How to lead effective meetings for distributed teams

Leading an effective meeting can be tricky, even in a normal office.

Things can get even more complicated when you’re leading a virtual meeting – 

but a little preparation can help keep things on course. 

We spend a lot of time in the remote world working asynchronously, whether that’s due to working in different time zones, or just having more flexible working hours. But if you’re managing a remote team and working together with distributed colleagues, you’re going to have to run a virtual meeting at some point.

Some of the best work and collaboration by remote teams comes out of successful virtual meetings, so it’s worth taking the time to prepare. This post includes some tips and resources inspired by the Remote-how program for Managers

 

 

Preparation is key

The first step is to get everything set up. If you work with people in multiple time zones, you might find it takes a little longer than usual to figure out the best time to hold the meeting.

You should also check times even if everyone is in the same time zone, since flexible hours could mean that half your team won’t be available at the time you want. Tools like Time Zone Buddy and Calendly can be a big help here.

Once you’ve got the timing sorted, you can send out the calendar invite. Like any meeting, its a good idea to include an agenda outlining the main topics. And because this is a virtual meeting, you’ll also need to include a link to any external video conferencing tool that people may need to use and instructions on how to join the meeting, if it’s not already inbuilt into the invite you send out. 

 

Depending on the size of your team and how you like to work, you might also need to assign duties and roles ahead of the meeting. Someone may need to take notes, while someone else may lead the overall meeting. And if anyone is going to need to share their their screen or share particular documents, it’s good to plan that out ahead of time rather than trying to set it up mid-meeting, particularly if you’ll need to use any extra tools, like a whiteboard app. Once this is all in place, you’re ready to send out those invites. At this stage, it’s worth checking in with any team members who are new to virtual meetings, as they might need a bit of training or support ahead of time to get software tools up and running. 

The moment of truth – running your virtual meeting  

If you’re the virtual meeting host, it’s a good idea to log in to your meeting software a few minutes before the planned start time. That gives you time to check you’ve got your microphone on and that everything’s working correctly. If you’re sitting in a shared office space, it can help to let colleagues know you’re going to be in a virtual meeting for a while, so they can minimise disruptions (or you could move to a meeting room, if one is available, so you don’t disturb others).

Once people start joining you in the virtual meeting room, it’s worth checking in to make sure that everyone can see and hear what’s happening. Don’t panic if there are a few glitches – it happens to us all sometimes. Common problems include people forgetting to turn on their computer speaker or microphone, or not turning the sound up loud enough. 

After that, things should run just like any other meeting. If it turns out that an agenda item needs a much longer discussion, it’s usually best to schedule a different meeting at another time rather than allowing your current session to overrun. That’s particularly the case for remote meetings, because some participants might be joining in from very different timezones, where they might already be working late. 

As the meeting comes to a close, writing down action points and outcomes – along with a time frame – usually helps to ensure the meeting leads to real results, just as with any other meeting. It can help to review the action points together and check the rest of the team know what is expected. You also need to decide whether another meeting is needed, and who will set that up on your meeting app. Working out the best time to meet for a multi-timezone team can be easier to do when you are all still together, rather than trying to work it out later.  

Once everyone has logged off, you can send out the notes and action points to all participants. Then it’s back to Step One as you prepare for your next virtual meeting!

If you want to learn more about managing remote teams, Remote How run a programme called Certified in Distributed Management. The programme consists of lessons, webinars, and workshops to help you become a top remote manager. All the classes are run with experts and guest lecturers from leading remote companies like Buffer, inVision, doist or skillshare. Head over to their site to find out more information and see how they can make remote work, work for you!

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