10 Tips for Remote Teams
Written with Anton McBurnie at CoSuccess
For over ten years, we’ve been working in small consultancies where there were no central offices, just colleagues connecting in from different countries and cities. Remote team working has been a way of life for us for long before external factors necessitated it.
As the corporate world rushes to embrace what may become the ‘new normal’ of remote working, we are hearing over and over that it’s a lot harder than people expected. So, to start off, here are our top 10 tips to help virtual meetings work well...
Agree on an ‘etiquette’
Bigger is not better
Be super clear about each meeting’s purpose
Set out the process in advance
Use visual management and live scribing
Manage airtime well
Keep things moving
Capture and circulate actions quickly
Use an offline tool to continue the conversation
Do the simple things well
1. Agree on your online meeting’s ‘etiquette’
Whichever online tools you are using, agree explicit ground rules within the team about your preferred ways of working (i.e. is video optional?), what functionality you will use, why you will use it and check everyone knows how to use it. Review your rules regularly, so you know what is working for your team. If you are interested, our standard rule is ‘On Video, Off Mute’.
2. Bigger is not better
Unless the meeting is to broadcast mass information, limit the number of participants. Research consistently shows that participation and contribution levels drop significantly when more than 7 people are present. In virtual meetings, we find 4 to 6 is the sweet spot. Consider breaking a larger remote team into subgroups of 3-5 people, and agree a way for the subgroups to check-in regularly with each other and stay aligned (we use Zoom as our platform and the breakout rooms feature works perfectly for this).
3. Be super clear about each meeting’s purpose
We don’t mean the agenda or the meeting title, such as ‘Weekly Finance Team Meeting’. What is the meeting actually for – what is it there to achieve? Shifting from face-to-face to virtual meetings presents a great opportunity to evaluate this, and make sure that the purpose of each meeting is explicit, not assumed.
4. Set out the process in advance
To ensure that our virtual meetings are productive, well-run and properly prepared, we use our ‘Why, How, What of Great Meetings’ approach to stay on track.
Why – are we having this meeting?
How – will we conduct the meeting? (agenda, roles, ground rules)
What – needs to be prepared in advance?
Have a quick check-in on the purpose at the start, then gather participants’ views and data, before progressing to a review and discussion. Allow time before the end to capture action points clearly.
5. Use visual management and live scribing
Have something on screen to share: a shared document, for example, or a whiteboard that team members can annotate. You can even live scribe - ask someone to write up the meeting as you go on a Word document, Google doc or even shared iPad notes. It helps everyone see what’s being said, test assumptions, correct miscommunications and get to a clear output at the end of the meeting.
6. Manage airtime well
Sharing airtime can be harder when you are meeting virtually. Tune in to participation levels. Make sure that the meeting is not dominated by just a few, often the same, voices. Bring quieter voices in by asking them if they would like to add to what has been said so far (using a remote meeting’s Chat box is also a good way to get quieter colleagues to contribute).
7. Keep things moving
It’s easy for participants to check out, losing attention and focus. Maintain momentum, participation and energy levels. Agree on a ground rule for how you are going to shift things on when you need to. Make pace everyone’s responsibility. For example, the toymaker LEGO uses the ‘ELMO rule’ to keep things moving – when it feels like the discussion is continuing too long, anyone can call ‘ELMO’ – ‘Enough, Let’s Move On’.
8. Capture and circulate actions quickly
In a remote working environment, team members need to know what they need to do when they leave. They can’t check informally with colleagues in the same way that they would do it when they were all in the same building. Ensure that the action points are summarized clearly before the meeting closes, with timings and responsibilities assigned, and then send them out as soon as you can. If you are live scribing, that can be the instant that the meeting finishes!
9. Use an offline tool to continue the conversation
In a virtual environment, subtle differences in understandings can develop into full-on misunderstandings. Use an online tool like Salesforce Chatter, Slack or even WhatsApp to keep that informal discussion going between meetings. For managers, avoid micromanaging! Build in informal individual check-ins, ideally by voice rather than email. One or two check-ins between team meetings is usually enough.
10. Do the simple things well
Although the technology of remote working can really help your team be productive, it can also be a distraction. Keep things simple at first, until the team feels it has mastered the basics of productive remote team meetings – good participation, purposeful meetings, smart decisions, clear actions and follow-up- then consider some of the other cool tools of your platform.
The important thing is, keep learning about what works for your team and consider asking an experienced team coach to be a fly on the wall of some of your team meetings. You can receive some really rich and valuable insights into the dynamics of the team, helping you to leverage where things are working well and to spot opportunities for improvement.
If you are firstname.lastname@example.org.