No one likes unstructured meetings. And yet they happen all the time, eating away at your productivity by going off-topic or running over schedule. When working remotely, these issues are amplified because of the temptation to use meeting time to catch up with co-workers you don't naturally see around the office anymore.
I founded Zapier nine years ago, and we've never had an office. We've grown to over 300 employees, all of whom are distributed across the world. While we do most of our work asynchronously, meetings are sometimes necessary, and over the years we've become incredibly efficient at running remote meetings.
Here are five tips for running hyper-productive meetings with remote teams.
Set a time constraint.
Regardless of who you're meeting with and what you're meeting about, without some sort of structure, it can be easy for a meeting to go off the rails.
You can do lots of things to help with this--everything from sending out an agenda ahead of time to selecting a moderator to keep everyone on track. But the easiest solution is simple: Set a time constraint and stick to it. I don't schedule meetings longer than an hour, which works to ensure we discuss the highest priority topics.
Start with reflection.
Interpersonal communication is tough on a distributed team. The majority of our communication takes place asynchronously over Slack, where communication cues like body language and tone aren't present.
At the start of recurring meetings, I like to ask stakeholders to reflect on their current state. How are things going? How are they feeling? There's no perfect way to score this, but gut reactions like red, yellow, green can be telling. If someone has a reaction other than green, we dig into it. What's causing them to feel this way? How can others on the call help?
Include 10 minutes of reading time.
Pre-reads are great and allow you to maximize your time during a meeting, but they're not always possible. When you don't have time for a pre-read, spend the first 10 minutes of the meeting reviewing the agenda and leaving comments. It's a lightweight process that allows people to quickly read through status updates and have side conversations about specific topics without requiring everyone to chime in.
As long as the prep doc is thorough enough, it means we don't have to spend time discussing topics in the weeds and can instead use the meeting to make decisions.
Vote on the agenda.
With status updates out of the way and a better grasp on the state of each stakeholder, you now have time to focus on important decisions that need to get made. But how do you decide what to focus on?
In our weekly executive meetings, we hold a vote. Topics are proposed ahead and voted on ahead of time. The meeting agenda will include a table with one column for proposed topics and another column for votes.
Anyone can propose a topic, and once they're posted, individuals will put their name in the voting column to decide which topic takes priority.
Focus on outcomes.
Discussing important decisions is necessary, but sometimes it can distract us from focusing on what needs to get done right now. We end meetings with a check on how we're measuring against key performance indicators. This keeps us aligned, allows us to stay focused, and helps us push ourselves to meet our goals.
And in the end, it often surfaces some big opportunities.