16 Tips on How to Make Remote Meetings More Efficient (+ Apps & Tools)
With the outbreak of the global pandemic and the growing popularity of remote work, remote meetings became an essential part of every workflow. Most managers prefer face-to-face meetings and perceive remote ones as less productive. But the good news is that there is always a possibility to adapt and improve the remote collaboration processes and outcomes.
To help you maximize the productivity of remote meetings, we’ve created the following list of tips. Read on to learn how to prepare for remote meetings, how to hold them effectively and what you can do to make sure that you and your team members will make the most of it.
Before the Meeting
1. Pick Meeting Tools
Any remote meeting is based on three pillars: connection, collaboration and feedback. Here are our top suggestions for each category:
- Connection tools: Zoom, Skype for Business, Microsoft Teams, Discord
- Collaboration tools: Slack, Google Slides, Google Jamboard, Trello, Coggle
- Feedback tools: Google Forms, SurveyMonkey
With these essentials, you can be sure that participants will feel more engaged. Don’t forget to notify them about your choice of tools beforehand. Otherwise, you’ll have to waste some meeting time to set your meeting environment.
2. Sharpen the Meeting Agenda
Meetings take the time and effort of all the participants, so the best way you can save these resources is to prepare the meeting agenda in advance. Create a detailed plan of all the items you plan to cover and make sure that this order of items is the most digestible one for your listeners.
To make the most of the meeting, you may want to use questions instead of items for discussion in your meeting plan. Questions will allow you to get a better understanding of who should be invited to the meeting, what problems should be solved instead of abstract topics covered. When you cover all the questions from your agenda, you may be sure that you’ve reached the goal of the meeting.
For maximum meeting productivity, share your agenda with the participants in advance so that they could prepare their questions and ideas.
3. Set Time Properly
When scheduling the meeting time, you need to decide whose priorities come first. For example, if you intend to include team members related to the client service, you’ll want to prioritize their needs and adjust meeting time to their schedules because clients always come first. Or if your team is scattered across the globe and different time zones, you need to consider their local time or schedule different meetings for participants from different parts of the world.
Think about the duration of the meeting and don’t hesitate to schedule strict time limits. Check with your meeting agenda and make sure that you’ll have enough time to cover all the items and hold a discussion. At the same time, a shorter meeting length creates positive pressure and makes you focus on the most important ideas.
For more productivity, notify your team about the start time of the meeting and its approximate duration so that all participants could schedule their time properly.
4. Develop and Share the Rules
Regardless of the type of meeting, you need to develop the scenario to make it organized and productive. Are you going to ask introductory questions or go ahead with your speech first? Can participants ask questions as they arise or wait until you finish with the presentation? In which cases attendants should use voice and text chats? All these questions should be carefully thought through and communicated to the participants.
5. Plan Ice-Breakers
Remote work creates not only physical but also emotional distance between employees. When you gather a remote meeting and see familiar faces joining the video call, you can’t expect them to be initiative right away after they’ve spent most of their day at home in a comfy atmosphere. So, if you hold remote meetings, it’s your responsibility to break the ice and make your team members engage in the conversation.
When it comes to ideas of ice-breaking activities, your imagination and your corporate culture are the only restrictions. You can find dozens of ideas on the Internet, but below, we list our favorites to inspire you.
- Coffee time. Gather together in a video chat room and have tea or coffee together, just like during the office coffee breaks. Feel free to discuss the weather, hobbies, plans for weekends — anything that is not related to work.
- Trivia quiz. Create a quiz about any topic, share your screen, host the quiz and let your meeting participants discuss the answer options and submit the winning choice. Trivia quizzes can either be related to work (e.g., fact quiz that introduces participants to the topic of the meeting) or not related (e.g., team trivia quiz where participants should answer fun questions about their colleagues).
- Team photo. Take a funny team photo on the video chat platform. Allow the meeting participants to choose a funny video background photo, put on weird hats and clothes or decide which funny face to make. Give them a few minutes to get ready and snap.
Plan icebreakers and team-building activities before the start of the meeting and include them in your meeting plan.
6. Communicate the Meeting Context
Most remote meetings require introducing the participants to the details such as the topic of the meeting, its duration, what kind of participants’ interaction is expected. To do this, you may want to send pre-meeting emails or send a message to the meeting chat in Slack.
Regular meetings, e.g., standup meetings, usually don’t require any introductions, but brainstorms could go either way.
During the Meeting
7. Set the Mood
Mood has a significant impact on how we feel and behave, especially in the working environment. As the meeting host, it’s important that you set the right meeting tone for the remote meeting. Start the meeting with energy and set a positive mood to encourage creativity and productivity.
Introduce the planned ice-breaking activity at the onset of the meeting to create a positive atmosphere at the meeting. Hold a brainstorming session, create a trivia quiz or something fun to lighten the mood and encourage participants to engage. Keep this spirit alive through the whole meeting.
8. Introduce Everyone
Not everyone turns their cameras on during the remote video meetings and a long list of participants may not display all the users present at the meeting. In any case, it is a good practice to introduce speakers and attendants of the meeting. You may also want to invite your participants to introduce themselves, if necessary.
