot more work to make sure your remote workers feel like they’re a part of the company culture. To be successful, your team needs to come together and find what works best for everyone. Here are 9 tips for running an effective meeting that positions your remote and in-office team members to be successful.
1. Preparation is everything
Preparation is important for any meeting, but it is even more so when you’re working with a blended team of office-based and remote workers. There are unique challenges that arise when some team members are located in different offices, countries, or time zones. The person responsible for scheduling the meeting should understand the needs of all attendees and nail down a time that works. A great way to streamline this process is by creating a team agreement. This shared document includes the best times for meetings, per each team member, and additional information on communication styles, preferred tools, etc. Team members can update the document freely as their preferences or availability changes.
Any important documents that need to be reviewed before the meeting also should be shared. No one likes spending the first 15 minutes of a meeting getting caught up on documentation that could be communicated ahead of time.
2. Have an agenda and stick to it
Once everyone on the team is prepared for the meeting, a clearly-defined agenda is essential. An agenda will keep meetings on track and give your team a clear sense of what needs to be accomplished in the time allotted. This helps to cut down on back and forth when the meeting starts, and it lets the team get down to what’s important faster. Your meeting agenda should include the following items to give each team member an accurate idea of how the meeting will proceed:
Length — The amount of time allotted for the meeting
Attendees — Everyone who will be involved, and what they’re responsible for
Items to discuss — What will be talked about in the meeting
Important documents — Any information that needs to be reviewed
The intended outcome — What you want to get out of the meeting
This is by no means a comprehensive list of what you can include in your meeting agenda, but it is a great place to get started. This helps the entire team know what they’re responsible for contributing and lets anyone speak up if the meeting is getting off track. Make sure that everyone is very clear on the last point — the intended outcome. Without that guidepost, it’s easy for meetings to drift or get lost in off-topic discussions, which wastes a lot of time.
3. Designate a leader to help everyone stay on track
Every meeting should have a designated point person who is responsible for making sure the meeting stays focused. The meeting leader should make sure that the meeting agenda makes sense for the time allowed and should rein in the conversation if it moves too far off track. When remote team members are included in the meeting, office-based employees should be aware of how side conversations and background noise can cause confusion for online attendees. Focus in the meeting suffers when it’s too difficult to hear what people are saying. Nominating a meeting leader will also help cut down on cross talk and awkward silences. The person in charge of the meeting will have the ability to bridge the gap of those silences by refocusing the group and stop people talking over one another when that occurs.
4. Invite only the people who need to be there
Taking time out of the day to attend a meeting can potentially have a negative effect on productivity. We’ve all arrived at a meeting and thought, “Why am I here?” The point person for the meeting needs to ensure that every attendee feels like a contributor, not a bystander.
Reach out to everyone attending; if a team member is unable to communicate their reason for being in a meeting, it’s likely that they don’t need to be there. A meeting can be a waste of time for someone who has nothing to contribute. It’s especially important to protect the productivity of members on creative teams who need long periods of uninterrupted time to complete their tasks. Employees who are in a direct customer support role also need special consideration. When working remotely, they’ll need to communicate their absence to the team and ensure there is proper coverage.
5. Learn how every team member communicates
Team communication isn’t rocket science, but it does require an understanding of team members’ preferences. Some team members will be direct in their communication, others may need time to process information before forming an opinion. Running a successful meeting means that everyone needs to have the emotional intelligence to be flexible and communicate effectively with their peers. Blended teams will face challenges when learning how to navigate these communication styles, as it’s likely they will be connecting with their peers only through a platform like Teamwork Chat or Slack. Communication styles change significantly once the team is speaking with one another face to face. The meeting leader can help in this situation as well. When someone needs time to process information before making decisions, they should have access to meeting materials before the actual meeting occurs. And if any brainstorming or other collaborative work needs to be done, the meeting leader can make sure that everyone has a chance to give input.
6. Always recap before ending the meeting
Meeting agendas are often very ambitious to make best use of the time, so it’s not a surprise that some details get lost in the flood of information. When wrapping up a meeting, make sure that attendees have clearly defined takeaways. Communicating these next steps at the end of the meeting helps ensure that each team member leaves with specific tasks and next steps. No one should leave a meeting with questions about how they should proceed. Whenever next steps are outlined, it’s important to leave five minutes for the team to ask questions and communicate their needs. Remote workers will be more affected by this than others, as they don’t have the same ability to have a quick conversation with everyone who attended the meeting. Office-based workers can pull someone aside for a quick chat much more easily.
7. Send follow-up emails
Once the meeting is complete, everyone involved in the call should share their notes with the meeting leader. That way, a follow-up email can be sent within 24 hours of the meeting ending. This helps reinforce the conversations that occurred and gives each team member a way to check back on what they need to accomplish. Follow-up emails also act as a written record of the conversations had during a meeting. This is very important for blended teams that do not have face-to-face contact with one another, as well as for meetings that include a client. Sending a follow-up email with deliverables, due dates, fees, etc., will help keep your team in line with the client’s expectations. It can be helpful to keep a running document of meeting notes as well. This will provide historical context for the team and give new meeting attendees a place to catch up on any previous conversations.
8. Set meetings for more than just work
Being a member of a blended team presents many different challenges for both office-based and remote workers. While it’s important to keep meetings strategic and have a clear purpose, sometimes that purpose should be getting to know one another. Encouraging socialization among team members is something that is easy to do when everyone’s in the office, but remote workers need to schedule the time to get to know each other. Giving your team the ability to meet one another in more than a work capacity not only will allow more personal interactions, but it is also a great way to boost morale. Working remotely can be isolating for some, so it’s important to foster a team culture in the office and online.
9. Get together IRL
Many fully-remote companies will have yearly retreats where they can get together to see one another in person. When you work on a blended team, this can also be a great tactic for team building so you can keep the company culture consistent for both remote and in-office employees. A yearly, quarterly, or monthly all-hands retreat can help foster relationships for the entire team, and it doesn’t need to be lavish. Focus on creating a time and place where people can connect with one another on a more personal level, and you can promote a healthy culture for employees. Meeting in person also gives your team a different way to collaborate. Your office-based and remote employees can share their perspectives in a more cohesive setting, and it’s fun!
When your team is spread across locations and time zones, it can be challenging to run effective meetings. However, with a little planning and direction, you can create meetings that consistently give your blended team the chance to receive essential information quickly and give them the opportunity to work together smoothly. To improve the quality of your meetings, make sure you give each one a strong foundation by clearly establishing the topic, agenda, and attendees — and then assign a point person to keep everyone focused. As the meeting is wrapping up, make sure the group has met the intended outcomes, and then follow up with action items and important takeaways within 24 hours. Paying attention to these important details before, after and during the meeting will ensure that any attendee, whether they’re present in real life or virtually, feels like they’re an important part of an accomplished team.