Solutions, not problems.

When working with a remote team, you can rarely see each other’s eyes. Most of the time you are breaking up, “What? could you please repeat?” In addition to that, 65% of participants are not really paying attention. However, there are still a couple of things you can do to keep the ball rolling.


Goal

If I got to add just 1 single item to the list of well-known productive meeting tricks, it would be Communicate the goal. It will keep the team moving and allow other people to make decisions while you are not available. It could be the goal of the product, organization, or initiative. Give the team the instruments and algorithms to make decisions.

“Let me rephrase”

This is one of the most effective communication tricks you can use with geographically and culturally challenged projects. Asking the receiving person to rephrase helps confirm the fact that he or she is engaged enough to listen and process. And you can also confirm what exactly this person is going to do. If you are asked to do something, try to rephrase to make sure you are on the same page with your colleague. This works really well when nobody’s native language is English.

Solutions

Another powerful approach you can use to make things more productive is building a straw man before the meeting. Straw man is basically a draft solution, which will give everyone a starting point. Brainstorming over the phone is a pain, so better come prepared. In other words, bring in solutions to the table not problems.

People find it much easier to say if they don’t like something rather than carefully and precisely explain and communicate what they like and want. So spend some time upfront even if it is 15–30 min. Put a straw-man together, set up some common ground. Please don’t get too attached to your great ideas. Straw man is built to be ripped apart.

If you have a project or a feature you need to get done remotely. Here is a fairly simple but slightly illogical 2-step technique.

  1. You get on the phone and communicate the goal of the feature, project and outline some key attributes. It is great if you have some pictures to look at. Skype/Hangouts screen share is your best friend.
  2. Execution team prepares a straw-man requirements/design/proposal and explains to you what they will do.

Why is this working

  1. People are smart and have great ideas.
  2. You learn the most about something when you are explaining it.
  3. There are a lot of different ways to get things done. Focus on the results.
  4. People are more passionate about their own ideas and solutions.