Google's 10,000 employees are distributed across over 150 cities. Google has offices in more than 50 countries. Two in five Google teams include employees working from different locations.
This means lots of coordination and logistics involving meetings on video chat. Veronica Gilrane, the manager of Google's People Innovation Lab, wanted to learn more about the productivity and effectiveness of Google's distributed team model.
Over the course of two years, Gilrane surveyed 5,600 Google employees and held focus groups with about 100. She published her findings on the Google blog. Many recommendations come down to creating a better virtual meeting culture.
Allow (and encourage) mindless chit chat.
If you don't work in the same open office as your colleagues, you have fewer impromptu conversations. You don't run into them in the halls or while topping off your coffee. This means fewer opportunities to get to know your coworkers and build interpersonal relationships.
Remote and distributed workers can work towards building those connections in meetings.
At the start of a meeting, you may be tempted to dive straight into the agenda so you can be as productive as possible. Google recommends you kick off the meeting with an open-ended question instead, such as, "What did you do this weekend?" Those few minutes of seemingly pointless chit chat are not pointless at all; It helps employees in different locations bond.
If you're a manager, lead this charge. "We found managers leading by example and making an extra effort to get to know distributed team members can be extra impactful," Gilrane says.
Even better: Try to arrive a few minutes early to meetings so you can chat with other early attendees about non-work related topics.
For recurring meetings, switch up the time.
At Google, 30 percent of meetings involve employees in two or more time zones. Often the time difference is dramatic. For example, someone in Asia might have to wake up at an ungodly hour to attend a meeting with their colleagues based in the United States. Or, someone on Pacific Time in San Francisco might have to stay at work super late.
Depending on the size of the team and where employees work, it can be impossible to find a meeting time that falls within everyone's working hours. If this team needs to meet at a regular frequency, switch up the meeting time each week. This effectively rotates who will be most inconvenienced. Then, it's not always the same person waking up early or staying late.
Use your words -- and your face.
Video conferencing software has come a long way. So has video meeting etiquette. By now, most people know to mute themselves when they're not talking to minimize background noise. If you're eating or something distracting is happening behind you, it's also good practice to turn off your camera.
But if your video and microphone are always muted, people can't see or hear if you're engaged in the meeting. Gilrane recommends that you put in a little extra effort to reinforce that you're listening.
This could mean unmuting your microphone to validate someone else's idea. (e.g. "mmhmm," or "Sounds like a good idea.") Also consider how your body language reflects your engagement. Nod your head if you agree with a point made. Uncross your arms and don't slouch in your chair. Sit upright to show you're listening.
When attending a video meeting in a conference room with a faraway camera, zoom in so the other meeting attendees can see your facial expressions. Close your laptop and be present. If you're typing on your laptop the whole time (and not the notetaker), it's pretty clear you're not paying attention.
Google's Distributed Work Playbook has several more tips like these for distributed employees and their managers. While some of the takeaways can seem obvious, it might be helpful to brush up on how to make video meetings more enjoyable and productive.