Photo Credit: tim caynes

Making distributed team meetings work

Connected devices on the planet, see an animated version here.

Synchronous Asynchronicity?

  • Those who already had a whole day of work with all the joys and annoyances it brings
  • Those who just got up, far too early for their own liking and got stuck in transit. Either on a packed motorway or involuntarily nestling in the armpit of a total stranger in an overcrowded train
  • One group wants to give an update what they did today, hand over and call it a day and
  • The other group wants to know what is important today and get on with it to fight off the cobwebs of commuting

Separate the meeting into remote updates and social interactions

Sandwich photo by Ron Dolette
  • You can brainstorm some ideas in an animated discussion where everyone talks
  • You can cover local happenings (“did you see the game last night? What a ludicrous display”)
  • You can have a chat about what’s bothering you (“damn, the office is cold today”) and
  • talk about location-specific issues and socialise.
  • Meet in the room, have a quick social chat,
  • Dial in the remote participants, ask them about a quick social update,
  • Have a focused info session with both groups,
  • Let the remote people disconnect and phase out the meeting with another local, social update.

Have a clear agenda and turn it into live meeting notes

Have a clear agenda — what is the order, how long will it take, where are we in the meeting and how much more is there.
  • People who can not attend the meeting or drop off half way through can look up what happened later.
  • You have an archive of your meetings without having the extra work of publishing meeting notes.
  • People who missed the meeting can scan the meeting results. This is much easier than listening to an hour long recording or watching a video of people in a room talking to a microphone. As beneficial as a video call is when you are all live, it gets tedious and hard to navigate to the items you care about when it is a recording.

Be aware of sound distractions

During the meeting only one person should be heard.
  • As someone remote, mute your microphone. There is nothing more annoying than the clatter of a keyboard magnified by the microphone just above it
  • As someone in the room with others, lean away from the microphone. Don’t cough into it, don’t shift things around on the table the mic is standing on. Coffee mugs, spoons and pens can be incredibly loud on those.
  • As the speaker, lean into the microphone and speak clearly — always assume there is static and sound loss. A mumbled remark in the back of the room followed by laughter by all could come across to a remote listener as an inside joke or even an insult. No need to risk such misunderstandings.
  • If you switch the speaker, tell them to introduce themselves. This may feel silly in the room, but it helps avoiding confusion on the other side.

Use a chat system as the lifeline of the meeting

When there is bad image and sound, give people a fallback to voice their input.
  • People can tell you when something is wrong on their end or when you stopped being comprehensible.
  • People can comment without interrupting your audio flow. Many systems switch the presenter as soon as someone speaks — which is unnecessary in this case.
  • People can post resources without having to interrupt you. “In case you missed it, Jessica is talking about http://beedogs.com"

Have a consumable backup for each live update

Photo by John Trainor

Plan for travel and meeting as a whole team

Photo by Joris Louwes

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