Remote Work Meetings: Common Misunderstandings & Tips for Success
Author: Yoshihito Kuranuki
One of the most common misunderstandings about remote work is that there’s a lack of face-to-face communication — but that’s not necessarily the case. We have face-to-face discussions almost every day. Of course, these meetings take place over the internet and through computer screens, but there’s no doubt that a genuine meeting is taking place.
There are a few tips you need to remember to have successful remote meetings. The advice you’ll find in this article was written from our own experience — it will help make your remote meetings run smoothly.
1. Each Team Member Connects Using Their Own Device
We’ve often been asked “Which remote meeting device do you recommend?” but special equipment is no longer necessary for teleconferences. Most people associate the term “remote meeting” with the image of linking two remotely-located meeting rooms together via video technology, but in practice, that isn’t the ideal solution.
It is a natural consequence of a conversation between remotely-separated groups of people that you feel more gaps with the people in the other group than with the people in the same group. There is no state- of-art equipment or product that can fix this essential issue. The simplest solution is to make everybody attending the meeting have the same level of presence.
Instead of gathering team mates into a conference room with a single computer equipped with webcam, mic and speakers, just let each member use their own computer during the meeting. That’s all it takes to put everyone on the same level.
These days almost every computer already has a camera and mic. If yours doesn’t, just use a smartphone, but remember to also use a headset, or earphones with a mic. We recommend the earphones that come with iPhones. Everyone connects with their own device — it’s simple and effective. If you keep having trouble connecting with wireless earphones, just use a plain plug-in set.
2. Pay Attention to Background Noise and Network Environment
The best point of earphones is that they’re not too sensitive to background noise. You may find that the digital processing of the voices during a remote meeting leave you unable to ignore background noise. The person talking might not notice, but the listener on the other side may care, and will have to put in extra effort to mentally filter noise out.
For the sake of your teammates in your remote meeting, be mindful enough to move to a quiet location in advance. If each team member connects with their own PC, sitting too close can cause mic problems like howling. It’s better if team members keep a distance during meeting time.
When we’re having a teleconference between team members in our Tokyo office and a number of other locations, everyone sharing a workspace with another member goes to a separate room.
It’s also important to remember that because remote meetings require an internet connection, a poor connection will have a negative effect on the conversation and cause stress. You don’t need any expensive devices, but you do need a solid network environment.
3. Use Online Tools & Always Have a Plan B
There are plenty of free online tools and software to support remote meetings:
- Zoom / Download & Install, First 40 Minutes Free, Shared URL Access, Video Recorder
- appear.in / Online Browser, Free, Shared URL Access, Simple
- Hangouts / Online Browser, Free, Shared URL Access/Direct Call, Highly Stable
- Skype / Download & Install, Free, Shared URL Access/Direct Call
Our office has been using Zoom a lot lately. It requires download and installation so the initial set-up takes a little effort, but the quality is stable, and the shared URL access makes setting up meetings a breeze. Another good point is that you don’t need advance approval.
We previously relied on Skype, but the phone-like dial and call set-up was a little inconvenient. Newer tools use shared URL access — you can think of the URL as a conference room. Team members can join in at the time that’s personally convenient, even mid-way. It’s been a great relief. (It seems like Skype now supports shared URL access too.)
We are more inclined to use zoom for internal meetings as each member has the software already in place. On the other hand, our preference often goes to appear.in in meeting with an outside party for the first time. Appear.in lets you reserve an URL in advance, so if you notify the other party of the date, time and address of a meet-up, they can use it like a waiting room. We conduct most of our online job interviews using the appear.in tool.
These recent tools all have a wide range of capabilities, so you can use whichever one you like, but it’s important to have second choice as a backup in order to ensure smooth remote meetings. Sometimes you’ll have trouble connecting, so it’s a good idea to reserve an alternative that you can switch to quickly.
4. Use Screen Sharing, Meeting Notes & Chat Together
Let’s address the lack of a physical white board in remote meetings. While this is absolutely true, there are other tools to use instead. There’s no need to prepare anything fancy or complicated — just use the standard screen sharing feature available with most conference tools.
You can share your ideas at least roughly with your team mates just by screen-sharing a quick sketch or graphic drawn on your device. Even if a meeting room has a real whiteboard, the marker is always left in the hand of one of the participants, and few circumstances require every one of the participants to write on the white board at the same time. Screen-sharing is nothing different from a white board in this respect.
You can send documents and graphics in advance, but viewing them together via screen sharing is easier and better. For making the meeting notes, we also use the screen sharing feature throughout our video conferences. Displaying the notes during the meeting helps avoid an off-the-record oral discussion, easily shares the agenda, and keeps everyone on the same topic during discussion.
Hackpad and Google Docs are ideal for meeting notes because multiple users can edit at the same time. The meeting leader can keep the notes displayed in their shared screen, and another member can conveniently edit and add to the notes as the meeting continues. You can also share the URL of the notes and other documents in a parallel chat to exchange discussion content smoothly.
5. Techniques Unique to Remote Meetings
Unlike physically-present meetings, it is a key for a smooth video conference that each participant is mindful of making a good timing for another participant to speak up.
For example, one of the things that we like to keep in mind is for each member to make a clear break after speaking, like saying “That’s all I have to say.” This allows the participants having been listeners to more easily succeed to the speaker’s role and start speaking.
In meetings with a large number of participants, we often ask everyone to put their mics on mute when it’s not their turn to speak. Not only does background noise become a serious problem, but it can be very hard to maintain control if everyone tries to speak at once.
That being said, people tend to get nervous if they’re speaking to a completely silent crowd. It can be difficult for some people to keep speaking alone. One team member should serve the role of moderator to stand by and facilitate conversation.
It’s not recommended to be overly serious, but when compared to a physically-present meeting in a conference room, participants should be more conscious of the need for clear back-and-forth discussion. We think that remote meetings have the potential to be even more productive than physically-present conferences.
President & CEO — Yoshihito Kuranuki
SonicGarden Inc.President & CEO.A Japanese company where 100% of the staff works remotely. http://www.sonicgarden.jp/