13 Ways to Hold Better Remote Meetings

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Remote work is catching on. The workforce is demanding it. "We tried holding meetings remotely, it just doesn't work. The lag is too heavy and everyone talks over each other." Companies with a heavy remote culture have figured this out already. Spread these tips throughout your team and your company could save big on travel costs and get more done. If you're flying people around the world just to have meetings, you're doing it wrong.

1. Use Video Calls

This one seems obvious right? But for some reason a lot of companies think they can hold remote meetings over the phone. Yeah. Don't do that. There are plenty of services that make amazing video calls. Which one should you use? It doesn't really matter, but if I had to pick one, Zoom, seems to work best. Plan on everyone sharing video. Audio meetings are not nearly productive as full on video conferences. I'll go over why next.

2. Use Body Language and the Mute Button

"We don't hold remote meetings because body language and facial expressions are so important!" Uh... Yeah. That's why you use video right? Body language is actually more important on a remote meeting. If you're speaking, you need to pay attention to those that aren't speaking. You should be able to tell when someone wants to talk by their body language. Another way to tell if someone wants to talk is if they unmute themselves. That's a good time to take a pause and let someone else talk.

3. Stay Muted in Meetings of Three or More

You may not realize how often people talk over each other in real life. You can't do that in a remote meeting. As soon as someone talks at the same time as someone else, no one can hear anything. That includes background noise! If all members of a meeting stay muted when they're not talking, one person can talk without technical difficulties.

4. Use Earphones and a Mic

Everyone on your team doesn't need a professional studio mic. Honestly I've never even used one. But the sound of even some apple headphones or air-pods can go a long way. Team members using them can hear better, and they'll come through clearer to other people on the call with less background noise. Feedback can also sometimes be an issue when you don't have headphones. If your company is serious about remote work, why not invest in a good pair of headphones with a mic? In a pinch you can do without, but they always help.

5. Meetings Don't Always Start Perfectly

If you start talking and no one can hear you or you can't hear anything, just know that it happens. It's usually pretty easy to fix. Just leave the meeting and come back. If that doesn't fix it and you're on a Mac, try running this in the terminal and restarting the meeting.

sudo killall coreaudiod

If you aren't on a Mac or have no idea what a terminal is, don't sweat it. Opening and closing the meeting or unplugging your headphones almost always works.

6. Answer Yes or No Questions with a Thumbs Up

If you ask everyone in a meeting a yes or no question, you could go one-by-one through everyone and get a yes or no, or have everyone talk over each other saying yes or no. If you've been working remote long enough, you know that a physical thumbs up is the better way. This can feel awkward at first, but when there are a lot of people in a meeting visual cues are the way to go.

7. Wait for Others to Talk

Lag is real. As long as everyone has a decent connection it's usually not too bad, but you can feel even sub-second lag. Paying attention to body language and letting other's to talk is important, but it's equally important for the team member that wants to speak up to wait for someone else to finish. Then that team member should let half a second go by just in case. In remote meetings there will be more silence than you're used to. That's totally ok.

Secret tip: Usually this isn't an issue, but if lag is really bad you can start talking before someone is done talking. If you can tell that they're about to finish their thought, you can speak up during their last thought. Since the lag is so bad they won't hear it until after they're done talking. This is a skill that you hopefully never have to develop, but it's a good go-to in a pinch.

8. Let the Other Person Go First or Keep Talking

It's inevitable. Eventually you'll start talking at the same time as someone else. It doesn't work in real life and it's even worse in remote meetings. Don't get offended if it happens, and don't get offended if someone doesn't let you talk. You have one of two options when two people talk at once. Keep talking, "Sorry I was just going to say..." That will signal to the other person to wait. Or you can immediately say "No go ahead. You go first". If someone tells you to go first, you might be tempted to be polite and say "No, it's ok you go". Don't do it. The lag and back and forth can really slow things down. If someone says you go first, take it!

9. Use Chat During the Meeting

This adds another dimension to meetings that you couldn't get in real life. You can absolutely message someone else in the meeting directly. This can save time in meetings later. Maybe someone said something you want to make a quick comment about with a team member, that's exactly what chat is for. You could also message the group during the meeting. Little comments that you would make in person, but that aren't as important, can absolutely go in the chat. This is one benefit of remote meetings. Silly side conversations happen in chat rather than in-person and don't slow the meeting down.

10. Hold Fewer Meetings!

You don't have to hold fewer meetings because you're remote. You might actually be tempted to hold more because you don't have to reserve a meeting room. But the great thing about remote teams is you can usually settle things over chat or email. There have been dozens of times that I've had meetings scheduled, but we've discussed things in chat or email that we decided a meeting was not needed at all. This saves everyone time. Everyone likes fewer meetings right?

11. Break out Rooms

A 50 person meeting is pretty ridiculous. But sometimes these big meetings can be beneficial. One problem is getting people to speak up and ask questions/give suggestions in these big meetings. Big meetings also mean there will be a handful of people that turn off their video. You won't notice right?

If you want some brainstorming to happen, Zoom has a great feature called "Breakout Rooms". Just select how many people you want in a room, and Zoom will automatically push people that many people into different meetings. Have each room write down what they talked about, and put it in a shared google doc somewhere, or even in company wide chat. Those team members that had their video off will quickly turn it on as it feels more awkward to talk to someone directly if they have video on and you don't.

12. Share Your Screen

One of the biggest benefits to remote meetings is everyone is in front of a computer and can share their screens at any time. If you have a slide deck, this is exactly the way to have everyone follow along. Make sure once you share your document you ask "Can everyone see this?" You should get a thumbs up from someone in the meeting before you start presenting. Most of the time this isn't an issue, but it just confirms everyone's on the same page and you're not having technical difficulties.

Calls in slack have a very useful feature where team members that are viewing someone sharing their screen can make marks that on the other person's screen for everyone to see.

13. Presenting is Awkward. That's ok.

The first time you present something in a remote meeting you might feel a little awkward. Can they even hear you? Everyone is muted except you. Depending on the software you use (use Zoom and this is less of a problem), you may not be able to see faces of other people either. As far as your brain is concerned, you're talking to yourself. You're not. And if you are, your computer will freeze or someone will pipe up and let you know they can't hear/see you. So don't worry about it!

Before you start, let others know that they can ask questions in chat and you'll address them, or you can just ask them to clarify and ask their question out loud.

Conclusion

If you gave up on remote meetings, try again. It may sound like more trouble than it's worth. If the cost of meetings is airfare, hotel fees, and employee travel time, then it's definitely worth it. Do you have any other remote meeting tips that have worked for you and your company? Let us know what they are in the comments.