Tips and tricks for planning meetings in a remote workplace

In 1966, The Futurist published a newsletter that made predictions about life in the 2020s. From housewives shopping via video call to people being paid not to work - as machines have eliminated the need - some suggestions come close to an optimistic comparison of George Orwell’s 1984.

As much as technology has helped us in the last few years, it hasn’t eliminated work. That said, it has made it easier and remote working is just one of the ways. So much so that according to a report by Remote.com, two-thirds of US businesses plan to offer remote or flexible working arrangements in the next five years.

Flexible working is great for boosting productivity and staff morale, but how do you make sure you connect with your team, make effective decisions and drive business results? Here are some tips for getting on top of planning meetings with remote employees.

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Let’s start with scheduling

When it comes to scheduling in a remote workplace, it can’t be understated how vital clear communication is.

Establish a consistent meeting schedule. With everyone working from all over the world, check-ins with your team help you make sure you know what’s happening and help with planning and decision-making. Recurring meetings don’t have to be difficult to plan. Find a time that works for everyone and block it out well in advance so people can plan it into their weeks. This will help everyone know when to expect meetings, reduce the number of last-minute requests and ensure everyone comes prepared.

Choose the video conferencing tool for you. There are a lot of different virtual meeting platforms out there, from Zoom to Google Meet. Each of them offers different features, so make sure to choose the one that works best for your team's needs, is easy to use and integrates into your workflow.

Utilize scheduling apps. Tools like Doodle can help you schedule meetings and reduce the email back-and-forth of finding a time that works for everyone. For instance, as a manager, you can create a Booking Page that will allow your team to connect with you but only when you’re free.

Time zone detection. With team members in different parts of the world, getting a grasp of different time zones is going to be key. Doodle can do this automatically, helping to make scheduling even more seamless. Make a poll and see how easy it is.

Now it’s time to prep

You have your meetings scheduled, but how do you ensure it delivers results? Ensuring they run smoothly and efficiently is going to be vital to driving growth. 

Have a clear agenda. Before each meeting, take some time to plan and create a clear agenda that outlines the purpose and goals of the meeting. In this, you should set out how long you want to spend on each topic and list them by priority, so the essentials are covered. This will help keep the meeting on track and ensure everyone is on the same page.

Keep distractions to a minimum. In a remote work environment, it can be easy to get distracted. You can minimize these in a number of different ways. Consider muting participants when they’re not speaking and encourage people to use virtual backgrounds when they have things going on to help people stay focused on what they’re saying on what’s happening behind them.

Share notes and meeting minutes. When you’re getting together with your team, you should always make sure someone is taking minutes. This will help you create action points that need to be completed once you’re done. After each meeting, make sure to share these notes with all participants. This will ensure that everyone is on the same page, has access to the information discussed and necessary follow-ups can happen.

Use polls. It’s important for employee satisfaction for them to feel valued. In meetings, you want to make sure they’re engaged. You can kill two birds with one stone by using polls in your group meetings. This can be a great way to get feedback and gauge the opinions of your team and with a lot of video conferencing tools is easy to do instantly.

With the foundations in place, build.

Remote working has many upsides. It allows more flexibility, improves work-life balance and can help staff stay productive. However, it can make it more difficult for employees to build and maintain personal connections with their colleagues. There are a few things as a manager you can do to help bring your team together.

Virtual coffee breaks. Don’t make all your meetings about work. Schedule virtual coffee breaks or sessions where team members can come together and chat informally. Not only is this a great way to build camaraderie, but it could have a positive business effect too. For instance, it might help people feel more comfortable reaching out to colleagues and asking questions where they might have been hesitant before. On a larger scale and where possible try and get people together in person for a social activity like bowling or dinner. You can make a quick poll to find a time that suits everyone. 

Team building exercises. Consider incorporating team-building exercises into your virtual meetings. It doesn’t have to be something that requires a lot of planning, but a quick icebreaker can help people feel a little more relaxed before getting down to business. This can be a fun way to promote collaboration - even in a work-from-home environment.

Non-verbal cues. In virtual meetings, it can be more difficult to read non-verbal cues. In fact, during the COVID-19 pandemic, so-called ‘Zoom fatigue’ grew exponentially. Make sure to pay attention to body language and tone of voice during virtual meetings. If you notice someone seems a little stressed or not quite themself, reach out to them. 

Regular check-ins.Checking in with staff is important - especially in a remote setting. Schedule regular 1:1s with your team. This can be a great way to keep everyone connected and to ensure they feel heard and valued.

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