If the COVID-19 crisis has thrown you into working with some or all staff online, we’ve got some ideas to help you quickly adapt and improve your productivity.
At Padraig, we have a team spanning four time zones and we frequently work remotely with clients. As we discussed briefly in our 9 necessary tips for working from home blog, using available technology can make working remotely seamless and successful.
Here is a round-up of our favorite essential tools for facilitating remote meetings and how to use them well.
To get everyone on the same page before the meeting:
It’s much easier to have successful remote meetings if you and your team are able to work together and collaborate remotely so that everyone is clear on tasks, deliverables and timings – and has everything they need to be prepared for a meeting without having to dig through email chains. (Note: we are NOT being paid or supported to endorse ANY of these products – we’re simply trying to share with you some ideas of tools we use, before sharing ideas on how to lead great remote meetings).
At Padraig, we use Asana and it works well for us for project planning and juggling multiple deadlines across time zones. It’s intuitive to use and you can quickly see weekly priorities, who has been assigned a task and when tasks are due (with the flexibility to chat about issues and share documents). As a leader, I particularly like that I can organize my team members by function and see at a glance what tasks I’ve created, what I’ve assigned to others and what’s been completed recently.
We use Google Documents for our work because they’re easy to share and users can be assigned authority to edit, make suggestions or read only. You can also track changes. Having said that, we also use Dropbox for most of our storage needs but also Sync when required for Canadian privacy regulations.
There are many other options available. For instance, we have clients who use Trello to manage teams and workflow and others who like Slack for its ease of sharing calendars and availability. Whatever tool you choose, having a centralized platform is crucial for organizing a group of any size remotely.
If you build a place for general work conversations and banter into whatever project management platform you’re using, then when you hold meetings people can focus on the agenda’s action items. For example, if you set up work groups based on function in Asana or Trello, you can add a group for business-related discussions (a great way for everyone to start the workday is to check for updates or share where they’re at with projects!) and another for non-work-related discussions (where you can share motivational or funny memes or topics to get everyone through the day together and feeling like they’re on a team).
Pro tip: If you establish a group, or intranet site, to show who is who on the team (with photos!), it’s great when you’re onboarding new team members – plus it makes everyone feel they are working with people and not faceless contacts. You’ll see the benefit of this when you get online for a meeting.
Running the meeting:
Have space for general office discussions & banter. In a regular office environment, staff can chat and mingle and then be fully focused on work when they’re called into a meeting. When you’re working remotely, the meeting is an opportunity to check-in, which can be important especially right now with the COVID-19 crisis. Team building is important, after all. But watch the time and be ready to convene the work part of the meeting before you lose your window for action items.
Running an online meeting means you have to also pause more often. If you’re used to talking and people jumping in when they have a point to make, it’s not going to work as well virtually. Folks who are hesitant to interrupt in person will likely be lost in silence on a call or teleconference. Whether you’re leading the meeting, or participating, pause more frequently, after each thought, to allow others to speak. Despite our advances in technology, you still can’t talk over each other all at once. Perhaps that’s another benefit of working remotely?
If you’re the leader of the meeting, poll the room more often than you would in a face-to-face meeting. Go through the roster of participants and ask them what they think or if they have any questions, comments or anything to add. If you’re using a webinar software (more information below) you might have the option to “raise your hand” when you wish to speak.
When you’re not physically together in a bricks and mortar office, you have to work at encouraging collaboration (and that is accomplished by building stronger teams!). Check-ins with individuals and your whole team are just as important – if not more important – when you have remote staff. It can be as simple as asking: What are your priorities today? Who needs help from a team member? What accomplishments can we celebrate? How can I help?
Technology to hold an online meeting:
In the not-too-distant past, our only options for connecting with team members remotely would have been landlines or cell phones. Now we have a variety of apps available to facilitate not only audio but video teleconference.
If you work for a large organization, you may have a technology that is available to everyone already. For smaller companies or teams that are new to this remote work life thanks to COVID-19, you can Google and find many different options with a range of features.
We use Zoom and it works very well for us as a small organization. It’s easy to set up a meeting and invite others (and it’s free for calls up to 40 minutes – if you pay you can book longer online conferencing with additional features). Best of all, it’s proven to be very reliable for us for audio and video whether we’re connecting via the smartphone app or laptop. And – bonus! – Zoom automatically adjusts the time zone of a meeting that is scheduled so it matches your own time zone (just make sure your computer’s time zone is accurate!).
We’ve also heard great things about GoToMeeting, AnyMeeting, Google Hangouts and Slack. Another interesting tool, by the way, is Poll Everywhere for Slack, which lets you quickly get feedback from a group. You can use it before a meeting, to get quick feedback (even anonymously!) during a meeting and to collect useful data.
Most of us find remote meetings where people see each other are often much better, so turn on that video whenever you can!
Other great tools to keep in your remote meeting toolkit:
You may not need all the technology, but sometimes it’s helpful to know what else is available for specific tasks. Things like:
Loom: One of our clients has a global team, so getting everyone from all time zones together isn’t really feasible unless someone is up in the middle of the night. Loom is a handy screen and video recording tool, which is ideal for answering questions, providing feedback or creating a tutorial for something you need to show several different team members (saves you time when you only have to do it once!). People rave how easy it is to use, even if you want to record your screen and webcam at the same time. Additionally, you can share the videos you create with an inline link.
CloudApp: Similar to Loom, CloudApp is a fast and easy way to share screenshots or screen recordings with others (complete with annotated comments) via an automatically generated shortlink. All you do is hit Ctrl + V to paste the unique link wherever or however you want to share it.
Milanote: If you work with visually creative folks, this is a great tool to use for things like brainstorming, storyboarding or collaborating. You can drag and drop all kinds of things, like images or comments or links – but it doesn’t look messy.
Now is the time to explore what’s available and put tools to work for you as you manage your virtual team. If you have other great tech finds or tips to share with us, please comment below!
What can you do differently to make remote meetings successful? What are you excited to try? What have you noticed since working remotely that isn’t working well — what can you do to shift it?
Next up: We’ll be looking at ways to keep your team engaged during remote meetings and then why celebrating wins with your remote team is important.