When it comes to running effective meetings and making good decisions as a result, we usually focus on practicalities. What is the purpose of the meeting? What decisions need to be made? What is the agenda? Who needs to be there? Who is taking notes and actions? But getting good decisions made is not just about clear process – it’s also about understanding and influencing others.
When we interact with people in a physical work environment, we pick up a wide range of signals that lead us to conclusions about other people’s enthusiasm and engagement. We can reliably understand people’s opinions by listening to them and by watching them. We know that body language, tone of voice, inflection, periods of silence and their general demeanour are all important signals. With this wide range of signals available to us all the time, it is right for meetings to focus on practicalities.
In a remote working environment, there is a much smaller breadth and depth of signals available to us. We might read a Slack or Teams conversation and try to draw conclusions on others’ opinions, but doing that without the usual depth of evidence is difficult and often inaccurate.
When we do meet, we often make it even harder for each other. Many of us turn off our audio or video on the basis on ‘not wanting to distract others’. Some people try to ‘multitask’ and answer emails or complete other tasks during the meeting. This lack of attention and focus is reducing the signals even more!
We need to completely flip our understanding of what makes an effective meeting. In a remote working environment meetings should:
- Focus on influencing and engagement first, practicalities and process second (there are PLENTY of fantastic tools and apps to help us manage the process)
- Place much greater value on every interaction that allows us to make use of the full range of signals
There are some simple rules that you should put in place to allow this to happen:
- Create an agenda that positions meetings as a forum to explore issues rather than make decisions
- Insist that people look into the camera and engage fully with the conversation – avoid muting unless absolutely necessary
- Encourage contribution from all participants so you have full opportunity to read ALL the signals
- Watch people carefully throughout, paying particular attention to visual signals