Echobind is a fully remote software company with employees from all departments—creative, strategy, development, and partnerships—scattered across 15 states. Our remote culture relies on virtual communication as our primary tool for internal collaboration and strategic planning, as well as client-facing exchanges. Not surprisingly, although unfortunate, a Harvard Business Review survey recently noted that 71% of employees regard meetings as unproductive and inefficient, and over half of those surveyed found unproductive meetings kept them from their meaningful work. Even more unfortunate for us, research suggests that the remote meeting consistently ranks at the top for being poorly run, not engaging, and ineffective. Gulp!
Here are ten ways Echobind strives to control the number of meetings on our team members' calendars while making the essential virtual meeting as productive, meaningful, and engaging as possible.
- Create an agenda for every meeting and make it visible to all meeting invitees beforehand. The process of creating an agenda will help the facilitator ensure the intention is clear and weighty enough to warrant a meeting. Once an agenda is drafted, share it with all invitees and seek input from key stakeholders on additional topics that should be included. It is best to save meeting agendas in a place that is easy for attendees to access.
- Highlight anticipated actions or questions needing answers on the shared meeting agenda. While there is a time and place for morale-boost gatherings (watercooler chats, occasional office celebrations, etc.) and the information meetings (company updates, quarterly reports, etc.), most meetings are action-focused. Aligning on the collective goals or outcomes of a meeting beforehand will help attendees stay on topic during the meeting and make recapping the accomplishments easier.
- Consider an email with bulleted action items instead of a meeting if there isn't enough robust content to develop a meaningful meeting agenda.
- Contemplate the cost of the meeting and who needs to be in attendance. Don't over-invite and utilize "required" and "optional" meeting invites. More attendees on a virtual call tend to lessen productivity. Remember, virtual meetings can always be recorded and shared with those whose presence is non-essential. Optional invites require a culture of trust in a colleague's ability to control workday productivity. To go back to point one, sharing meeting agendas beforehand will help optional invitees discern if their presence is needed.
- Leverage video recordings in place of live meetings. This is especially helpful when a discussion is unnecessary or when sharing demos or product how-tos that may benefit from repeat watching. Echobind uses Loom videos as a substitute for non-essential internal and external meetings. Loom is an excellent tool because of its analytics to review who watched, and the call-to-action button features.
- Be a conscientious meeting facilitator and prime attendees for action. Steven G. Rogelberg, researcher and author of The Surprising Science of Meetings: How You Can Lead Your Team to Peak Performance, gives the following tips on leading effective meetings: welcome folks as they enter (login), express gratitude for attendance, initiate meeting with a clear objective, and recognize accomplishments.
- Keep videos on during meetings whenever possible to encourage the facilitator and attendees to minimize outside distractions and avoid multitasking. Video also gives visual cues to the facilitator on engagement.
- Wrap up meetings with intention. Be mindful of the established end time; with five minutes left, revisit the anticipated actions on the meeting agenda and recap accomplishments. As a group, identify all decisions made, clearly state the individuals responsible for follow-up actions, and agree on the due dates of those actions.
- Adopt a company-wide communication app to exchange quick questions and needs to help avoid non-essential meetings. At Echobind, we use Discord internally and lean into direct messages and public topic board features. We also utilize Slack for our external and client-facing communication.
- Promote a company-wide "heads down day" free from meetings and also free from guilt when denying or rescheduling non-necessary outside meeting requests.
We have seen the benefits when focused energy transforms meetings. Virtual meetings don't have to be a time-suck. When done with intention, meetings are a valuable tool for developing strategy, decision-making, and productivity.