Hi 👋 I’m Jason. I’ve been a remote worker since 2016. Full time remote since 2017, and managing a team remotely since 2018. With people across the world suddenly finding both themselves and their teams homebound, I thought it might be a good opportunity to share some of the things I’ve found helpful as a remote team lead. I work at Culture Amp, a software platform that helps organisations take action to develop their people and their culture. We have a collection of “inspirations” – ideas you can copy in your organisation to improve its culture. I’ve followed the basic format here.
Facilitating good meetings requires having a bunch of tools in the toolkit to make sure everyone gets a chance to speak, people are understood, and it is a valuable use of people’s time. The tools you’ll use for video meetings are slightly different, so it’s worth getting familiar with them.
Video meetings present slightly different challenges: there can be poor connection quality, non-verbal communication is limited, it’s more likely people will attempt to multitask, and less likely you’ll know if they are, and there’s no obvious “clockwise” direction to go around the room when seeking everyone’s input.
Here are some tools to add to your toolkit:
- Recreate “going around the room” to let everyone have a chance to share. You can do this by having the first person to share choose who goes next. As each person shares, they choose who goes after them. This is a good technique for “stand-ups” and other similar status update meetings.
- Use hand gestures to signify you would like to speak next. Because of the slight delay on video calls, when multiple people want to speak up it’s hard to not speak over each other. Rather than wait for a gap in conversation and jump in, signify you would like to speak next by raising your hand with one finger up – you’re first in line to speak. If a second person also wants to speak, they can raise their hand with two fingers up. Usually a group learns this system quickly but it’s important the facilitator respects the order.
- If people have noisy surroundings, ask them to mute unless speaking. If someone on the call is in an open plan office, is working from a cafe, has children nearby or even noisy animals outside, these can all make it harder to hear the person speaking. Encouraging people to mute by default makes it easier for everyone to hear.
- Encourage everyone to have video turned on. It helps with non-verbal communication, and for someone speaking to see if they are being understood. Exaggerated head nodding, thumbs up, and silent clapping are all great ways to give feedback even while muted, but only work if the video is turned on. Exceptions can be made if the connection quality is poor, or if it is a presentation rather than a meeting.
- Consider screen sharing a document that serves as both the agenda and the minutes, and editing it live. Adding a visual medium alongside the conversation helps participants keep focused and can give extra context. Taking notes and recording actions in the moment is a great way to ensure people are aligned and there aren’t misunderstandings.
- Be conscious of how screen-sharing impacts non-verbal communication. Often when you start screen sharing, the other participant’s screen is now dominated by the screen share, and the faces of their colleagues are reduced to thumbnail size. This reduces the bandwidth of non-verbal communication like facial gestures and body language, and can make it easier to have your tone misinterpreted. For sensitive conversations, consider turning screen sharing off.
If you have a dual monitor setup, some products like Zoom have settings that allow the screen sharing to take up one full screen while still seeing participant faces in full size on the other screen. This is worth setting up if you can!
- Use “speedy meetings” to allow time for breathing and bathroom breaks. When someone has back-to-back meetings in an office, they usually have breathing space as they move from one room to another or wait for the next group to arrive. When video calls are scheduled back-to-back the calendar can be a cruel task-master. Scheduling you meetings to run for 25 or 50 minutes (rather than 30 or 60) gives everyone a chance to breathe and can drastically reduce the stressfulness of a day. Important: if you schedule a speedy meeting, respect everyone by finishing on time.
- Make space for “water cooler” talk on the agenda. Make sure the first five minutes or last five minutes of the meeting have space for the people to chat casually and catch up. In an office this often happens on the way to a meeting room, or on the way out, or around an actual water cooler. When it’s a video call, you have to be more deliberate. Make sure the agenda leaves enough space for this, and start a conversation that’s not just about work.