9. Remind of the Meeting Goal
Introduce or remind the participants of the meeting goal and objectives. Use visual aids such as presentations, collaboration whiteboards and mind maps to make your introduction more engaging.
After you introduce the agenda, it’s the best time to share the meeting rules and plan. Explain to the participants the meeting scenario, the order of topics and speakers, the rules on when they can ask the questions. For example, suppose you are planning to hold a brainstorming session. In that case, you may want to notify the participants about that in advance to avoid unnecessary interruptions during the course of the meeting.
10. Split the Roles Between Attendants
To hold an effective remote meeting, you need to keep track of many things, which makes it almost impossible to handle everything on your own. Pick a few attendants and assign special roles to them to help you hold the meeting.
Here are a few role ideas:
- Facilitator — responsible for guiding the attendants towards reaching the meeting goal by setting the meeting pace, asking open questions to start discussions, leading decisions and capturing action points.
- Notetaker — records key ideas, decisions, results. These notes are usually sent out in the follow-up letters after the meeting.
- Timekeeper — makes sure that every agenda item receives enough time and attention. For example, they limit time spent on each topic and notify the attendants about time running out.
In case of recurring meetings, assign these roles to different people or run a lottery so that nobody knows which role they’ll get the next time. This will improve the engagement of the meeting attendants.
Our top picks of time tracking apps: actiTIME
11. Be Engaging
Speaking of engagement, no one likes boring meetings. We’ve already mentioned ice breakers that set the tone of the meeting. To keep the attendants’ attention, we advise the following ideas:
- Set expectations for the participants’ engagement
- Run short team-building activities
- Take time to celebrate achievements
- Use quizzes to introduce attendants to the meeting agenda
- Encourage the use of the text chat
- Use online whiteboards to create flow charts and other visuals
- Run opinion polls
- Allow attendants to submit anonymous questions
To understand the importance of this advice, think of college professors whose lectures are monotonous and tedious — their main mistake is that they prioritize information and facts over the audience. One of the key elements of any performance is to be mindful of your audience and encourage their participation.
12. Use Interactive Tools
To encourage employee engagement and make the most of remote meetings, you can implement various online tools for surveying, brainstorming and visualizing. Here are some of our top picks.
Interactive apps will allow even the shyest employees to involve and participate in meeting activities. Whiteboards and mind maps will help the participants to come up with new ideas and grasp new concepts with more ease. At the same time, polls and quizzes will break the ice and help you to collect feedback.
13. Ask Participants to Contribute
Remind participants of their responsibility to contribute to the meeting. The best way to do it is to ask attendees of their perspectives on the meeting agenda regardless of their position, e.g., ask your online marketers and customer support agents to share their thoughts on the product development. Or try the “nowhere to hide” rule: assign people to groups, define the problem they need to solve and give them a limited timeframe to come up with the solution.
Here are a few more ideas of how to get people to participate in remote meetings:
- Take polls. Incorporate polls and surveys throughout the event. Take anonymous polls if it’s a sensitive topic.
- Ask open questions. As a meeting host, be genuinely interested in collecting as many opinions as possible. Ask questions that require creativity, imagination or analysis e.g., ask employees from other departments to review a new product feature and share their opinion.
- Get them to collaborate. Use online whiteboards for brainstorming sessions or encourage collective note-taking using Google Docs.
- Take breaks. After you introduce the agenda and finish your presentation, take a break to allow participants to digest and reflect on the information.
Remember that during remote meetings, participants can only hear one person at a time clearly, so establish the rules on how to take turns and mute those who ignore them.
After the Meeting
14. Clarify Takeaways
Before the meeting is over, refresh the key takeaways to keep in mind. Summarize the most important ideas, next steps or individual tasks and responsibilities that have been identified and assigned during the meeting. Here are a few ideas for the perfect takeaway part:
- Highlight key ideas
- Ask for questions
- List action items
- Set deadlines
This closing stage of the meeting is essential to the meeting’s success because it helps the participants remember and write them down if they haven’t done that yet.
15. Send Follow-ups
To make sure that all the participants can get back to the meeting takeaways anytime and people responsible for taking the next steps won’t forget about that, you need to send follow-ups to all the participants. Pick the distribution channel that will ensure that the follow-ups will reach as many people as possible e.g., for this reason, you may prefer to use a Slack channel over emails.
Another best practice of engaging follow-ups is to add a touch of creativity and humor. Include gifs and funny pics, add funny quotes and ideas from the meeting, give thanks to the most participating attendants, celebrate the brightest ideas and make it a habit. Make the meeting participants wait for your next follow-up message each time after the meeting.
16. Ask for Feedback
Finally, one of the essential tips for meeting hosts is to ask for feedback and learn from it. Prepare quick online surveys where meeting participants can anonymously share their opinions and offer ideas for improvement. Use this feedback to reflect, learn and introduce new tools and approaches during your next meeting.
To keep post-meeting messages and notifications to the minimum, include the link to the feedback-gathering form in the follow-up email or message.
Remote Work is Here to Stay
The global shift to remote work has proved many benefits for employers and employees. Companies are planning to cut their commercial space and allow most of their employees to work from home 2–4 days per week with only a few days in the office if needed. So, remote meetings and online tools became an essential part of every workflow.