The COVID-19 pandemic has forced virtually all businesses across the world to go remote (pun intended), and in doing so, rethink how we engage with our teams. But working remotely doesn’t have to be so bad. In fact, during this period of remote work, many aspects of our day-to-day are actually more efficient. For example, meetings are finally starting and ending on time! Not to mention, commuting is no longer an issue.
Think back to the last virtual meeting you had. How did you feel by the end of it?
This feeling can be summed up by the term virtual distance, which refers to a psychological and emotional sense of detachment that accumulates little by little the more we interact with each other through screens. Now that we’ve come to rely on screens for all our professional and personal communication, it makes sense that we’re feeling more drained and detached than ever before.
Virtual distance is impacted by 3 main factors:
- Geographical Distance (e.g. time zone differences)
- Technical Distance (e.g. bad wifi connection, microphone issues, etc)
- Emotional Distance (e.g. sense of belonging or isolation)
As managers, we have very limited control over our team members’ personal experiences with regards to the first two factors. If Ivan’s Zoom keeps freezing, or if Marion is in a different time zone and can’t make it to a meeting, there’s not much we can do about it. But what we do have a certain level of control over is the emotional experience our team members have.
The 3 main aspects managers should focus on in order to create a positive emotional experience for participants are:
- High energy (i.e. participants don’t fall asleep)
- Participation (i.e. each team member feels empowered to voice their opinions and concerns)
- Collective belonging (i.e. participants do not feel isolated behind their screens)
3 Remote Meeting Formats:
- “Top-down” sharing sessions (e.g. webinars, inspirational talks, training modules)
- Facilitated discussions (e.g. team and project meetings)
- Group working sessions (e.g. brainstorming, creating action plans, collecting feedback)
Here’s some advice that’s applicable to all formats:
- Assign roles- To successfully facilitate a remote-meeting, there are three different roles that must be fulfilled — 1) lead facilitator, 2) time-keeper, 3) note-taker/cha manager. Don’t do them all by yourself. Split up the tasks between a friend or two, and better yet, grab another friend to be in charge of diffusing tech issues.
- Anticipate the flow(s)- Make sure you have a clear idea of the narrative flow (how you’re going to kick things off, retain attention throughout, and end with a decisive closing), energy flow (balancing passive, active, and interactive moments), and attention flow (is you’re meeting running over 45 minutes? Schedule a break halfway through so that participants can stretch their legs or grab a snack)
- Start off with some basic housekeeping- Kick things off by outlining the agenda (and breaks), technical set-up (camera on/off, mute microphone when not speaking, view in gallery mode, etc), and rules of interaction (should participants use the chat to ask questions? What about that darn “raise hand” feature?)
- Fill up your toolbox- Every facilitator’s toolbox should have an energizer (e.g. physical warm-up, game, etc.), virtual boards (at NUMA, we love using Mural and FunRetro), breakout rooms, and live voting. You don’t have to use all of them in the same meeting, but you do want to make sure you feel comfortable using them if and when it makes sense to do so.
Can we make remote meetings fun and effective?
Here are some tips for each remote meeting format:
“Top-down” sharing sessions
Your goal: Create a pleasant experience with varying levels of participation. Allow passive monitoring but seek active participation.
- Call a friend (or a few)- Host your webinar in pairs to make your presentation more dynamic and “real” (bonus: you feel less alone). Just make sure you clarify your roles in advance (e.g, facilitator, chat-manager, time-keeper). And maybe even grab another friend to be in charge of tech (just in case).
- Be authentic and energetic- Introduce spontaneous moments into your meeting by using personal anecdotes or “confessions” to make your topic more relatable and engaging. We recommend you slightly overplay your energy level so that it’s contagious!
- Don’t be afraid of confronting technical issues, own it — Can’t figure out how to use Zoom’s Q&A feature? Turn it into a funny, relatable, learning moment for the team.
Your goal: By the end of the meeting, all participants feel they were heard and are in agreement with final decisions made.
- Camera on- Ask your participants to have their cameras on and to display everyone in “gallery mode” when not screen-sharing. This will allow you to read non-verbal cues and adjust your messaging accordingly. Plus, it’ll give your participants a reason to get dressed in the morning!
- Use “connectors” to encourage a supportive group dynamic- Ask participants to share something fun they did this weekend, the book they’re currently reading, or a new routine/hobby/guilty-pleasure.
- “Pass the mic”- Give the floor to a specific participant (avoid “Who wants to go next?”), or go around a “virtual table” so that everyone knows exactly when they’re going to have a turn to speak. That said, don’t be afraid to have moments of independent work silence (e.g. “Let’s take 3 minutes for us to each think about their proposal”)
Group working sessions
Your goal: End the meeting with a formal, high quality deliverable.
- Let the creative juices flow- Think of your agenda as a series of divergences and convergences. Alternate between individual and group work, and play with different cognitive styles (e.g. analytical, critical, creative, collaborative, etc.) throughout your meeting.
- Keep the pace up- Our attention spans are even shorter when we’re working remotely, so cut down your spiel by a third (i.e. A 30-min spiel becomes a 20-min spiel) and infuse transitional moments with extra energy “Are you ready? Let’s go!”
- Choose the right tool(s) — Define the deliverable and ask the participants to work directly in the selected format (ex: a slides template, Mural, Excel). Make sure you ask one person to be 100% dedicated to note-taking and distribute notes at the end of the session.
Managing a remote team, let alone keeping them engaged, is no easy task. The COVID-19 pandemic has hastened the progress towards the future of remote work, and has shown us that we are resilient, malleable, and innovative in the face of unforeseen circumstances. We hope you’ve found these tips and techniques useful, and we’d love to hear how you’ve implemented them, or improved upon them, in your own remote meetings!
Shai Tamary is the Acceleration Program Manager at NUMA New York