Many months into the pandemic, companies and individuals are still grappling with the challenges of working apart. Employees have more distractions at home and can find it harder to focus, while some companies became obsessed with maintaining their brick-and-mortar culture in ways that are unnecessary and counterproductive. Drawing on my own experiences advising companies on how to maintain performance while working remotely, here are some tips on getting the most out of your online meetings:
- Flex your meeting time. From managing hundreds of online events, I can tell you the maximum anyone should be in an online meeting is four hours—and two hours is much better. Any longer and participants will experience significant muscle and eye fatigue, not to mention be tempted by the distractions that come with working remotely.
- Template everything. When managers ran meetings in person, they could ban phones and hold everyone’s attention. That control is gone. Instead, they need to build virtual walls and a structure to keep things on track. This is where templates for meeting agendas, action items, business reviews, etc. come into play. Make them available from a central dashboard and reinforce on calls where they are and how to find them.
- Protest pointless meetings. Do not invite people to a meeting who don’t need to be there. Don’t take valuable chunks of work time away from team members for a call they don’t need to be on.
- Treat meetings like contract discussions. To accomplish anything of substance, set a strong agenda and stick to it. Get opinions from everyone, and consider implementing anonymous input forms for those who are uncomfortable with sharing. You’ll be amazed how engagement increases. Like a contract, you need to document what the team decided, and what the priorities are. Put those in the meeting minutes and follow up on them.
- Don’t drive yourself to distraction. Train yourself to cut down distractions to improve productivity. Turn off your phone and notifications; otherwise someone may ask you something and there will be that dead air as everyone waits for you to respond.
Don’t try to replicate the in-person experience by getting everyone in front of a screen for multiple hours over multiple days. Instead, consider this an opportunity to rethink and re-engineer the experience in ways that make sense in a new world. PM