Importance of Remote Check-Ins: Setting Up Effective Meetings for Distributed Teams

Importance of Remote Check-Ins: Setting Up Effective Meetings for Distributed Teams

Introduction

With the digital transformation, companies have realized they're no longer limited to the talent pool in their immediate location. Although working with the best people worldwide is a huge benefit of remote work, managing distributed teams can be challenging in many ways. Running effective meetings is one of the most important skills you can have if you lead a remote team.

Poorly run meetings can negatively affect your team's productivity, creativity, innovation, and success. In-person meeting time is only about 50% effective, and online sessions fare even worse. To make matters worse, after experiencing a poorly run meeting, employees often lose additional time and productivity recovering from it.

However, running an effective remote check-in with your team can be a great way to celebrate wins, encourage collaboration, and promote connection. The following best practices can help ensure your meetings result in positive, energizing outcomes rather than demoralizing your team members.

Include an Agenda in the Check-In Invitation

When you send out your meeting invitation, include an agenda. This will keep everyone on track. As the leader, it's up to you to set the tone and be deliberate about your choices. Be mindful of everyone's time, and keep the meeting going.

Use the who/what/why format for your agenda so everyone knows the purpose of the check-in. Link to all relevant documents in the invitation, and encourage everyone to prepare ahead of time.

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Ensure That Everyone Knows the Platforms You Use

Nothing will derail a meeting faster than technical issues. Make sure everyone knows what platforms you're using for your meeting, and have them test them out beforehand.

Use the Additional Platform Features

Almost all meeting platforms have extra features that you can use to make your meeting run more smoothly and keep your team engaged. You can use the screen recording function to record the meeting for people who couldn't attend. Use the mute feature to minimize extraneous sound and give one speaker the spotlight at a time. Screen-sharing features allow you to let everyone see your screen when you're demonstrating something.

Have a Meeting Facilitator

Remote check-ins should have a facilitator who runs the meeting and keeps things moving according to the agenda. Here are some ways the facilitator can ensure the meeting is just as professional as a face-to-face meeting:

Minimize Distractions, but Expect Them

Encourage team members to be attentive and try to keep the meeting engaging. Reduce outside distractions. There will be interruptions. If you overreact, you'll make the situation worse.

Instead, accept that there will be distractions and move past them as quickly as possible when they happen. Minimize the distractions you can control by doing the following:

  • Remind everyone to mute their phones.
  • Check that you have everyone's attention before starting.
  • Look directly at the camera when speaking and encourage others to do the same.
  • Ask everyone to close any unnecessary tabs on their computers.

Be Prepared and on Time

Make a checklist of everything you'll need before the check-in. Log in a few minutes before the meeting is scheduled to begin to check for technical issues. Have a copy of the agenda in front of you to keep you on task.

Establish a Mute Policy

Sometimes you should mute everyone except the speaker to minimize extraneous noise. However, there are times when you may want to keep everyone's mic on. If you have more than five attendees at your meeting, it's a good idea to mute everyone. Keeping the mic may be a better option for a small check-in where you want to encourage collaboration and team-building.

Let everyone know your mute policy ahead of time. If you are muting, encourage reactions such as thumbs-up and heart emojis to make the meeting feel more interactive.

Never Leave the Room

The facilitator should only leave the room if there is a severe emergency. It's just as disruptive and inconsiderate as getting up and leaving an in-person meeting. If you must leave the meeting, turn off your camera and leave a chat message so the other attendees know what's going on and can defer important topics until you return.

Be Aware of Your Background

Many platforms will let you use a background or will blur your background, so it's not distracting. If you can't do either, glance around your room to ensure there's nothing that could be considered inappropriate or offensive on camera. You should also remove anything with personal information you don't want to share.

Shorter Is Better

Opt for shorter meetings as often as possible, especially for check-ins. Start with a 15-minute timeline and allot extra time if your agenda requires it. However, you'll start losing people's attention after about 15 minutes, so try not to go over if you can avoid it. People are less likely to dread your meetings and more likely to stay focused if they know you'll stick to the agenda and keep the meeting short.

Establish a Remote Check-In Etiquette

Before your check-in, send out a remote meeting etiquette tip sheet. Make your expectations clear and remind everyone to be professional. Here's a list of tips you should include for attendees:

Behave as You Would In Person

If everyone abides by this rule, most problems can be avoided. As cute as your pets and children are, they can be a distraction during meetings. Avoid eating or taking phone calls during virtual meetings just as you do during an on-site meeting.  

Silence Your Phones and Other Noises

Although you'll remind everyone to silence their phones before the meeting starts, it's a good idea to encourage them to turn off other noises as well, such as:

  • TV
  • Landline
  • Radio
  • Computer notifications
  • Other alarms

Be Aware of Your Microphone Status

Unless the meeting facilitator has indicated otherwise, turn your microphone on when you're speaking and off at all other times. Even if your background is quiet, having your microphone on can be distracting.

Turn Your Video Off if You Need to Get Up

Please turn off your camera when you need to leave a meeting before it's over. Although you should avoid leaving a meeting if possible, there will undoubtedly be times you need to slip out for a few minutes. When you return, sit down before you turn the camera back on. Your leaving will be much less distracting if it isn't accompanied by a video of you walking out of the camera frame and coming back in.

Keep Your Background Clean and Professional

Remind attendees to follow the same rules regarding backgrounds. Use software to hide or blur your background. If not, make sure it's clean and professional. Point your camera towards a blank wall.

Dress Appropriately

Although there were a lot of jokes about dressing in a business shirt and pajama pants when remote meetings first became popular, it's a good idea to dress professionally on top and bottom during a virtual meeting. You never know when an accidental shift might reveal your entire outfit. Dress as if you're going into the office for a meeting.

Practice Empathy

We're all adjusting to working remotely and navigating the new business landscape. It can be challenging to express empathy in virtual meetings, so here are some tips to help:

  • Practice active listening by paraphrasing what someone says.
  • Lean in and maintain eye contact with the camera.
  • Limit big hand gestures to avoid distracting others.

Clarify the Next Steps After the Remote Check-In

To get the most out of your meeting, clarify attendees' next steps. Strategic follow-up can help drive productivity and accountability. Send your remote workers a recap of the meeting with the key takeaways, including who is responsible for what. This recap is a great way to increase your meetings' effectiveness and reinforce the meeting's message. Keep everyone from wondering what the point of the meeting was and what they're supposed to do next.

Remote Check-Ins Can Be Effective for Distributed Teams

Although most people instinctively dread meetings, yours can be efficient and engaging if you approach them with intentionality and focus. Check-ins are essential for distributed teams. Weekly meetings are the only way to keep everyone aligned and build a sense of community with teams that rarely or never meet in person. One secret to ensuring your meetings work for everyone is to solicit feedback after every meeting. Ask questions such as:

  • Does our current tech stack work well for meetings, or does something need to be improved?
  • Do we need to change anything about the structure of our meetings?
  • Are our meetings long enough, too long, or too short?
  • Do we meet often enough?
  • Do you have any other suggestions for improving our check-ins?

Ultimately, you want to use your check-ins to help align your team around your company values. Being deliberate about how you structure your team meetings will ensure they're a good use of everyone's time. Some prior planning and discipline will keep your meetings on track and productive.

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