As the owner of a fully-remote company, I conduct a lot of remote meetings. I spend the majority of my day on video conference calls, and at one point, it wasn't uncommon for me to sit through over eight hours of meetings in one day.
You might be wondering how I stay sane. Well, I've been able to decrease the amount of time I spend in meetings and make them more productive with a few simple tactics.
Here are my four best tips for conducting productive remote meetings without losing your sanity.
1. Use an agenda tool.
The number one key to having an effective meeting (remote or not) is for everyone to come prepared. An agenda minimizes downtime during the session and keeps all participants on a strict schedule. It prevents the meeting from getting off track, and it gives everyone an equal say in the discussion.
For remote meetings, having a collaborative agenda tool that integrates with your calendar is essential. There are a handful of programs that can do this--Minute, Lucid Meetings, and Cisco Spark Meeting Notes are some of the best--although I am partial to Cisco Spark Meeting Notes, thanks to its calendar integration and collaborative design. It's a simple tool that integrates with your calendar and automatically creates an agenda for each calendar item.
The important part is that it shares the agenda with all participants, allowing everyone to add agenda items and make notes before, during, and after the meeting. Whether it's a one-on-one call or a team huddle with over 50 participants, there is no excuse for not coming prepared.
2. Use the agenda properly.
One of the biggest mistakes I see people make in a remote workplace is bringing up issues in Slack or email that don't need to be discussed at that moment or are better suited for a call.
If you have a thought you'd like to bring up with someone--like whether or not the new hire is working out--take a moment to think about whether it needs to be discussed now or if it can wait until the next time you meet with them. I've found the vast majority of these things are not urgent--so, instead of bothering them with Slack notifications or emails, you can add it to a meeting agenda.
Not only does this help them stay free of distractions, but it lets you get that "thing" off your mind. Once it's on the agenda, you can get back to work knowing that it won't get lost and you'll get to it at a later date.
3. Keep it brief.
If there's one thing I've learned about remote meetings, it's that you can get through a whole lot of material when you tell someone you have a hard stop in ten minutes. I strategically schedule short meetings because I know that limiting the allotted time causes everyone to be more productive. (My default calendar event is 15 minutes.)
Next time you schedule a meeting, I'd urge you to cut 15 minutes off the amount of time you initially think you need. Use the first five minutes for chit-chat (I'm not a monster), then get down to business. If someone starts getting off topic, reel them back in or have them take it offline by writing their thoughts down and sending a note via email or Slack. Rigorously stick to the agenda.
Let everyone know there is a hard stop at the beginning of the meeting--or better yet, add it to the agenda--and you'll be amazed at what happens.
Okay, hear me out. I'm not saying you should cancel all your meetings (although that would be quite liberating). I am, however, saying that you should look through your upcoming meetings and determine if any of them can be done asynchronously.
Any meeting where you--or the participant(s)--are merely making an announcement does not need to happen. Meetings where someone is reporting something to you--or vice versa--don't need to happen.
Instead, these "meetings" can often be handled asynchronously by video or audio recording. Just use your phone to record a video of yourself talking through whatever needs to be said at the meeting and send it out to the participants. You should always give them the option to keep the meeting if needed, but nine times out of ten, these kinds of things can be handled over Slack or email, and you can cancel that meeting.
After adopting this asynchronous method, I've been able to eliminate between 25 and 50 percent of my meetings. I've saved countless hours, especially when you consider the fact that I conduct these asynchronous meetings almost exclusively while walking down the street, sitting in an Uber, or running errands.
So, the question is...how many meetings can you cancel this week?